Blake Bortles has been very Blake Bortles in 2018. Nothing more. Nothing less. In fact, he’s been almost identical to the Bortles who the Jacksonville Jaguars tolerated in 2017.
While Bortles is getting benched and blamed for turnovers amid the Jaguars 3-4 start, he’s not actually playing that poorly. Or, I should say, he’s not playing poorly for his typical standard of play.
Here’s a quick rundown of what Bortles has looked like this year and in past years.
- 2018: Bortles is on pace to throw 35.5 passes per game while completing 60.6 percent of those passes for 247.9 yards per game at 7.0 yards per attempt with a 3.2 interception rate for a total of 20.5 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He is on pace to fumble 11.4 times.
- 2017: Bortles threw 32 passes per game while completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 230.4 yards per game at 7.0 yards per attempt with a 2.5 interception rate for a total of 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He fumbled nine times.
- Career: Bortles averages 35.9 passes per game while completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 241.5 yards per game at 6.7 yards per attempt with a 2.9 interception rate. His career high for touchdowns was 35. His career high for interceptions was 18. In his three full seasons, he averages 10.3 fumbles per year.
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Has he been worse than normal? Yes, but only slightly. From an efficiency standpoint, he’s mostly on par with 2017. He is turning the ball over too much, which has always been Bortles’ M.O. And apparently, that’s what is getting him benched.
“We can’t do [expletive] until we stop turning the ball over period. That’s just how it is,” Marrone told reporters on Sunday.
The biggest problem with the Jaguars is not just that they’re turning the ball over. It’s that they’re not taking the ball away.
This team was built with Bortles at the helm — and they re-signed him in February knowing they were retaining a player who’d thrown 18 interceptions and fumbled 14 times in 2015. Generating takeaways was the only way they could overcome their quarterback’s shortcomings. They did it in 2017, and the defense led the team to the AFC championship, where they narrowly missed their shot at Super Bowl LII. In 2018, they’re simply not forcing turnovers on defense.
The defense formerly known as Sacksonville has recovered two of their six forced fumbles. Jalen Ramsey and company have just three interceptions. That’s why their turnover differential is -12, the second worst in the NFL. That -12 differential is the fourth worst for all teams in last decade after seven games. The three teams below the Jaguars were all 1-6, as are the 2018 San Francisco 49ers, who are -15.
It’s somewhat remarkable the Jaguars have won three games.
Bortles’ turnovers should not be what’s most alarming. The Jaguars defense, which had 2.1 takeaways per game in 2017, powered the team to the AFC championship, and yet has averaged just 0.7 takeaways per game in 2018.
Maybe Bortles can play better. Maybe the Jaguars had hoped Bortles would continue developing. However, they are never going to succeed with their defense falling off the leaderboard in turnovers.
They’re still a good defense with the second fewest yards allowed (301.6) and the ninth fewest points allowed per game (20.9). They’re tied for 20th with sacks (15). They’re good, not great. A good defense means Bortles has to throw more often in an attempt to erase deficits. That’s not what Bortles does best. He plays well when he’s ahead and manages the game. His defense helped him do that in 2018. They haven’t done that in 2017.
Blame Bortles all you want. But the blame will be mostly misdirected, if we are being honest about what he is, and where the differences in 2018 lie. The fingers should be pointing at Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler and the rest of the defense. If this Jaguars team was going to succeed, they needed to be great — not Bortles.