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O-Zone: Too vivid

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Bruce from Gotham, NY:
Along with red-zone deficiency, the other biggest problem this year has been the Jags' inability to get off the field on big and long third and fourth downs. Those two things combined have cost the Jags most games this year.
John: You indeed have touched on the Jaguars' two glaring areas of weakness, and they feel particularly glaring in the wake of the 31-25 loss to the San Diego Chargers at EverBank Field Sunday. And honestly, neither is new or particularly surprising. I've been writing and saying for what seems like the last couple of months that I think we essentially know what the Jaguars are this season. They're a team that struggles to rush the passer with four down linemen, and they're not a great blitzing team. They're also an inexperienced team that's still developing on offense, and it's my theory that that inexperience manifests itself in red-zone struggles. The potential is there on offense and so is the growth, as evidenced by a dramatic improvement this season offensively between the 20s. But red-zone offense often is the last thing for a young offense/quarterback to master, and you're seeing that play out. The Jaguars have played in a bunch of close, fourth-quarter games this season; when you do that, you're flipping a coin at the end of games. When you do that, you win some and you lose some. The latter happened to the Jaguars on Sunday.
John from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL:
After losing at home to a 2-8 team, do you still think the Jaguars absolutely have a chance to win the division or make the playoffs?
John: Sure, but not nearly as much of a chance as they had Sunday morning.
Mike from Jacksonville:
RED ZONE equals either a strong running game or a quarterback with a high-velocity arm. Jags have neither. What say, O-Man?
John: I agree a bit with the former, though NFL teams that truly can "will" the ball into the end zone with a power running game are rare these days. You usually have to at least have the threat of the pass to be effective anywhere on the field, even in the red zone. As far as the "high-velocity arm" … nah, I've never associated rocket-arm strength with red-zone success. Decision-making? Experience? Ability to check into the right play in a matter or seconds? Touch on the fade pattern? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. But not arm strength.
Jami from Wye Mills, MD:
Another game ... same results. I bet the inbox will be ugly.
John: Well, it sure ain't pretty, Jami.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville, FL:
So, are we finally done with the playoff talk? I mean, come on: we really did not look like a playoff-caliber team, especially on defense. It still amazes me how we make opposing quarterbacks look so good.
John: Yeah, we're done with the playoff talk – for a while, at least. As far as making opposing quarterbacks look good, it is sort of amazing. At the same time, when you struggle to pressure the passer on a consistent basis, making good quarterbacks look really good isn't all that hard.
Kyle from Ohio:
You don't like when I trash Bortles … well, how about these stats? Bortles has thrown 13 interceptions. Eleven of those 13 interceptions were costly on the scoreboard, either costing us a scoring chance or giving the opponent a scoring chance. Eight of Bortles' interceptions have resulted in a touchdown for the other team, whether due to scoring on the interception or getting a short field. The other three took away opportunities where we should have got at least a field goal. In four of our losses, the difference was these interceptions.
John: Kyle, don't take this the wrong way, but I care not a whit whether or not you "trash" Bortles. People can criticize the Jaguars' players and coaches here in this forum to their heart's delight and it is actually terrific fodder for discussion. As far as Bortles' interceptions, I have written often that his mistakes are absolute killers on a strikingly regular basis. He essentially has said the same thing. I have said throughout this season and continue to say that his continued mistakes and some of his current shortcomings are a reason that I think the Jaguars aren't yet a mature team capable of closing other teams out. When you can't close teams out, you're always going to be playing close games, and when you're in close games any turnover or mistake – particularly an interception – by definition is magnified. Now, while all of that is true, I will not say I believe Bortles is a washout and I will not say I don't believe he is a franchise quarterback. I won't say those things because I believe he's capable of continuing to develop into an elite player. His mistakes are errors of youth and inexperience. He absolutely must grow out of them – or at least reduce them – to take this franchise where it wants to go. I don't know that he will do that because I don't have a crystal ball. But do I believe he is capable of doing that? Yes, because he has improved dramatically since last season and I have seen nothing to think he can't keep improving.
Melvin from Section 155 and Duuuvvalll!!!:
Well that was fun while it lasted...
John: Yeah, it was. It will be fun again – it's just on hold for a bit more.
Jeremy from South Korea:
The Jags' defense was pretty pathetic against the Chargers (and a lot of other teams this season). I thought Gus was a "defensive" coach. I'd venture to say he didn't have much to do with Seattle's success in all reality.
John: The Seahawks had significantly better defensive personnel than the Jaguars do. I'd venture to say not a lot of people would argue that, and I'd venture to say that players always have more to do with success than coaches. Also, the Jaguars have addressed defense pretty sparingly in the draft in the last three years, and the biggest defensive move – Leo end Dante Fowler Jr. – is out this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. I would anticipate some significant strides when the Jaguars begin to draft heavier on defense, something I anticipate happening in the coming offseason.
Jeff from Atlantic Beach, FL:
Philip Rivers four touchdowns versus Jason Myers four field goals … pretty simple.
John: That's a 16-point difference – a really big, obvious, glaring 16-point difference.
Dave from Duval:
It's players not plays. It seems to me that the offense is really tense in the red zone early (including Bortles), but after we are losing they relax and just play football down there.
John: I've gotten this tense-in-the-red-zone theory after quite a few losses this season. Generally speaking, I've dismissed it and I honestly didn't sense it very much in the first 10 games of the season. But on Sunday … yeah, it did feel a little like all of the talk, focus and analysis of the red-zone offense may have been playing on their collective minds (including Bortles). That's an awfully hard element to quantify, but it did feel that way.
Nick from Jacksonville:
Hey John: We were at the stadium and didn't get commentary on the reasoning of the call. So what exactly is the rule regarding onside kicks and hitting the ball out of bounds? Tough break, but fun game.
John: A live batted ball in the field of play is a penalty if batted forward. The officials ruled that the bat by Chargers tight end David Johnson was lateral and therefore legal.
Joe from San Antonio, TX:
Even if we miraculously pulled off a win I would still be ticked off. How are we going to leave the field before the half with that much time left when we are trailing and they get the ball back to start the second half? That is flat out unacceptable.
John: I had the same gut reaction, Joe, because I always want the offense to be aggressive just before halftime. But when I thought about the Jaguars' situation at the end of the first half – third-and-12 from their own 18 with, what … 18 or 19 seconds remaining in the half? Less than a minute after throwing an interception? I wouldn't have minded aggression, but I really would have minded a game-sealing turnover. There were a lot of things to be second-guessed Sunday – play-calling in the red zone and the new trend of throwing the ball when the quarterback is past the line of scrimmage chief among them – but the way the Jaguars ended the half wasn't high on my list.
Jim the Dino and Section 414:
Since I have a better chance playing pickup sticks with my TRex butt cheeks than the Jags have in scoring a red-zone touchdown, what do you think of this new game plan? If a Jaguar knows he won't make it to the end zone after crossing into the red zone, take a knee or run out of bounds at the 21. Genius!!!
John: I'm not sure of the game plan, but I do know never want to play pickup sticks again. Ever.

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