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O-Zone: Worried no more

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Jay from Gainesville, FL:
I'm starting to think Blake Bortles' stats last year were overrated. Most of his yards and touchdowns were when games were out of reach. A-Rob is going to be a legit Top 5 wide receiver. I think he made Bortles look good because of his jump-ball ability and his catch radius. This year, Bortles has three good wide receivers, two good tight ends and a receiving back. You can't teach accuracy. You either have it or you don't. I'm not saying we should get rid of him, but I think we have to realize we have to load up on D because he is going to have a lot of turnovers! Am I overreacting, O??
John: It's very possible you're overreacting; if so, you're far from alone. There's no question Bortles isn't playing as well as he did last season. Part of that is because teams are doing more to negate the deep pass to Allen Robinson – and yes, Robinson indeed helped Bortles greatly last season. I've said since the end of last season that Bortles' statistics last season didn't matter nearly as much as how he improved this season – and that the improvement he needed to make this season was going to be more difficult than the one he made from his rookie season to his second season. He didn't make it in the first three games, but while he wasn't perfect against Indianapolis in Week 4 he did some good things in terms of pocket presence and eliminating turnovers. Those last two things are the key. If he can continue in that vein in the coming weeks and start hitting more big plays when opportunities arise, the narrative surrounding him could change in a hurry. Either way, the defense absolutely will be a key. The unit is beginning to look like a strength – and considering how that side of the ball is built, it appears to be a strength that could get a lot stronger as time goes on.
Stephen from Jacksonville:
Tyson Alualu has played fairly well these past two weeks in place of the injured Jared Odrick. With Odrick likely to return this week at Chicago, will Alualu again likely be placed on the pregame inactives list? Is there any chance Alualu could be named to the game-day roster over someone like Abry Jones, who hasn't appeared to yet make as much of an impact this season as Alualu?
John: Game-day actives and inactives are sometimes more a function of numbers and roster management than an indictment on how well a player is playing. That was surely the case with Alualu being inactive in the first two games of the regular season. Jones was active instead of Alualu in the first two games because Jones is the closest thing the Jaguars have to a true backup nose tackle and players such as Sheldon Day, Jones and Sen'Derrick Marks can theoretically kick outside to strong-side end if Odrick is unavailable. That doesn't make those players better options as starters than Alualu, but it did make them better options to be active on game day if Odrick is healthy. Will Alualu be inactive Sunday? We'll see, but he certainly played well enough that it would make sense if the Jaguars' coaches rethought some things.
Lavoris from Jacksonville:
Hello, John. With the Jaguars' running game nonexistent over the past four weeks, how can they be an effective running team going forward with so many injuries on the offensive line? This spells disaster for Blake and the wide receivers – especially when the offensive coordinator is not calling plays that get Bortles out of the pocket.
John: If the Jaguars had played just three games your email would be spot on, but the Jaguars ran very effectively against Indianapolis in Week 4 – and offensive coordinator Greg Olson did a nice job in that game of getting Bortles out of the pocket. The Jaguars' ability to carry those things forward –the ability to run effectively in particular – will be crucial going forward. I don't know that they'll match the 136 yards rushing versus Indianapolis every week, but I think they can show improvement.
Steve from Jacksonville:
Has there ever been a serious discussion about having two types of pass-interference penalties like there used to be for face mask? I don't like the NFL rule because a ticky-tack pass interference can result in a 50-yard penalty, whereas in college a defensive back literally tackling a receiver who's about to catch a long touchdown pass only is penalized 15 yards. Thoughts, O-Man?
John: I think we can discuss this all we want, but I never have sensed real momentum for changing this rule. First, the NFL almost certainly is not going to do anything to reduce scoring – and implementing anything to shorten pass-interference penalties by definition would accomplish that. Second, the general direction of the NFL's Competition Committee is to implement rules that take judgment as much out of the officiating equation as possible. That was why the league removed the "force-out" rule in the middle of the last decade and it's why the league eliminated the different face-mask penalties. To install a second pass-interference penalty certainly would fly in the face of that trend.
Jay from Gainesville, FL:
I honestly feel like we should put our best players on the field – no matter who makes the most! We should run a 3-4. Marks is a beast! Malik, Roy, and Marks on the line. Dante, Yannick, Telvin and Jack at linebacker. And take Roy out on passing downs. As much as I like Odrick and his emotion, he has to come off the bench. I think a 3-4 would be a better fit for the players we have. I could be wrong, but am I, John??
John: The glaring thing wrong with your email is you talked about having the team's best defensive players on the field and listed eight players – then you didn't have Paul Posluszny among the eight. The reason he is in the starting lineup has nothing to do with money and everything to do with him being the best middle linebacker on the team right now. You also have Telvin Smith at inside linebacker, a position that would be an extremely tough fit at his size. I have no fundamental problem with a 3-4 defense and the Jaguars probably could make it work, but realistically it's not a huge issue. The Jaguars happen to be playing pretty good defense right now – and defenses are in nickel so much that a team's formation in its base defenses is less important than it was 20 years ago.
Andrew from Sampson, FL:
If the Jaguars were to win all of their division games but have fewer overall wins than Houston, how is the division winner decided in that case? Has anything like that ever happened?
John: Division winners in the NFL are the team with the best overall record. How many games a team wins within its division only comes into play in the event of a season-ending tie.
Beau from Delta:
Do you think we are still a playoff-caliber team even with Blake Bortles' struggles early? Loving the defense this year, though I just wish we could put together a complete game where the offense and defense can both play good.
John: "Complete" games in the NFL are difficult to achieve – primarily because every NFL team has highly-paid, talented players on both sides of the ball trying to play their own version of a complete game. As far as the Jaguars' being a playoff-caliber team … no, they certainly are not that if Bortles plays as he did in Weeks 2 and 3. If he plays the final 12 games as well or better than he did in Week 4 against the Colts … well, we'll see.
Adrian from El Paso, TX:
Eighteen hundred straight O-Zones are impressive given how hard it can be to face the dreaded mailbag after particular game days and things like those pesky hurricanes. I've always been curious, and maybe you've answered this in a previous O-Zone, but what exactly is your process? How many emails do you receive/wade through for the upcoming O-Zone? Are you particular about choosing an email that's a day or two old – or is everything fair game? Finally, what are your preferences in choosing an email? There's really seems to be no pattern I can pinpoint in the 1800 days I've read the ozone. Keep on keepin' on.
John: The number of emails I receive on a daily basis varies widely. On some summer weekends the number per day can dwindle to 10 or 15 whereas it can reach well above 500 in a 24-hour period after particularly difficult-to-accept losses. There's no real process and no real pattern. I answer questions that I believe interesting and I try to vary the mix of on and off the field based on the time of year, day of the week and my mood on a given day. If a question strikes me as one to which I can provide a comparatively informative or entertaining answer, I answer it. If not, I don't. Some people seem to like the mix and others don't. The ones that dislike the mix are sometimes more vocal than those who like it, and that's fine. There was a time I worried about pleasing everyone and worried about my flaws. Once I waded deep enough into marriage to receive the requisite itemized oral list of said flaws on a regular basis … well, let's just say that eased the pressure a bit.

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