The Jaguars had trouble running the ball again on Sunday. They did at least until they started handing it off to Corey Grant in the fourth quarter, which time the outcome had already been decided.
That’s because they had Blake Bortles at quarterback.
Few want to give Bortles credit for the good job he’s done efficiently managing an offense that has been without its best wideout all season and was once again without its best tailback on Sunday, but it’s time to start giving credit where credit is due.
Put quite simply, the Jaguars wouldn’t be headed to the playoffs were it not for Bortles.
No, his season stats are not eye-popping. Bortles ranks in the middle of the pack in just about every meaningful one there is. What is eye-popping is how well Bortles has played when the Jaguars have absolutely needed him to step up and play big.
Take Sunday, for example. With no Leonard Fournette and despite losing wideout Marqise Lee in the first quarter, Bortles put together one of the best games of his career, completing 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
It was his third 300-plus-yard passing game of the season. Two of those have come in games in which he didn’t have Fournette to hand the ball off to. The other came in one of the two games in which the Jaguars have failed to run for 100 yards.
We point that out because the Jaguars are a running team. That’s how they’re built, but when the running game gets shut down they need their quarterback to pick up the slack and Bortles is starting to prove rather consistently that he can do that.
Bortles compiled a career-best passer rating of 148.3 on Sunday. It was the third straight week in which he’s compiled a passer rating of 100 or better. That’s the sign of a quarterback who’s locked in, which is Bortles clearly is.
“He’s really become confident in his footwork and his rhythm,’’ Marrone said. “I mean, there were some plays today that they really covered well, where the (they took away) the first read and the second read and all of a sudden, he gets the ball out or he moves and he hits (Keelan) Cole.
“And then there are some plays that kind of get overlooked because he’s checking it down, but on those plays he’s going from this guy to this guy and to this guy. And you have to give a lot of credit to the guys up front because you have to protect him, but it’s a lot of credit to him. He’s playing well.’’
That he is.
Titans smother Jaguars in low scoring win
It’s not a game that will go in “the Time Capsule” for NFL fans to watch decades from now, but Tennessee’s recent Mastery over the Jaguars continued Sunday with an ugly 9 – 6 win.
Both defenses played hard and played well, but in the end, the third of three Ryan Succop field goals with just over six minutes remaining was the difference, as Tennessee handed the Jaguars their first loss of 2018.
The Titans did not start franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota who has still been battling nerve problems from his elbow after a hit in the week 1 lost Miami. However, Mariota was forced into duty, when backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert suffered a concussion in the first quarter and could not return.
Speaking of not effective, the Jaguar offense would also qualify in that category. Playing for the second straight game without Leonard Fournette due to his injured hamstring, Jacksonville mustered only six first downs, 100 yards and 3 points in the first half.
The second half was about ball control and time-consuming drives. And Jacksonville punted twice and had a Josh Lambo field goal, but it was not nearly enough.
Blake Bortles, off of a four-touchdown game against New England last week, was mostly ineffective at sustaining drives, must less getting them in the end zone. He was 21 – 34, but for 155 yards only.
Backup running back TJ Yeldon carried seven times for 44 yards and third string running back Corey Grant 6 times for 11 yards. And, the credit goes to Tennessee’s defense, which smothered Jacksonville for much of the day at TIAA Bank Field by forcing eight punts for the game.
With the road win, the Titans assumes first place in the AFC South on the tiebreaker over the Jaguars, which combined with their season sweep last year means they’ve beaten Jacksonville three straight times.
Gameday- Jaguars host Titans in AFC South showdown
Who: Jaguars (2-0) vs. Titans (1-1)
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Spread: Jaguars by 9 1/2 (Courtesty VegasInsider.com)
The 2-0 Jaguars are ready to play host to AFC South rival Tennessee on Sunday and try to break the Titans 2017 headlock they put around Jacksonville in sweeping them.
Here’s what we are watching in their first match-up of the year Sunday:
Who’s running the ball in Jacksonville?
As we documented, both Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon are banged up and were limited in practice this week. Fournette is unlikely to play or even if he is, he may not be that effective with a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago.
Yeldon had 51 yards rushing last week against the Patriots in Fournette’s absence, but he has a sprained ankle. Yeldon is also listed as questionable.
If Yeldon cannot go, the third running back is Corey Grant, a four year veteran, who has only started one game in his career. Grant did have six catches and four runs last week in the New England win.
QB Blake Bortles played well without Fournette throwing four TDs in the win. He desperately needs some rushing attack for drive momentum and to set up play action.
Who’s the QB for the Titans?
Marcus Mariota has been battling an injury to the nerve in his elbow after taking a hit in the week one loss to the Dolphins. Mariota did not play in their win last week against Houston and is officially questionable for this game in North Florida.
If he cannot play, veteran backup Blaine Gabbert will fill in as he’s done the last two games. Gabbert was just 13-20 for 117 yards and a TD pass against the Texans, but he didn’t have to have great numbers.
The Titans got a fake punt TD pass, played solid defense and still won.
It’s possible that Mariota may try to play, but Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel will have use of both QBs, too.
Which leads to, will the Jaguars D lock down the Titans?
It’s no secret that the Jags want to win with defense, and this game is no exception. They were really good against the Patriots last week holding Hall of Famer Tom Brady in check for much of the day. Jacksonville is fifth in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed in the NFL.
Plus, Jacksonville still has one of the most feared pass rushes in the league, as Brady found out the hard way last week. In a critical third quarter sequence, Bortles had thrown an interception, but right away, defensive end Dante Fowler got the ball back on a strip sack of Brady.
They will need plays like that to get the win and keep their perfect season in tact.
Jaguars may have to go deeper into running back depth chart Sunday
More concern for the Jaguars running back situation at the conclusion of Friday’s practice. This is because not only is Leonard Fournette still questionable to play with his injured hamstring, but now so too is his backup, T.J. Yeldon.
Both players were limited in practice on Friday for Sunday’s game with the Titans. Yeldon has a sprained ankle suffered during Sunday’s win over New England 31-20. He did carry the ball 10 times for 58 yards rushing last week, which was a solid performance.
Coach Doug Marrone was his usual non-forthcoming self post Friday practice, when it came to conversation about the injured backs. However, you can use previous precedence and injury designation to draw some conclusions.
For example, Fournette’s hamstring was bad enough that he never returned to the opening game with the Giants, and even though he and the Jaguars said the right things leading up to last week’s game, he was unable to practice fully, was listed as questionable, and they held him out of the Pats game.
And with the understanding that we are not in the Jacksonville training room and don’t know the full updates, the fact that now Fournette and Yeldon were unable to practice fully at all this week, has to be a concern for the Jaguars running attack.
If neither of those two are active or, let’s say they are active but not effective, the third string running back is fourth year veteran Corey Grant. The former undrafted player from Auburn has been active for 35 games in his career including all 16 a year ago and the first two in this season.
He has only one career start, but Grant against the Patriots last week had six catches for 56 yards and four carries for 13 yards. And he’s clearly who Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett will turn to to establish the ground game and the play-action for quarterback Blake Bortles.
Again, there’s always the possibility that they were just being precautionary with Yeldon’s ankle this week and that with 48 hours more rest and treatment, he will be ready to start.
But, let’s just say that if you have the former Bama tailback or Fournette, you might need to look at other options for your Fantasy Football lineup this week.
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