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Blake Bortles key to Jacksonville Jaguars’ success

The veteran quarterback needs to play better—full stop—if the team’s fortunes are to reverse

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars enter Sunday’s contest against the Buffalo Bills in a tailspin, having lost six consecutive games after a 3-1 start. Plenty has gone wrong for Jacksonville, as their vaunted defense has allowed an average of 27 points per game over that span, their franchise quarterback has taken two huge steps backwards, and their star running back has been recovering from injury.

However, the team seems to be turning the corner with regard to the injury bug and, much like Buffalo, the team’s defensive struggles are most certainly due in part to repeated terrible showings by the offense. On Sunday, there will be plenty of Jaguars players to watch. Here are our top five.

QB Blake Bortles

The embattled Jags quarterback has regressed terribly this season. After a strong playoff showing (49/85, 594 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions over three games) led the team to ink Bortles to a three-year extension worth $54 million, Bortles has looked less like the emerging quarterback he appeared to be in the playoffs and more like the sinking high-draft pick he resembled in years prior. While the numbers aren’t awful—he has a quarterback rating of 84.3, 12 touchdowns, and a 61% completion rate this season—they are certainly disappointing, What’s more, Bortles has made routine throws look impossible on multiple occasions. Last year, the Bills’ defense was the one that gave Bortles the most trouble in the playoffs, but they did not account for his excellent mobility, allowing him to rack up 88 yards rushing on ten carries. Bortles is the key to Jacksonville’s success, and he needs to play much better if the team is going to reverse its fortunes.

RB Leonard Fournette

Jacksonville’s starting running back missed nearly all of the beginning of the season due to a hamstring injury, and while he has produced fantasy football scoring since his return, he has not done much to produce in actuality. In two games since his return, Fournette has 52 carries for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. That level of inefficiency (Fournette is only averaging 2.48 yards per carry) is not what the Jaguars expected when they drafted the LSU product third overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. If Fournette can consistently find space, the Jaguars’ offense looks much better.

LT Ereck Flowers

The 2015 first-round selection by the New York Giants has had a rough go of it during his brief NFL career. After struggling mightily as Eli Manning’s blindside protector, the Giants released him. The Jaguars picked him up and made him the third-string left tackle, but injuries have forced him into action this week. He’ll draw a match-up with Buffalo’s best pass rusher and defensive lineman overall, Jerry Hughes.

DT Marcell Dareus

Listed as questionable due to a back injury, Mr. Big Stuff makes his return to Orchard Park after being traded last season. While his presence has not been observed as much on the stat sheet (28 tackles, one sack, two tackles-for-loss in ten games), he has certainly occupied space for the rest of Jacksonville’s second-level defenders. If he is able to play, it will be interesting to watch how he performs at his old home. Adam Schefter reports Dareus won’t play.

CB A.J. Bouye

The talented cornerback returned to action last week after missing two games due to a calf injury. As half of an elite duo on the outside, Bouye’s presence in the secondary could give rookie quarterback Josh Allen fits. Without a weakness on the outside of Jacksonville’s defense, it should force the Bills to attack the middle; knowing this, the Jaguars can adjust accordingly. If Bouye is able to hold up in coverage outside, it will severely limit Buffalo’s offensive opportunities.

CB Jalen Ramsey

This match-up is one that I’m sure Allen has had circled on his calendar, probably in the metaphorical sense (maybe he has it highlighted on his Google Calendar) since Ramsey called him “trash” during an off-season interview with GQ. If Allen chooses to face his taunter head-on, then Ramsey will have some opportunities to back his claims. The duel between these two has the potential to provide some fireworks, as Allen has shown himself to be unafraid of conflict while on the field so far in his young career.