Close your eyes and listen to me. Dammit, you can’t hear me. You are only saying the words I have typed inside your head in whatever construction you have of my voice, which totally doesn’t sound like me. Never mind.
Houston’s season has been over ever since Deshaun Watson went down. It sucks. All there’s left is hope. Hope that guys you like, players like Jadeveon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins, and whoever else, put up some numbers to help their Pro Bowl standing and one day Hall of Fame candidacy. Hope everyone stays healthy. And yes, hope the Texans lose.
Because the Jaguars are 9-4! They have an actual shot at a first round bye and hosting a playoff game! They have an easy schedule to end the year. The gang is coming together. They have the roster to give both the Steelers and Patriots a rough and tumble time.
Additionally, there shouldn’t be hatred between these two franchises. Neither one of their comets has crossed the sky at the same time. They’re sewer buddies. There has been nothing but joyous times when they play. Byron Leftwich making Texans fans think they didn’t move on from David Carr soon enough, Glover Quin’s slap down Fail Mary touchdown, that insane Matt Schuab versus Chad Henne overtime duel that was the last great game Schaub played in his career, Jacksonville destroying Tom Savage and starting the Deshaun Watson Era early, the Blake Bortles kick-pick, DeAndre Hopkins slaughtering Davon House, and this:
As a Texans fan, this is the country cousin you should root for this postseason. The Titans took your wife and ran away. The Bills won’t make the playoffs. The Ravens mean you have to cheer for Joe Flacco. The Chargers will blow it. The Chiefs can’t make it past the divisional round. The Raiders are done.
The Jags are the team for you.
So when you attempt to be a Jags fan this weekend, these are the five things for you to watch and root for.
1.) Bad And Bouye
The best cornerback in the NFL, and the best cornerback duo in the NFL this year, belong to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jalen Ramsey has been the best at his position, and together with A.J. Bouye, they have been the most frustrating batch of players to catch passes against. Ramsey has been targeted 73 times, has given up 4.9 yards a pass (2nd), has a success rate of 66% (3rd), intercepted four passes, is giving up an average of 0.8 yards after the catch (2nd), and the average pass attempt against him travels 14 yards in the air (6th). Bouye has been targeted 73 times, has given up 5.8 yards a pass (12th), has a success rate of 62% (11th), intercepted six passes, is giving up an average of 0.9 yards after the catch (3rd), and the average pass attempt against him travels 16.5 yards through the air (1st). All teams can do is close their eyes and throw the ball deep down field against these two and have it provide nothing to the offense.
I wrote this in an article earlier this week when I opened my heart and let out the ten things I loved about Week 14. None of this has changed. My heart remains the same. If I wrote this article 17 times this season, I would have had no problem writing about Ramsey and Bouye each and every week.
Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL. He’s a player that thrives because of his upper body strength, long arms, and ability to press. Trying to get open against him is like playing tug of war with a pitbull.
Then you have Bouye. The like, I don’t know, fourth-best corner in the league. He’s a player that thrives because of perfect backpedals that put him in control of every route and a brain that immediately recognizes routes. Together, Ramsey and Bouye are the best corner tandem in the league.
This weekend, these two get to take on DeAndre Hopkins. I feel like they primarily play on sides of the field instead of following individual wide receivers around, with Ramsey on the left side and Bouye on the right side. I hope on Sunday it stays like this so we get to see each one’s different set of styles cover the long-armed, sticky-fingered Hopkins.
Plus, with the amount of jawing Hopkins and Ramsey do, the previous millennial social media spats and physical battles they’ve had, we could actually see a fight in this game. Even if there isn’t, each route run Hopkins runs against Ramsey is going to be a civil war.
Something, something, Jalen Ramsey is DeAndre Hopkins’s father. See? We are Jags fans now.
2.) Blake Bortles, Pretty Good?
Hey, you just read this, and this crazy, but Blake Bortles is having the best season of his career, baby. He has a completion percentage of 60.2% (!), 16 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 6.9 yards per pass attempt, and he has thrown for 2,821 yards. If you want the smart numbers, Bortles has a DYAR of 324 (17th), a DVOA of 0.5% (17th), a QBR of 55.7 (14th). He’s sandwiched between Kirk Cousins and some guy named Aaron Rodgers. That’s what happens when you don’t have a running attack and are forced to throw the ball 45 times a game.
You go, Blake Bortles. I’m so proud of him. He’s learned the most valuable lesson in football—throw the ball to the guys wearing the same jersey as you. He’s limited the interceptions and has made smarter decisions. Additionally, he’s in a great situation for the first time in his career. In the past he was forced to do too much. He had to throw from behind, out of the shotgun, something that only worked when the score was 30-10. His game was putting the ball close enough to Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, letting them go up and get it.
The Jaguars have a run game and a defense now. Bortles only has to do enough. Schematically, Doug Marrone’s team has been great at setting up easy throws for Bortles. Everything isn’t deep and down the sideline anymore. The Jags like to operate out of the shotgun and spread the defense out. From there, they run a lot of crossing routes; it seems like every third down, Bortles can find Marqise Lee open and running toward the sideline, in rhythm and stride.
The two other things I’ve noticed about Bortles is that he’s been awesome as a runner and has had great touch. He has run the ball 38 times for 291 yards and has a DVOA of 27.5%, which is tenth out of all quarterbacks. On runs, Bortles has broken five tackles. Most importantly, he’s helped out his offensive line. Bortles is tied with Matthew Stafford with 19 sacks avoided. He has felt the rush well, and he’s a big guy that’s hard to take down. The stranger quality is all the touch passes Bortles has had this year. I don’t know where they came from, but he’s been throwing these high lofting passes to the sideline, to running backs, tight ends, whoever, that graze Icarus and plop into the bucket. He must have spent all summer doing dumpster workouts with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Bortles has been interesting this season. It will be crazy to see what the Jags decide to do this offseason. They already picked up his fifth-year option (against the advice of their fan base) and pay him millions and millions of dollars, maybe with a multi-year extension to boot. Or they can go out and find a veteran quarterback that could be available. Guys like Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, Tyrod Taylor, Tom Savage, or whoever, and then draft someone else to cultivate. Regardless of the future, Bortles is playing the best football of his career. Maybe, just maybe, he can play well enough to take down Pittsburgh or New England next month.
3.) RUN IT.
I wasn’t down on the Jaguars’ defense. At minimum, I thought they would be a a top ten unit, with the possibility of being a top five one if their younger players improved. They have exceeded this modest prediction. They are second in DVOA and are slightly behind Baltimore.
I was skeptical of Jacksonville’s offense. I didn’t think they had the offensive line to run the ball well enough for their game plan to work. I was worried about Leonard Fournette wearing down and getting devoured by fat boxes.
I thought this was going to be a bottom-feeding offense, one of those weird fish that stick to the side of the glass. I was wrong. The Jags’ offense has been mediocre. They are ranked 15th in both run and pass offense DVOA.
With the defense playing as well as they are, Jacksonville can do what they want to do—run the ball. They are first in rushing attempts with 437, first in rushing yards with 1,949, fifth in touchdowns with 13, and sixth in yards per attempt with 4.5. Fournette has 923 yards on 231 attempts. Chris Ivory, who has looked more like Marion The Barbarian than Marion Barber lately (yes, that was very lame, I know), has 340 yards on 95 carries. T.J. Yeldon has 208 yards on 33 carries. As mentioned above, Bortles has been good as a runner as well.
Jacksonville’s offensive line has been better than expected. They’ve been fine. But fine is so much better than expected. Jeremy Parnell has been above-average. Cam Robinson is a starting left tackle and is wearing a damn clown mask during a bank robbery when you factor in last year’s tackle market. Brandon Linder is a quick, reach-blocking center. The guard play was a disaster last year, and it’s been decent this year, but they have been protected by the men sandwhiched around them.
Mediocre blocking is all the Jags need. Fournette has broken 51 tackles, at a rate of 19.5%. Ivory has broken 26 tackles at a rate of 22.4%. Yeldon has broken 10 at a rate of 19.6%. Fournette goes through everyone and has an insane power-speed combination. He’s been consistently clocked as the fastest player each week. Ivory likes to lower his shoulder, pop off, and he sometimes breaks out the occasional spin. I like Yeldon as an outside zone back for a team other than Jacksonville in the future.
This week, Jacksonville will be going up against a really good Houston run defense that has five great players playing with preseason roster leftovers. Blocking Jadeveon Clowney and D.J. Reader, trying to break Benardrick McKinney tackles, and running away from Zach Cunningham is a tall task. Sunday’s game should be a fun clash of sword and shield.
The key here is that the Jags’ run game has been mediocre. The pass game has been mediocre. With the defense Jacksonville has, that is much more than enough.
One of the FUN things about this season has been the two (2) ten (10!) sack games the Jaguars had this year. One was against Houston in Week One. The other was in a shutout win against the Colts that hurt Andrew Luck’s shoulder even from his compound in Europe thousands of miles away. The Jaguars have 47 sacks in those two games but only 27 more with them removed. That isn’t a dismissal of Jacksonville’s pass rush. It just means their sack total is inflated against teams with a bad offensive line and a constipated quarterback and a team with a bad offensive line and a young quarterback.
But sacks are the end result of consistently good play. The Jags are sixth in pressure rate at 33.9%. Throughout the year, they consistently have gotten pressure with their front four. Calais Campbell has 36 pressures and 12.5 sacks. Yannick Ngakoue has 24.5 pressures and 11 sacks. Malik Jackson has 21 pressures and 7 sacks. Dante Fowler has 19.5 pressures and 6.5 sacks. Aside from these four, no one is really getting a rush. Myles Jack is fifth on the team in sacks with two The Jaguars bring four to rush the passer and get their creatively using stunts and slants, not blitzes. Their linebackers drop off into short zone coverage and chase down ball carriers and swallow up the quick passing. Their secondary takes care of the rest. It’s a perfectly molded defensive game plan.
Against Houston, the Jaguars are going up against a bad offensive line. It’s a line now with Jeff Allen at left tackle, someone who played well last week at that position. It’s hilarious, but a training camp battle between Allen and Juli’en Davenport may be the Texans’ best option for next season at this position. Xavier Su’a-Filo is at left guard, in the last year of his rookie contract. Nick Martin is at center. Greg Mancz is at right guard. The unplayable Breno Giacomini is at right tackle. It’s a motley bunch, rag-tagged like a bunch of latch key kids. Looking to next year, Martin is the only player that’s a lock to start on this team next year.
So it’s poor T.J. Yates that gets to play behind a colander with a bunch of pots and pans banging into him. He’ll have one receiver to throw to, and Nuk will be covered by the best cornerback combo in football; he might as well be covered in in fire ants. This is a tough matchup for Ben Roethlisberger. It’s going to be a Hieronymus Bosch painting for Yates.
5.) Can They Stop The Run?
This is the biggest weakness for the Jaguars. At -0.9%, they are 29th in run defense DVOA and 29th in yards per carry allowed at 4.6 yards. They have quick linebackers but they don’t have the muster to size up offensive linemen head up. If paws get on them, they fall down or have to try to run backwards out of the block to make tackles. As good as Jackson and Campbell are against the run, Fowler and Ngakoue get chewed up like frozen pizza at 4 a.m. Additionally, Jacksonville’s safeties haven’t been great at stopping open field runs. They are a mediocre tackling team.
To fix this issue, they have changed up their first and second down defense. They traded for Marcel Dareus and they have been playing him and Abry Jones more often on early downs. Since trading for Dareus after Week 8, the run defense has improved. They had a run defense DVOA of -35.4% against Cincinnati, -26.2% against Los Angeles (Chargers), and -57.3% against Cleveland. After being astronomically better, things have gotten worse for the Jags. Their run defense DVOA was -0.1% against Arizona, 1.2% against Indianapolis, and 34.2% against Seattle.
I can’t specifically say why things have changed. Arizona has a terrible run offense. The Colts were able to run but couldn’t throw. Seattle was able to break some big runs, Russell Wilson specifically. I can say that they have been a bad run defense this season in the aggregate, a great one right after the Dareus trade, and below average the last three weeks.
Even then, this plays into the Jaguars’ game plan. They want to get a lead, run the football, put Bortles in easy passing situations, and force teams to throw from behind. The less teams run, the better; the more they throw, the better. The sore they have lived with is going to be seeping and septic if the scoreboard isn’t in their favor.
This is also why I think this Sunday is going to be close for the first half. Houston should be able to run the ball a little bit, and the Jags should struggle running the ball. Yates is a risk averse quarterback who is going to be a risk averse quarterback with limited receiving options. There should be a lot of punting, stuttering, stopping, hitting, and shouting. Eventually, after enough better defensive stops, the Jaguars’ offense should be able to break through, especially if Bortles completes two deep passing attempts.
I know that this is an interdivisional game. I know you like the Texans. But this weekend, make an attempt to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Push it to the limit a bit. Put on some pee-colored pants. Fill up a baby pool, place it in your house, and sit in it. Hop on the bandwagon.
Because soon enough, the NFL Playoffs are going to be here. The AFC will be settled with Pittsburgh and New England marching their way to the AFC Championship Game. The Jags are the strongest threat to ruin manifest destiny. In addition to that, they are fun as hell to watch.