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O-Zone: Perfect day

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Pradeep from Bangalore, India:
Hi, John: One thing about current regime is it is placing players in situations to succeed compared to previous regimes. Be it taking pressure off Blake Bortles by taking away media attention from him while allowing him to improve or designing the game plan to help Bortles to succeed – it has started paying dividends now. It's awesome. Isn't it?
John: Bortles is indeed improving, but I don't know how much the regime "easing the pressure" has to do with it. Bortles still talks to the media once a week as required under NFL rules, and he speaks to the media after games. A lot of NFL quarterbacks don't do much more on a weekly basis, honestly. But I never got the idea that the media spotlight ever bothered Bortles all that much. He's a guy who has dealt with criticism, questions and spotlight well in his four seasons. As far as the game plan helping Bortles succeed … yes, the Jaguars are focusing on the run, but it's not as if the game plan has been pared down to allow him to succeed. He has handled the game plan and the offense exceedingly well this season. He also continues to improve in this area. Remember, Bortles is playing with two rookie wide receivers, a fullback in his first season with the team, a rookie left tackle and a rookie running back. Those players lean heavily on Bortles' command of the offense and he is handling that responsibility far better than many people seem to believe.
Nick from Palatka, FL:
Mr. Zone, I have noticed that the Jags have a player who can read punt return coverages in a split second, can obliterate gunners trying to down punts deep, caught a key third-down pass late against the Los Angeles Chargers and has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week ... twice. How does such talent go undrafted, languish in the league for a year, then have to sleep in his car while awaiting participation on a practice squad? How does such an impact player get missed? Does he "not practice well?"
John: Jaydon Mickens didn't return punts in college and worked to develop the skill set – i.e., catching the punt, moving quickly upfield – while in Oakland last season on the practice squad. According to Jaguars special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, Mickens worked at the skill while in Oakland, and the Jaguars decided to give him a chance earlier this season when they really weren't getting production from the position. As it turned out, he could do it well. How did the Raiders not see it when he was there? He didn't get the opportunity. The Jaguars gave him one here and the timing is right. It happens.
Scott from Rehoboth Beach, DE:
This is about the "respect" comments. Whatever drives our boys to be the best, let it!
John: #DTWD
Juggernautz from Yulee, FL:
Which team winning the Patriots-Steelers game would benefit us the most?
John: The most probable answer is the Steelers. If they beat the Patriots and the Jaguars win the rest of their games, the Jaguars would be assured of at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. If the Patriots win Sunday, the Jaguars would need to win the rest of their games and have the Steelers lose at least once more and/or the Patriots lose their final two games to improve their playoff seeding.
Nick from Las Vegas, NV:
I would think we won't have to worry about the Jags not having any prime-time games next year.
John: I don't worry about this much, anyway. Remember: the ideal schedule for crusty sportswriters is a 16-game slate of 1 p.m. home games. That way I'm home under the blankee at a decent hour. But if you pine for prime time, you likely shall pine no more. If this team makes the playoffs it will be in prime time next season – and if the Jaguars continue to play as they are playing, it won't be long until they're a good prime-time draw. This team is entertaining with some likeable, watchable personalities. And they have some players opposing fans will love to hate. That makes for a good watch.
Dylan from Tulsa, OK:
Doug Marrone, coach of the year? He's playing with four rookies in key spots on offense (one an undrafted free agent), dealt with the loss of a superstar receiver and a No. 2 receiver, and has turned Blake Bortles around for the better all while turning a three-win team into a playoff-caliber team. Will he win it?
John: My sense is media and public opinion sort of fell in love with Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams in the first few months of the season. I still sort of have the idea McVay will win Coach of the Year in a lot of voting. That's just a guess, but that's the vibe. But McVay certainly has done no better a job turning around a franchise than Marrone – and it's hard to say there's not a strong argument in Marrone's favor.
JT from Rosamond, CA:
John, how has the feel of the city been lately? I'm all the way out on the West Coast, but from Jacksonville. It looks like a lot of fun, man.
John: It doesn't suck.
Jess from Castle Rock, CO:
There has been a lot of discussion on the Jags getting the No. 2 seed if the Steelers beat the Patriots this week. I have a different opinion. If the Patriots beat the Steelers and the Jags beat the Texans, the Jags will be one game behind both teams in the standings. Then, if either the Patriots or Steelers lose one of their two remaining games the Jags will still be the No. 2 seed if they win out. However, if both the Steelers and Patriots lose one or their two remaining games and the Jags win out, then the Jags will be the No. 1 seed. I like that scenario much better.
John: Under your scenario, the Patriots would have to lose to the Bills or Jets at home. Or the Steelers would have to lose at Houston or the Browns at home. Either could happen, but it's more likely that the Steelers could beat New England in Pittsburgh Sunday.
Bill from Dansville, NY:
Pats beat Steelers then lose to the Bills. Steelers lose to Browns. We get No. 1 seed.
John: Whatever helps you sleep, Bill.
Logan from Wichita, KS:
I'm concerned. This is a trap game. We destroyed them once, they have a lot of injuries and everyone is talking about the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds before we even clinch a spot. This is a trap game. This is concerning. I am concerned. That isn't unusual. But it's concerning. You concerned?
John: It's OK to be concerned, but no matter how often you say it's a trap game the fact remains that it's not a trap game. A trap game is when a team loses because it gets "trapped" looking ahead to what is perceived as big or critical game the following week. By that definition, the Jaguars' game at San Francisco next week could be a "trap" game because of the potential to look ahead to the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale. The Texans isn't a trap game because there's little reason the Jaguars would be looking ahead to a 4-9 San Francisco team against which they have no history. Sunday's game is tricky because the Texans have Jadevon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins – and because late-season division games can be tricky whatever the circumstances. But this isn't a trap game.
Omar from Edison, NJ:
Nathaniel Hackett commented that Bortles was finally given the green light to audible out of a run into a pass play. With the offensive scheme to run, run, and run some more attracting so many defenders in the box, how significant will this be for Bortles as our quarterback? I know it has been less than 16 games into Hackett's time as offensive coordinator, but Bortles is a fourth-year player who can absolutely take advantages of unbalanced defenses – and I think it will continue to contribute to his exceptional December performance.
John: If Bortles has the freedom and the ability to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage, it will be very significant. The more a quarterback can do at the line of scrimmage, the better. Remember: audibling at the line isn't just a Bortles Issue. This is phenomenally young offense. All involved have to have a quick enough recall at the line to play instinctively and quickly if a play is changed. The young receivers are growing up, and so is the quarterback. The more the Jaguars can do in this vein, the better.
Cole from Jacksonville:
Just want to say thanks to the Jags for last Sunday. It's been three years since I've been to a game and Sunday I brought my three-year-old son to his first-ever football game. The atmosphere was incredible! From the shuttle ride to the stadium (he was chanting "Duval" for most of the trip), to him cheering and slapping fives with the rest of the Jag Nation as Jalen Ramsey got the first pick, and Keelan Cole scored the 75-yard touchdown … such an incredible game! And now I'll have a memory with my son that will always be perfect. Christmas came early this year John. #DTWD
John: I missed this email last week. I found it later in the week. It was cool. I posted it.

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