The novelty of Blake Bortles, the construct, has worn off. Most of the Bortles jerseys that are going to sell, unless or until the team itself has Turned The Corner, have sold. No reason to concern ourselves with a “he really wanted to be a Jaguar” narrative. Now, we can look at him more objectively.
After one preseason game, he’s pretty good. The offseason work with QB guru Tom House was evident in his mechanics, and maybe in his decision-making. Bortles put in the work.
It’s a shame the offensive game plan didn’t recognize it.
I know, he has a new offensive coordinator now. And you aren’t going to show much in terms of playcalling in the preseason. However, what we saw looked a lot like last year:
A buttoned-up, conservative offense, in which the quarterback doesn’t take preemptive strikes down the field, and the whole game is taking place 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, allowing for defenses to cheat.
If you have superior talent across the board, maybe that works. Perhaps that was the rationale on the play where Julius Thomas got blown up.
A little two-yard route that everyone in the stadium — especially the Steelers defense — saw coming. A safe, high percentage route, of the dink-and-dunk variety that we saw in every Bortles start last year, until the game was out of reach, the stands were half-empty, and Bortles discovered his deep ball.
Thomas got upended, and took the bump on his hand. The Jags were very quiet about the injury, and it wasn’t even mentioned in the press box until deep in the fourth quarter. A clean fracture. Though it easily could’ve been worse.
The defense knew what was coming because that’s pretty much what they saw last year. And it didn’t have to be that way. Bringing in Thomas was an excuse to have him do what he does best. Get him into space, create mismatches, and count on his elusiveness. There’s a reason he’s an elite tight end. And there’s a reason he was brought in when they already had Marcedes Lewis.
The buttoned-up offense has other effects. The Jaguars don’t have a lot of quality depth at wide receiver, and a lot is going to be expected of Allen Hurns. A telling play for me was when Bortles threw him a crossing route, into traffic, and Hurns shortarmed it.
Not intentionally, of course. But we’ve seen the QB leads WR into a concussion on a crossing route movie. Peyton Manning was always a great director of that flick. Austin Collie and Wes Welker starred in those classics.
Why would Allen Hurns want to be in the remake?
Hurns, like Thomas, isn’t built or particularly inclined for big hits. They’re finesse players. Hurns isn’t Hines Ward; Thomas is closer to the Jimmy Graham model than the Gronk zone.
What to do? Look at the Steelers for inspiration.
The most electric play of the game: Roethlisberger, seeing that Davon House wasn’t keeping up with Martavis Bryant, putting a ton of air under the ball, and letting Bryant catch up to it. Roethlisberger, who was cited as an analogue for Bortles when the latter was drafted, is one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league because he’s so good at knowing when he can go deep, and not wasting opportunities when they’re there.
Part of Bortles getting comfortable with using the entire route tree early in games comes down to line play. There were times when Luke Joeckel looked overmatched last week. One of those times led to a drive-killing sack.
Joeckel was drafted to be that line’s cornerstone, a new Boselli. He’s not there yet. He looks the part, but he lacks that ability Boselli had to neutralize a defender or two on almost every play.
Overall, there were more positives than negatives in Preseason Week 1. There’s no Leftwich/Garrard transition in the cards. It’s Bortles’ job, and the recent press saying Henne likes being a backup suggests Blake has another season to make progress. Part of that is letting him do what great quarterbacks do: take advantage of matchups, and take “chunk play” risks rather than always playing for the first-down marker.
What you want to see are 12-play, 83-yard drives, like his best one on Friday. But sometimes, you need 2-play, 83-yard drives as well, both to rock the crowd and to set up the clock-killers.