The Jaguars had the worst offense in the NFL in 2014, averaging a league-low 15.6 points per game. You can’t pinpoint just one area and say that it needs addressing this offseason. Every aspect of the offense needs improvement, and it starts with the offensive line.
The Jaguars’ O-line isn’t stout, athletic, physical, aggressive, or mean. Ideally, an offensive line would have all of those traits. You could live with them having just two or three. But the Jaguars’ line has none.
It starts with left tackle Luke Joeckel. 2013-2nd-overall-pick Luke Joeckel. He stood out on film in every single game we watched from the 2014 season in a bad way. His feet were terrible, always way off the ground when he moved. This opened him up to pass rushers who would bull rush him as soon as one foot was off the ground and drive him back into his quarterback’s lap. Joeckel also overset often, leaving him with too wide of a base as you can see below.
This gave him no ability to deliver a blow, react and move, or resist a bull-rush.
Joeckel often stopped his feet, got caught leaning, and wasn’t athletic enough to stay in front of defenders. Play after play, when Joeckel was asked to protect on anything other than a 3-step drop or play-action with max-protection, he was beat with strength and/or speed.
Jacksonville had similar issues at right tackle last season. Their interior line needs an upgrade as well, but the tackle positions absolutely have to be addressed in the coming months, otherwise it will be tough for Blake Bortles to develop, let alone have success.
The issues with the offensive line limited what the Jaguars could do through the air. They rarely could push the ball down the field because they couldn’t protect. As a result, they called lots of 3-step drops and quick-5’s, designed to get the ball out of Bortles’ hand. This made it easy for defensive backs to sit on routes. They also used lots of screens, which generally lose their effect when run as often as the Jaguars called them. What was worse for Jacksonville was the impact all of this had on their rookie quarterback.
In 2014, Bortles showed the ability to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield knowing he’s about to get hit. But as games went on, and as the season went on, he started anticipating pressure. The offensive line was collapsing around him so often that he wouldn’t even work through all of his reads, even on those occasions when he did have time. He fled the pocket early at times, and this led to him missing some plays downfield. This was a direct result of the cumulative effects of pressure. It hinders all quarterbacks.
Bortles also has some small issues with his mechanics. His natural throwing motion is a little long to begin with. This isn’t anything that can’t be overcome, and it was marginally better in the early parts of the season than it was in college. But as the season progressed and the pressure kept coming, he reverted back to his more natural long throwing motion as shown below.
Look how low he drops the ball here.
This isn’t as bad as Tim Tebow or Byron Leftwich’s throwing motions. He definitely doesn’t need a complete overhaul of his mechanics or anything. But in the heat of the moment, athletes always revert back to what comes natural. For Bortles in 2014, his motion got longer the more he got hit. This affected his accuracy and ball placement. Bortles needs to continue to make marginal adjustments until they become natural. In the mean time, Jacksonville needs to protect their young signal caller.
When Bortles did have time this season, he exhibited everything you could want in a franchise quarterback. He’s got a strong arm and can anticipate well. He appears to have an understanding of coverage based on what we’ve seen on film. He’s even shown the ability to make plays with his legs. He scrambled to avoid pressure and even kept the ball on several read-options. Bortles finished with 419 rushing yards, which was 4th-most in the NFL among quarterbacks behind the usual suspects (Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton).
Still, Bortles needs help around him. In addition to the offensive line, he needs more weapons in the passing game. Rookie Marqise Lee showed the most explosion and quick twitch of any Jaguars receiver. The rest had trouble getting open consistently, though.
On the ground, Jacksonville ultimately had a running-back-by-committee situation. They had a stiff, downhill runner in Toby Gerhart, a perimeter runner in Denard Robinson, and two other backs in Jordan Todman and Storm Johnson who combined to run the ball 61 times for 272 yards and 3 touchdowns. Their four running backs combined to rush for just 1,180 yards all season. Again, a large part of this was due to an offensive line that generated no push, but they need more talent in their backfield in 2015.
The Jaguars are expected my many to be major players in free agency and they hold the 3rd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. They could have a much different looking team next season. They’ll need to if they are going to make any strides in the AFC South. They have areas that need upgrading all throughout their roster, but they need to give Blake Bortles some help first and foremost.