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Jacksonville Jaguars

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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Jacksonville Jaguars

Steelers add to Jaguars frustrations with late comeback

Florida Football Insiders

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Any hope that the Jaguars were going to turn their season around on a November Sunday in North Florida ended abruptly, as Ben Roethlisberger fueled a 16-point second-half comeback and the Steelers handed Jacksonville their sixth straight defeat.

The Jaguars controlled most of the first three quarters, but unfortunately had only three Josh Lambo field goals to show for their excellent play in the first half. And, their 9 – 0 lead going into the 3rd quarter came back to haunt them later on.

Outspoken but talented defensive back Jalen Ramsey stepped up big with two interceptions of Roethlisberger, while being matched up head-to-head on Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh. This came on the heels of a Sunday morning ESPN report that the Jaguars would likely try to trade the third year cornerback this off season to rid themselves of his antics off the field.

The Jags denied the report in a statement, and Ramsey looked up to the challenge early

However, Brown did shake loose for a 78-yard bomb in the third quarter with that Pittsburgh back in the game at 16 – 6. It was the beginning of the end for Jacksonville.

And, unfortunately for the Jaguars, an all too familiar theme took shape, again, in the second half. This, as Blake Bortles was once again virtually ineffective throwing for just a 104 yards and was sacked six times on the game.

Then, when Roethlisberger led the Steelers to another touchdown with under six minutes remaining hitting TE Vance McDonald on an 11-yard score, it wast 16-13.

Once more, Jacksonville’s offense could do nothing and gave the ball back to Pittsburgh for one more opportunity for Roethlisberger to play the hero. He hit Juju Smith Schuster-with a long completion inside the Jacksonville 25 yard line, and then, another pass over the middle Bryant put them down inside the 4-yard line with under :20 to play.

Two plays later Roethlisberger scrambled just into the end zone with only :05 remaining in the game and the comeback was complete.

In stunning the Jaguars and their home fans, Pittsburgh won its six consecutive game. Further, they dealt a likely fatal blow to Jacksonville’s hopes to get into the playoff race, as they now stand at 3-7.

Despite Leonard Fournette having a strong day with almost a hundred yards rushing and the lone touchdown on an “Up and Over” dive in the third quarter, the Jags once again showed that their biggest flaw is: that can’t throw the football with any down-filled success and get quick scores with any regularity.

And unlike 2017 when they’re plodding, run-based offense was effective, time and again, it’s been exposed in 2018 for losses.

With the win the Steelers do get a measure of revenge after being swept last year by Jacksonville including a while 45 – 35 playoff loss in the divisional round at Heinz Field.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Report- Jaguars will explore trading DB Jalen Ramsey

Florida Football Insiders

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The soap opera involving controversial and outspoken Jags defensive back Jalen Ramsey took another turn Sunday morning. That’s when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Jags are going to seriously consider trading Ramsey at the end of this season.

Schefter made the comments on ESPN’s Sunday morning “NFL Countdown” pregame show and also wrote about it on ESPN.com, citing League sources:

As we wrote earlier this week, Ramsey made waves when he tweeted Monday after the Jags fifth consecutive loss that Jaguar fans were going to “miss me when I’m gone.”

Ramsey tried to downplay the controversy, when he met with the media on Thursday, and said that he was only talking to “fake Jaguar fans.” And further, he said that he wants to finish his career in Jacksonville.

We’ve documented the off-season of headaches that included: Ramsey not showing up to OTAs, delaying arriving to training camp by 5 days after the birth of his daughter, and being outspoken in an article on GQ.com criticizing multiple quarterbacks including the Jaguars opponent today, the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.

And he and former teammate Dante Fowler were both suspended for a week during the preseason for their behavior at a Jags training camp practice, where Fowler was trying to get into a fight with teammate Yannick Ngakoue.

Earlier this week, Coach Doug Marrone took an unusual step for him and actually specifically mentioned Ramsey by name, as having blown a key coverage in the first half on a Colts touchdown pass to tight end Eric Ebron.

Later Sunday morning, the Jaguars released a statement denying the trade rumor:

Ramsey was a top-10 pick of the Jaguars in 2016 and is in the third year of his four-year rookie deal. So that makes the rumors about a possible trade after the season even juicier, because he’s much more affordable for another team to acquire right now.

The Jaguars will take on the Steelers later today at TIAA Bank field.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Gameday- Jaguars rematch Steelers looking stop losing streak

Florida Football Insiders

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Jaguars (3-6) vs. Steelers (6-2-1)

When: Sunday 1 p.m.

Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville

Spread: Steelers by 5 1/2 points (Courtesy of VegasInsider.com)

Here’s what to watch:

Build on last week’s offensive success

The Jaguars came to life on the offensive side of the ball in Indianapolis. Even though it was a 29 – 26 loss, Leonard Fournette was back for the first time in five weeks, ran tough and ended up with two touchdowns. As we have well-documented, he also help set up the play-action pass that has been sorely missed on a consistent basis for Jacksonville.

Blake Bortles (shown above in January’s playoff win) was able to hit Donte Moncrief with an 80-yard touchdown and the Jags had their best offensive output, since game four of the season.

More than likely, the Steelers will put some points on the board, and Jacksonville has to be ready to keep up with them.

Slow down Big Ben

In their two wins last season at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars defense was more than opportunistic against Ben Roethlisberger. They had five interceptions in the regular season win and then, two more takeaways in the AFC divisional playoff win were all critical.

The Jags come in with only eight takeaways in nine games, so far. And, it’s one of the big reasons they are on a five game skid.

If Jacksonville gives Roethlisberger time to throw without sacking and knocking him down or at least pressuring him into early errant bad decisions, it’s going to be a long day.

Get the Swagger back.

Somewhere along the way, the Jaguars have lost part of what made them good in 2017. They played as a confident, almost cocky, football team, especially on defense.

They have been humbled in one decisive loss after another, recently and that swagger is not there.

Playing at home Sunday, can Jacksonville revive some of that attitude in front of the home fans by making some big plays early? There will be a large contingent of Steelers fans on hand, as they always travel well.

Let’s see if it makes a difference being back at home for the first time in almost a month.

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