Bortles' Steady Improvement As QB Means Little Without Wins
As the New York Mets have shown throughout the MLB postseason, elite pitching overpowers elite hitting, and good defense can stifle good offense. In the NFL, however, you cannot win without putting points on the board. Sacks, fumble recoveries, and forced three-and-outs are impressive, but in the 94 matchups that have been played thus far this season, the only shutout came in Week 3, when the Seattle Seahawks embarrassed the Chicago Bears, winning 26-0.
If offense and success in the league are interrelated, then on one hand the demand for scoring contributes to the dynamism of the game, but on the other, talented players on less offensively gifted teams are overshadowed by losing records.
One of the most obvious examples of this oversight is Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars have long been a punchline in the league, and considering the team is currently 1-5 and last place in the AFC South, that reputation will hold for at least another season. But hidden amidst the Jaguars' four straight losses after winning against the lowly Miami Dolphins in Week 2 is Bortles' drastic improvement from his rookie year.
In 2014, the inexperience of the No. 3 overall pick out of the University of Central Florida showed in all aspects of his game. After taking over the starting role from Chad Henne in the beginning of the season, Bortles went 3-11 and tied for second in the league in interceptions thrown with 17. He was also 28th in the league in completion percentage (59.9%), and dead last in QBR (69.5).
His accuracy was obviously a problem, and his footwork also had a lot of room for improvement. In his defense, however, Bortles was playing with three rookie wide receivers, as well as two rookies on the offensive line and a second-year left tackle who missed 11 games the season before. As a result, Bortles was sacked a league-leading 55 times. 2014 was thus a season that Bortles used to work through the kinks of playing in the NFL for the first time, improve his fundamentals, and amass footage to study in the offseason.
Six weeks into the 2015 season, it is evident that having a year of experience has made Bortles much more comfortable on the field. His QBR has shot up to 83.5, and after throwing 11 touchdowns and 2,908 yards in 2014, he had already thrown 13 touchdowns which is fifth in the league, and is on pace for over 4,300 yards.
Not hard to see where Blake Bortles' improvement has come in first 5 games this year compared to first 5 last year. pic.twitter.com/l4Asdxq1v0— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 16, 2015
Jacksonville's overall offense has also improved--the team jumped from No. 31 in total offense in 2014 to No. 15 this season, and from No. 29 to No. 10 in receiving--but the team has not found a way to turn these positives into wins, or points. Out of the 32 teams in the league, the Jaguars are 30th in points per game with 18.8.
One of the main contributors to this stat is the team's inability to score in the red zone. When the Jaguars have been within 20 yards of their opponent's end zone, they have scored a touchdown just over half the time (52.6%), good for 20th in the league.
"The one more improvement would be to win, obviously," Blake Bortles said. "We've done everything. All our numbers are pretty good with the exception of offensive scoring, which (is) the bottom-line. It's the only one that matters, right?"
Bortles was selected to be the Jaguars' franchise quarterback and his sophomore year is showing that he has the potential to take on the role. However, even though the quarterback is often touted as the face and leader of the offense, the other players on the team also have to find a way to execute and put up points. If they fail to do so, winning will be an impossible task, and Bortles' progress will have nothing to show for it.