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O-Zone: The real reason

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it... Marcus from Jacksonville:
There always will be fans who are optimistic and others who are pessimistic, but it seems right now the needle is pointing more to the optimistic side. It seems there are a lot of fans excited about the future of this team. How much of that optimism is coming from a terrible division? If Indy or Houston ran away with the division like most years would there be as much optimism – or would there be more calls for the heads of the staff?
John: I know not how to judge what will make people call for things. I also can't control what makes people optimistic. I do know the reasons for optimism around the Jaguars are pretty evident: an improving receiving corps, an improving overall talent base, a tight end who is starting to look pretty good, a very good run-stopping defense, a slew of second-year players who look like they're improving rapidly, a season in which the Jaguars have competed in all games but one … all those are reasons for optimism, and I would assume those would be the primary reasons people point to the optimistic side. I know those are a bunch of the reasons I think this team will have a better record next season. And I say that not really caring about Houston or Indianapolis. Build your own team, get as good as you can – if you do that, you'll be fine no matter what the rest of the division does (it is within the rules to win a good division).
Daniel Since Day One:
Hi John, FYI: Lots and lots of people are talking about replacing David Caldwell. None that work for him, and maybe none that can ... But there are lots of people talking about it all the time!
John: Boy, sounds like there are going to be a lot of disappointed people – and boy, is that a good thing for the Jaguars.
Dwight from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Assuming Dante Fowler Jr.'s injury heals as planned, what are your thoughts on his impact when he returns for next season? Is he good enough to make an instant impact considering his absence from the game?
John: It's always tough to project a rookie's impact, and Fowler essentially will be a rookie next season. But assuming he is fully healthy – which your email clearly assumes (it says so, after all) – the impact should be immediate. It may or may not be immediate in terms of staggering stack numbers, but pressure and explosiveness should be there. That should help the pass rush – as should the return of Sen'Derrick Marks.
John from Jacksonville:
One thing that I haven't seen this season, at least with the Jags games, is a lean to attempt more two-point conversions after touchdowns with the new rule of a longer PAT kick. The only time is usually near the end of a game when it's needed (which is the same for prior seasons). Did you expect to see this more from teams or perhaps some other teams we haven't played are doing it regularly.
John: I did not expect to see it more, and I never did. The new rule that moved extra-point kicks back to the 15-yard line made extra-points kicks more difficult, but NFL coaches still rightfully expect a kicker to make a 32-to-33-yard kick. The percentages of them being right in that expectation are lower than if the kick was shorter but still not low enough to think that they would gamble and go for two significantly more often.
Carson from CR210 in St. Auggie:
Read your work since day one. Although I think you're an apologist, I appreciate your work and understand why you are. However, your response to Trey about being "self-pitying" yesterday annoyed me. We haven't sniffed the playoffs in 8 years and we are still consistently rebuilding and under-talented. Just when we think we are seeing the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel' Rivers embarrasses us, throwing for 300 yards and 4 TDs to journeyman Steve Johnson and some dude named Inman. We have a right as loyal fans who've vested our time and money into this team to be frustrated and to pity ourselves all we want. Deal with it.
John: I'm sorry (hey, there's an apology! Two words in!) you're annoyed. If you've read my work since Day One, then you know I'm very understanding and realize Jaguars fans have stayed loyal and passionate through more losing than any fan base should have to endure for so long a stretch. You also know I've never written that fans don't have the right to say or do whatever they please. You also might note that I said, "Seriously," immediately after saying "self-pitying," which might indicate that I was just kidding a li-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-itle bit about the somewhat downtrodden tone of the email. Believe me, Carson, fans of this team have the right to envy fans of other teams for their success. It has been tough sledding of late – and of a long time before that, too.
Taylor from Ellicott City, MD:
Hey, John. Not trying to be antagonistic, but what is the evidence that Joeckel and Cyprien are better than many observers believe? I'm just wondering where that sentiment came from. Have Caldwell or Bradley mentioned them playing well? (Quite possible I missed it if they did)
John: Yes. Caldwell and Bradley have mentioned it. The games say so, too.
Ovalle from Los Angeles, CA:
It's incredibly frustrating to see us consistently pass in short-yardage situations and fail. This frustration becomes compounded in the red zone when we can't convert and it leads to field goals instead of touchdowns. We've been very close in almost every game this season, so every point is critical. With how dangerous our passing attack can be, defenses can't stack the box so we need to unleash Yeldon and trust the kid to pound the ball. Why isn't this happening? Is it too much mental chess trying to out think the opposing defensive coordinators? Or do we really not respect our blocking/running game?
John: The Jaguars' running game hasn't exactly been lights out in short-yardage – see: Buffalo and Tennessee – and there indeed have been times recently where it hasn't exactly earned respect.
Gabe from Washington, DC:
Putting aside everything he has done well, are there any ways in which Blake Bortles has disappointed you this season – or would you say all of his short-comings are what you expected from the second-year pro?
John: The answer: both. Bortles interceptions have been disappointing, as has the offense's inability to perform at a high level in the red zone. I mention the red zone because while that is a team statistic it also is a very quarterback-influenced one. The answer is "both" because while Bortles has struggled in those areas, I'm not particularly surprised. He had a lot of developing to do after his rookie season. He has done a lot of developing and still has some more to do. The red-zone and interceptions are part of the "more to do."
Brandon from Athens, GA:
How many LEO players do you think we should have on the team? I just think that if we rely on Fowler alone next year, we are in trouble if he gets injured.
John: The Jaguars carry four Leos this season. The number of Leos isn't the problem. It's production from the position that has been the problem.
Andrew from Tehachapi, MA:
Your devoted readers seem to think a LEO exists solely to rush the passer. While Clemons and Branch have struggled mightily with this, they have both been solid in their other duties, such as keeping contain on runners, getting their hands up when the QB throws, and pursuing screens. A LEO must play contain and hold his lane; he's not just a bullet.
John: Correct, although to be fair to the readers the biggest role – and the role coaches discuss the most – is the pass-rushing role. But your question does address the dilemma: to play the Leo who can do all things adequately or play the Leo who perhaps – perhaps – gives you a touch better pass rush. Tough choice, but the reality is the Jaguars don't have a great choice at the position this season. At least not so far.
Joshua from Grand Island, NE:
Zone, it has been almost a week since our defeat at the hands of the Chargers and I've yet to see anyone bring up the true reason for the loss; Chad Henne shaved his mustache before November 30. This threw this team into tumult, as evidenced by Blake throwing from beyond the line of scrimmage twice, Branch and Clem forgetting what constitutes a snapped ball, and Myers missing an extra point after making all his field goals. We had won three of the last four with a two-game winning streak, which was humming along as November grew late and his facial hair filled in, yet absent the 'stache we tumbled embarrassingly at home. Bench Henne!
John: I re-read your email multiple times. I found no flaws.

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