Blogging The Boys: The Jaguars have been struggling for a while now, how has the fanbase dealt with it and what do they see as positive signs for the future?
Big Cat Country: The fanbase has... well... we've taken some lumps over the first half of the season. I think head coach Gus Bradley's decision to sit Blake Bortles for the first three games caused us to openly doubt Bradley's abilities as a coach for the first time, and that frustration has continued. I think the majority of fans still predominately believe that Bradley is the guy to lead the Jaguars back to the playoffs, but it's not nearly the sunshine pumping we had last season. For better or worse, we have higher expectations this year.
As far as positives we take away, our eyes are squarely on Bortles. Sure, we're seeing Denard Robinson turn into an NFL feature back before our eyes and our defensive line is (in my opinion) one of the best in football. But if Bortles has a lousy game, that taints our evaluation and memory of the game. If Bortles shows improvement in an area where he has struggled the past few weeks, that affects how we remember the game.
BTB: How has Blake Bortles looked? What kind of QB is he?
BCC: Bortles has looked like a rookie, but he's also looked like he was worth every bit of that No. 3 overall draft pick. His decision-making is typical rookie quarterbacking... with miscues on pre-snap reads, or not looking off defensive backs, or throwing into tight coverage. But his athleticism and arm strength gives me hope that when the mental part of the game catches up to him, he'll be spectacular.
BTB: The Jags defense has done a great job of getting to opposing QBs. How have they done that?
BCC: Scheme, mostly. That's not to diminish what the Jaguars defensive linemen have done, or how good they are, because you can't scheme away bad players. But the coaches found role players and built a scheme around what everyone does best.
I'll give you an example: We had a pure pass rusher last year in Ryan Davis. He lined up outside, sometimes dropped into coverage, but while he was good, his matchups against offensive tackles didn't allow him to get as much pressure. So the coaches asked him to bulk up, while still trying to maintain his speed. This allowed him to play the part of the inside pass rusher, getting better matchups against guards and centers. He's the team-leader now in sacks and he has the best rate of QB pressures-per-snap.
Also, having a Pro Bowl-caliber interior lineman in Sen'Derrick Marks doesn't hurt any defensive line.
BTB: Give us the injury scoop, who should play, who is out and how will this affect the team?
BCC: Well, we've got lingering injuries everywhere, but where it hurts the most is probably cornerback and linebacker.
In the last few weeks, we've had to put two of our top three cornerbacks on injured reserve -- starter Alan Ball and nickel back Will Blackmon. While the drop off hasn't been nearly what you'd imagine it to be, it still hurts.
As far as linebackers, we lost Paul Posluszny, which honestly wasn't as big of a deal as it looked on paper. Poz was a liability in pass coverage and, frankly, our line was carrying a lot of the burden when it came to run coverage. But then Jeremiah George, who we tried out at middle linebacker and was looking very good last week against the Bengals, went down early in that game. It's just been inconsistent in recent weeks and with all the injuries, we're having to slide guys around and hope veterans coming back from injury (like Dekoda Watson) can fit right in.
BTB: For the Jags to pull off the upset win, what has to happen? What script do they need to use?
BCC: On offense, Bortles needs to limit his mistakes, but still make the confident, downfield throws he was making in the second half against the Bengals. On defense, we need to stop DeMarco Murray and cover Jason Witten.