Cowboys vs. Jaguars: Blake Bortles is the single biggest variable for the Jaguars from week-to-week

The Dallas Cowboys host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, so it’s time to lean some things about the Jaguars. For that, we reached out to Big Cat Country to get some answers to our questions. Check it out.

Blogging The Boys: The running back situation is a little unsettled. How has that unit been without Leonard Fournette? Also, do you expect Jamaal Charles to play/have any real impact in the game?

Big Cat Country: Jacksonville’s recipe for success in 2017 was smash-mouth offense and very good defense. The Jaguars were hoping to replicate that in 2018, and still want to be a run-first team (the defense remains elite). However, Leonard Fournette has been dealing with a hamstring injury since Week 1 and has not even played four quarters of football this season. The Jaguars looked to run the offense through Fournette when he was available, but durability has been an issue for him. Backup running back T.J. Yeldon has actually played quite well in Fournette’s absence, averaging more than 90 total yards from scrimmage per game in 2018. Although, Yeldon has been dealing with an ankle injury himself, and quite frankly doesn’t offer the same threat as Fournette does in the ground game. The running game has also taken a hit due to injuries along the offensive line. The group is banged up at several spots, and already lost left tackle Cam Robinson for the season. The Jags are actually forced to start third-stringer Josh Walker at left tackle this week with Josh Wells out with a groin injury.

Jacksonville also lost speedy tailback Corey Grant for the season last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Now down two of its top three running backs, the team was forced to make some roster moves this week, signing the aforementioned Jamaal Charles and also plucking rookie David Williams off of the Denver Broncos’ practice squad, while releasing Brandon Wilds. I wouldn’t have too high of expectations for Charles (or Williams) this week, as he has limited time to learn the offense and obviously isn’t the player he once was. He should see some time this week when Yeldon needs a breather, though, as the Jaguars don’t have much of a choice. I think Charles is an underrated pass protector, too, so he may come in on some third downs. It’s definitely going to be interesting to watch.

BTB: Blake Bortles is always a point of conversation among NFL fans. Last year seemed to help his reputation around the NFL, but how has he looked this year? How does the fanbase feel about him?

BCC: This is a common question I get asked, and the best way to answer it is that Blake Bortles’ biggest problem has always been consistency. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a bad quarterback, but when he is off he is really off (see Kansas City game last week), and when he’s on, the Jaguars are pretty much unbeatable. He is the single biggest variable for the Jaguars from week-to-week, and it’s infuriating. Bortles has had two stellar games, one average at best game and two awful games. He is completing nearly 62 percent of his passes on the season and is actually top-10 in the league right now in passing yards, but the turnovers and his decision-making are issues.

When speaking about upcoming matchups, you may often hear Jaguars fans say something along the lines of “if good Blake shows up, we’ll win,” or “If bad Blake plays Sunday, we’re in for a long day.” It’s just what it is at this point, and it’s hard to speak for everybody, but I think the majority of Jags fans accept that. With that said, there are also plenty out there who would like to see him replaced. Personally, I thought Bortles deserved the contract extension he received in the offseason, following his most efficient season yet and a solid playoff run last year. I have accepted him for what he is and I do believe the Jaguars can win with him, but I also understand that he can single-handedly derail Jacksonville’s chances on any given Sunday. The Jaguars’ struggles aren’t all on Bortles, though. The offensive line play needs to be better and playmakers on offense need to find some consistency.

BTB: Last week, the Chiefs were able to have some offensive success against your defense. How did they accomplish that? Did they expose any weaknesses in that unit?

BCC: The dynamic Chiefs offense was definitely able to move the football, but what’s lost in the box score is that the Jacksonville offense continued to put the defense in bad situations. The offensive line allowed constant pressure and Bortles made poor decisions, which led to the Jaguars turning the ball over five times. While the Chiefs put up 30 points, Kansas City scored a defensive touchdown and often gave its offense good starting field position and momentum. The Chiefs were able to build an early lead and sustained it throughout the contest by controlling the clock and winning the time of possession battle by more than five minutes. The Chiefs also have a lot of playmakers at their disposal and Andy Reid was able to scheme his guys all over the field and pick up yardage. Patrick Mahomes was able to beat blitzes and take advantage of the aggressive Jacksonville defense, and he had a nice connection going with Travis Kelce. Kareem Hunt was solid running the ball as well. The Jaguars’ defensive unit definitely made mistakes, and it was exposed a little bit. But Jacksonville ran into a buzzsaw in Kansas City, and the rainy conditions and awful offense didn’t help, but I’m not here to make excuses. The Jacksonville defense was actually the first unit to be able to pick off Mahomes this season (twice). So, I think this team will be just fine defensively going forward (there is too much talent not to be), but hopefully they studied last week’s film and are able to correct the issues that plagued them.

BTB: Talk about the play of Barry Church. He was a player that was a nice piece of the Cowboys defense when he was here. How has he been in Jacksonville?

BCC: I think Barry Church is a very underrated safety, and that makes sense when you look at the other names in Jacksonville’s secondary — Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Church and Tashaun Gipson quietly make up one of the better NFL safety duos, and Church often seems to make plays around the ball. His play this year hasn’t quite been at the same level as it was last year, and he is currently ranked in just the “average” tier according to Pro Football Focus, but I don’t think that necessarily tells the whole story. Since coming to Jacksonville last season, Church has four interceptions, nine pass defended, 93 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and a pick-six. One of the reasons the Jaguars were interested in signing him last season was because of his big play ability and knack for always being around the ball. He definitely flashed that last season, while this season the unit has struggled to create turnovers as a whole. Long story short, I have plenty of confidence in Church even if his play has a taken a small dip so far this season.

BTB: Lay out the scenario for the Cowboys to get a win. If you were the opposing coach against the Jaguars, what would be your game plan?

BCC: If I am looking at this from the Cowboys’ perspective, I know that my 30th-ranked passing attack is not likely to be successful against Jacksonville’s No. 1 ranked passing defense. So, I am running the football with Ezekiel Elliot and scheming creative ways to get the ball in his hands. Once Jacksonville starts to key in on him and perhaps brings more players into the box, I am using play-action passes and short throws to the open receivers in the flats to try to pick up chunk yardage after the catch. Of course, that is much easier said than done against this athletic defense. If I am the defensive coordinator for Dallas, I am looking at what the Chiefs or Tennessee Titans did to the Jaguars, and trying to put the game in Bortles’ hands. Shut down the running game and pressure Bortles into bad decisions and turnovers. If the Cowboys are able to do that, they will definitely be in a good position to win. Here’s to hoping “good Blake” shows up on Sunday in front of a national audience.

Thanks for the knowledge, Big Cat Country.

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