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O-Zone: Time to run

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Pradeep from Bangalore, India:
Hey, John: by looking around the league at the number of quarterbacks getting injured, are we lucky that Blake Bortles has not missed any games in the last four years?
John: The Jaguars have been fortunate in that area – and Bortles' durability and ability to play through physical issues is something that's often overlooked. He did, for instance, take several huge hits on Sunday against the Jets and played through them. That durability arguably allowed the Jaguars to at least have a chance to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. The other side of that is Bortles didn't appear as accurate or sharp after the hits, and he perhaps could have shown better pocket presence as the game wore on. But that's nitpicking. The big picture is Bortles indeed has been remarkably durable and tight-lipped about playing through injuries and pain. The guy has been sacked a lot throughout his career and he has been hit a lot more than that. For him not to have missed a game without question is notable.
Josh from Fernandina Beach, FL:
O-Man, what matchups should be favorable for the Jags Sunday, and which positions/players' success will be critical in getting a W (other than the obvious, Bortles)? Thanks, O.
John: It's hard to say the Jaguars have any overriding matchup advantage in this one, but a positive is the presence of cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. They could allow the Jaguars to limit Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown; limiting him goes a long way in limiting the Steelers' offense. Another key matchup: the Jaguars' defensive line against Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. This matchup actually goes beyond the line to the linebacking corps. Bell is a dangerous runner who thrives on finding gaps in a defense; considering the Jaguars' struggles in this area against the Jets last week, improving in that area is paramount.
Martavis Bryant from Pittsburgh, PA:
John, I am no joke at wide receiver. Isn't the idea of covering who lines up in front of you to give a cornerback a break from trailing a No. 1 wide receiver all day in the NFL? I know other cornerbacks do it all the time in the NFL, but with your two cornerbacks being SO good is it not a luxury that might keep their legs a little bit fresher in the fourth quarter when you do not chase vert routes all game. Could not it be said I am their No. 1 wide receiver right now anyway?
John: Tave! 'Sup!? Fair point.
David from Oviedo, FL:
Where's the dividing line for why some players are eligible to return from injured reserve and others are not? Why wouldn't the organization work it so everyone was eligible to return? For example, tight end Mychal Rivera is out for a year due to a hand injury. Why would the team choose to shut him down for the year rather than give him a chance to recover and contribute this year?
John: The dividing line is whether you were on the 53-man roster at 4 p.m. September 2. If you were on injured reserve before then, you are not eligible to return that season. The organization didn't "work it" so everyone is eligible to return because you have to make decisions on players; keeping Rivera on the roster at that point would have meant releasing someone else and risking another team claiming that other player. If the Jaguars could have kept, say, 60 players on the roster as of September 2, they perhaps would have kept a player such as Rivera or even wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr. active before placing them on injured reserve and thereby allowing them the chance to return. They could not because those are the rules.
Scott from New York, NY:
In a world where O-Zone gets what he wants …
John: O-Zone is married. He gave up on the idea of a world in which he gets what he wants long ago. He did so happily, of course.
Bobby from Salt Lake City, UT:
Hey, O-dude. What is going on with the Jags signing players who are not healthy? Are we walking around the hospital saying "let's sign him and him?" I'm referring to Jaelen Strong and Calvin Pryor. Is Strong going to be available to us on Sunday? We can definitely use him.
John: It's football. Human beings get hurt playing it. Strong practiced this week and appears to have a chance to play. And yes … the Jaguars need someone to be a factor at wide receiver. With Marqise Lee not practicing Wednesday or Thursday this week, it appears there could be an opportunity for Strong Sunday. We'll see.
Christ from Goodnight, TX:
You and everyone else seem to be convinced that Leonard Fournette is going to be a star. I don't see it just yet. He "falls forward" as good as anyone else in the league, and he's among the toughest to bring down. But I don't see the quick-twitch acceleration that will allow him to be a perennial 1,200-yard back without a dominant run-blocking offensive line (which we do not have). What is it that you and others see that I apparently don't?
John: The games.
Dave from Duval:
It's really quite simple, John. When you waste first- and second-round picks from 2013-2016, it's really hard to be good.
John: I'm hard-pressed to say the Jaguars wasted first- and second-round selections in 2016 (Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack), but your point is correct: the Jaguars haven't gotten enough out of some of their early selections in recent seasons. It's hard to make up for misses there.
Tired from Jacksonville:
Oehser, u can't keep shoving the same drivel down us Jaguars' fans throats and expect us to keep eating/drinking it up. What say ye?
John: I write what I see, hear and interpret and try to explain what's going on around the Jaguars best I can. That's the job, and that's what I do. What you eat or drink is entirely up to ye.
Stephen from Jacksonville:
Aside from Blake Bortles elevating his game and playing four quarters of mistake-free football every week, what more can the Jaguars do to play more consistently and win more games? The defense, offensive line and run game have been good enough each week that I'm hesitant to think that there are any genuine issues with these groups or realistic ways for them to improve significantly. Do you think the Jaguars' final 2017 record is going to be determined solely by how the quarterback and receivers play for the rest of the year?
John: Not particularly. While I think the Jaguars would benefit in a big way from more production in the passing game, I don't think the season will rise and fall on its performance. I think a better indicator will be the defense's ability to stop the run. If this defense can get teams into passing situations I think the pass rush will be effective enough to force turnovers and keep the Jaguars in a lot of games. I think the team will have trouble winning games when the defense can't do those things no matter how the passing game performs.
Dave from Duval:
Dear Mr. O-Zone, I was watching Thursday Night Football and I'll tell you what: the Jags gotta make the playoffs and matchup with New England. Fournette running against that weak Patriots defense and the Jaguars pass rush against that Pats OLine. Come on, man! I want some GOAT meat!
John: Enjoy your time alone on that island.
Don from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
Big Ben does not play well when he gets pressured up the middle. Just saying! Go Jaguars!
John: OK.
Mike from Atlanta, GA:
How will the offense avoid routinely being in second-and-long situations? It's good to have an identity built around the run game and not allow the other team to change that about you. However, I can't see this offense being successful when it is routinely having second-and-long and third-and-long situations. Maybe they want to pump the brakes a bit on the halfback dive on first down? I realize I'm second-guessing with hindsight from my couch, but I feel opposing defenses have a simple formula: get Blake into unfavorable down and distance and make him beat you with good throws.
John: I don't think you'll see the Jaguars pump the brakes too hard on the first-down run. This is a team that wants to establish the run and control tempo; and with a back such as Fournette you're going to want to give him a chance to get you into second-and-manageable as often as possible. As for the "simple formula" of defenses opposing the Jaguars … getting the opposition into unfavorable down-and-distance situations is pretty much every team's defensive formula every week. Teams that are successful doing it tend to play good defense. Teams that aren't? Not so much.
Buttercups from Jacksonville:
I challenge you to a duel. Do you accept?
John: No.

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