Our 2019 NFL Preview marches through the AFC South with a pitstop in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars look to pick up the pieces following a miserable season that fell well short of expectations. After nearly advancing to Super Bowl LII, the AFC South Champions stood largely pat, notably retaining the services of much-maligned Quarterback, Blake Bortles, whom they resigned to a new contract. That particular move proved to be their undoing in 2018, as Bortles (predictably) flopped over and over again, as Doug Marrone & Co. floundered to a Last Place finish, their second in three years. However, VP of Football Operations, Tom Coughlin, and General Manager, David Caldwell, set out to actively rectify that mistake, cutting Bortles and signing former Philadelphia Eagles’ Quarterback, and Super Bowl LII Hero, Nick Foles. While the veteran has had mixed success as a Starter in the past, he’s certainly an upgrade over Bortles, and with a Defense that remains one of the league’s nastiest, Jacksonville looks poised to rebound in 2019. However, just how much of an improvement is Foles, and how big of an effect will he have on this team? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Two of the great dramas in the NFL over the past few years came to a close this Offseason, as the Eagles decided to part ways with Super Bowl LII MVP, Nick Foles (72.3%, 1,413 YDS, 6.70 NY/A, 7 TD, 4 INT, 69.5 QBR) in favor of the younger Carson Wentz, while the Jaguars finally moved on from Blake Bortles (60.3%, 2,718 YDS, 5.86 NY/A, 13 TD, 11 INT) after years of poor play. To say that the Jaguars were terrible on the offensive side of the football last season would be a gross understatement; with Bortles, and later Cody Kessler, at the controls, this unit averaged just 15.3 Points per Game (31st Overall) on 322.1 Total Yards (27th Overall), including 214.4 Yards through the air (26th Overall) on 5.3 Net Yards per Attempt (30th Overall), along with 107.7 Yards via the Run (19th Overall) on 4.1 Yards per Carry (26th Overall). Furthermore, they were among the league’s worst in the Red Zone, scoring a Touchdown on a dismal 44.1% of their opportunities (31st Overall), while committing Twenty-Nine Turnovers (28th Overall), which led to a horrid differential of Minus-12. Indeed, after four years of Bortles stinking things up, it was high time for a revolution at the game’s most important position, which of course brings us to Foles. Rather than picking his new team following his Super Bowl heroics, the 30-Year Old opted to remain in Philadelphia for another season as a glorified Insurance Policy for Wentz, who continued to rehab from a torn ACL. After playing rather poorly in the first two weeks of the campaign, and immediately taking a back seat to a healthy Wentz, Foles would later add to his legend replacing his injured teammate once more, guiding the Eagles to a 3-0 finish, qualifying for the Playoffs, where they upset the Chicago Bears in the Wild Card Round before narrowly meeting defeat at the New Orleans Saints. So which player will the Jaguars be getting in 2019? Will it be the guy who over the last two years in Philadelphia went 6-2 as a spot-starter and authored one of the most impressive performances in Super Bowl History, or the journeyman beforehand who in separate stops with the Eagles, Rams, and Chiefs was largely irrelevant? Either way, he figures to be a considerable upgrade over Bortles, though HOW MUCH is anyone’s guess.
A Support System
Everyone knows that football is a consummate team sport, for no single player can truly succeed without the support of a teammate, and that notion is especially poignant when discussing the Jaguars’ acquisition of the aforementioned Foles. Indeed, if they think that they can simply throw him under Center and expect him to repeat his performance in the Super Bowl, then they really should of just kept Bortles. Relax, that’s a joke, folks. Seriously though, Marrone must go about providing his new Quarterback with a quality Supporting Cast to maximize his talents, and the first step in doing so was hiring John DeFilippo as Offensive Coordinator. In fact, DeFilippo was with the team well before Foles’ gave his signature, serving as a major reason that they were able to land the veteran in the first place, due to the two enjoying a good working relationship after DeFilippo served as his Quarterbacks Coach in 2017. Whether or not Marrone will continue to call the plays is anyone’s guess, but DeFilippo’s presence should aid in the Signal-Caller’s acclimation to his new team. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt for Jacksonville to surround him with some talented players, which believe it or not, they do possess. First and foremost, Leonard Fournette (133 CAR, 439 YDS, 3.3 Y/C, 5 TD) is going to have to straighten himself out and become the player he was supposed be when he was drafted No. 4 Overall two years ago. The Tailback impressed as a Rookie, spearheading the league’s top rushing attack (141.4 Y/G), with 1,040 Yards and Nine Touchdowns, only to stumble through a miserable 2018 littered with injuries. He later drew the ire of Coughlin and Caldwell following a late season outburst that prompted the former to void guarantees in his contract nearly forcing a trade. Meanwhile, the healthy return of both veteran Receiver, Marquise Lee, and Offensive Tackle, Cam Robinson, should go a long way towards improving the unit as a whole, while the additions of veteran Wideout, Chris Conley (32 REC, 334 YDS, 10.4 Y/R, 5 TD), who arrived via Free Agency, and Offensive Tackle, Jawaan Taylor (No. 35 Overall), who was selected in the Second Round of the 2019 NFL Draft, should further bolster their ranks. After all, there’s really nowhere to go but up after last year’s embarrassment.
Barking and Biting
Over the last three years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Defense better than that of the Jaguars, who during that period of time have ranked Sixth, Second, and Fifth in Total Defense despite playing alongside one of the least-effective Offensive Units in the league. It’s downright criminal that this group, which is absolutely littered with talented players was subject to the Blake Bortles Circus week in and week out, making their run to the AFC Championship Game two years ago all the more remarkable in hindsight. Marrone must really appreciate the effort that these guys have provided, for without them it’s hard to imagine the team winning many games over the past few seasons. While they weren’t as dominant as they were in the previous term, Jacksonville was still elite in 2018, allowing 19.8 Points per Game (4th Overall) on 311.5 Total Yards (5th Overall), including 194.6 Yards against the Pass (2nd Overall) on 5.8 Net Yards per Attempt (5th Overall), along with 116.9 Yards versus the Run (19th Overall) on 4.3 Yards per Carry (14th Overall). Furthermore, they were among the stingiest in the Red Zone, permitting a Touchdown on just 51.1% of their opponents’ opportunities (8th Overall). However, there is a real argument that can be made that over the course of the campaign, Defensive Coordinator Todd Wash witnessed his charges wear down due to the ineptitude of the Offense; the Jags struggled to force Turnovers a year after ranking Second Overall (33), managing just seventeen last season, while also experiencing diminishing returns in terms of Sacks, collecting a whopping Fifty-Five in 2017 opposed to Thirty-Seven in 2018. With that said, both Jalen Ramsey (65 TKL, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 13 PD) and Calais Campbell (72 TKL, 20 TFL, 22 QBH, 10.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PD) were once again selected to the Pro Bowl, while Linebacker Telvin Smith (134 TKL, 4 TFL, 3 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 1 TD, 2 PD) and Myles Jack (107 TKL, 1 TFL, 4 QBH, 2.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 PD) are as excellent a tandem that you’ll find at their position. There appears to be some hard decisions to make in the future, as Jacksonville will have to choose whom they will and won’t pay large sums of money to, particularly Ramsey, whose current Rookie Contract runs out after the 2020 campaign, meaning that he will be up for extension talks before long.
2019 Forecast: 7-9
After very nearly advancing to what would have been their first Super Bowl in franchise history, the 2018 campaign can only be described as an utter and total disaster for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who spiraled downward to a 5-11 record and Last Place finish in the AFC South. As it turned out, that abysmal performance was the last straw for Blake Bortles, who was cut during the Offseason, as Tom Coughlin, David Caldwell, and Doug Marrone hired John DeFilippo as their new Offensive Coordinator, which then led to the signing of Nick Foles in Free Agency. After two years of saving the Philadelphia Eagles come Playoff Time, Foles will be beginning a new journey in Northeastern Florida, where he will be expected to bring at the very least, a steady, calming presence to an Offense that has been in dire need of it for years. Given the synergy existing between he and his former Quarterbacks Coach, DeFilippo, the veteran should hit the ground running, and if the Offensive Line can remain healthy, and Leonard Fournette can keep his head on straight, then this group will look exponentially more respectable than they did a year ago. Of course, nobody expects them to turn into a juggernaut overnight, though they likely won’t have to be, for after all, as long as the Defense ranks among the league’s finest, then they should be in just about every game. The biggest problem though is the fact that when they won the Division two years ago, the AFC South was terrible, with both the Colts and Texans decimated due to injuries, and the Titans meandering around .500. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case, so Marrone’s charges likely won’t receive much help there, which means that while they should be greatly improved over last year’s train-wreck, they still lack the requisite firepower to threaten teams on a consistent basis, which will likely result in another season without the Playoffs. But hey, cheer up Jags Fans, at least your team will be watchable in 2019…