“Run the football, stop the run.” That’s the mantra of almost every NFL coach but for the Jaguars this year, half of that equation has been non-existent. Trying to change things on the offensive line, the scheme and the backs running the ball, the Jaguars have gone nowhere on the ground, currently 32nd in rushing in the league.
“Running the ball changes so many things, makes so many things easier,” head coach Gus Bradley said this week. “It forces the 8 in the box to respect the run, and the play action opens up the passing game. It changes things.”
Bradley’s right, but the Jaguars have been so ineffective with the run that other teams don’t even respect it. With a very young offensive line and backs that are still learning the position and the professional game, it’s been tough sledding for the Jaguars. Even the addition of Toby Gerhart in the offseason is still a work in progress. Gerhart hasn’t been completely healthy since week one and won’t play again this week against the Browns.
Statistically, quarterback Blake Bortles has been somewhat average, but he’s giving the Jaguars fans hope and a glimpse into a brighter future. Athletic and smart, Bortles moves in the pocket, looks downfield and makes some beautiful throws. Conversely, he’s thrown the ball to the other team too often, gets fooled by disguised coverages and occasionally has missed wide-open receivers. In other words, he’s a rookie learning the game. But he’s learning along with the other rookies on offense. The Jaguars are playing with six rookies on offense (Bortles, Johnson, Robinson, Lee, Bowanko, Linder) and rookies Alan Hurns and Nic Jacobs will also play. Add Luke Joeckel, technically still a rookie (he only played 5 games last year) and you have an unprecedented number of young players in the game at the same time. That’s not generally a recipe for success in the NFL. Even some of the greatest players in the game struggled their first year in the league. Troy Aikman won one game his rookie year. Peyton Manning won three.
So the focus is still on getting better, but at least Gus Bradley has admitted that so far it hasn’t been good enough. “If we’ve been striving for victory,” he said this week, “maybe we need to strain for victory. So far, we haven’t earned it.”
And that’s what it comes down to again for the Jaguars franchise. For all the moves, talk and histrionics about who’s playing where and when things will start to turn around, the key is just playing better. Sometimes that takes more time than most people would like to give. For the rest of 2014 the Jaguars will be an underdog in every game, including today against Cleveland. Realistically there are only a handful of games left you’d think the Jaguars have enough firepower and talent on the roster to win, and today is one of them. Perhaps next week against Miami, the home game against Tennessee and the two matchups remaining against Houston.
Today would be nice though.