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Bortles may be key to unleashing Jaguars running game

Roy Cummings

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Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire

As we’ve pointed out a couple of times here before, those eight- and sometime nine-man stacked boxes that opposing defenses have been throwing at the Jaguars really have slowed down their running game.

The Jaguars have been held to less than 100 yards rushing in each of their past two games and since his return from an ankle injury four games ago, Leonard Fournette is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.

Maybe Blake Bortles can help. Not by running, but by passing. Really, that’s what Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is thinking, and as odd as it may sound, he may actually be on to something.

Look, Bortles is having a typically ordinary Blake Bortles kind of season this year, one in which he again ranks in the bottom third in the league in most of the meaningful statistical passing categories.

But there have been times this year when Bortles has had to do more than just hand the ball off to his backs, manage the game and avoid turning the ball over to keep the Jaguars in the playoff race.

Last week was one of them. With the Colts shutting down the Jaguars running game, it was all but left to Bortles to keep the Jaguars from losing a second straight game and he delivered.

In what was arguably his best game of the year, Bortles completed 26-of-35 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns and was absolutely money on third down, where he was 11-of-14 for 166 and the two TDs.

He was also sharp against the blitz, where he completed seven of the 11 passes he threw, according to ESPN, and on the deep ball, where he completed 66.7-percent of the passes he threw 20 or more yards downfield.

Now, that is out of the ordinary for Bortles, but what Marrone believes is that for right now at least, teams have to respect the possibility that Bortles could come back any time with another game just like that.

They also have to respect the possibility that Marrone just might dial up another game plan like that, if only because it would force defenses to empty out the box and put a couple more defenders in coverage.

That in turn, would create some more room for the likes of Fournette, T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory to run and that might finally spark their running game back to life.

 “At the end of the day, from a defensive standpoint, you (now) have to be worried about both (our run game and our passing game), at least from the balanced aspect of it,’’ Marrone said.

Marrone isn’t wrong about that. Bortles’ level of play could slip back to is normal levels and for a week or two at least still be effective enough to get the running game back on its feet so to speak.

No, that’s not playing to Bortles strength, but if that’s what it takes it takes to open the running game the Jaguars build their attack aroundm then Marrone just may have to give it a try.

And why not. After all, when they have had to lean on Bortles this year, he has delivered. His numbers for the season overall are, as we said, very Bortles like but when they’ve had to lean on him, he has delivered.

 “Everyone says the identity of our team is to play good defense, run the football and control the clock,” Bortles said. “But I think when we’ve been put in a couple of situations where we’ve had to throw the ball and we’ve delivered. We’ve done some good things.’’

That they have and if the running game continues to get bogged down they’re going to have to do a lot more.

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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