For the second time in three years, the Jacksonville Jaguars hope to go from last to first in the AFC South. Does their new quarterback have enough support?
In 2017, the Jacksonville Jaguars won their first division title since 1999. Doug Marrone’s club would embark on a playoff run that saw them outslug the Buffalo Bills at home and a week later, stun the Steelers at Heinz Field. And the team owned a 10-point lead in the AFC title game at Foxborough. The franchise appeared on the verge of its first Super Bowl appearance.
Of course, it was not meant to be. The New England Patriots would go onto Minneapolis to face the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL championship. And Bill Belichick’s club would fall to the Birds, 41-33, in a game in which Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles would capture MVP honors.
Now that same signal-caller is expected to guide Doug Marrone’s club this fall and winter. After five seasons and very limited success by quarterback Blake Bortles, the organization cut ties with the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Now enter a seven-year pro who has seen his share of action around the league and guided a team down the stretch and into the playoffs the past two seasons when Carson Wentz was sidelined.
And while Foles has enjoyed his shining moments these past two postseason, he was far from perfect a year ago. In the 2018 playoff split with the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, he completed just 60.6 percent of his passes for 467 yards, three scores and four interceptions. In fact, he was picked off twice in each of those contests.
Of course, football is far from a one-man game. So more importantly, does the 30-year-old pro have enough of a supporting cast to end the Jaguars’ offensive doldrums of recent years?
In 2018, only five teams in the league gained fewer total yards per game. Jacksonville’s ground attack went from first in the NFL to 19th this past year. The offense produced only 22 touchdowns and the club was not only limited to 15.3 points per game (second-lowest in the NFL just ahead of the Arizona Cardinals) but was held to single digits on the scoreboard in six contests. All told, the Jaguars won one game within the division a year ago. It was a stunning 6-0 home victory over an Indianapolis Colts’ team in Week 13 that would lose only once in its final 10 regular-season contests. It somehow epitomized Marrone’s offense in 2018 as the team failed to score a touchdown in the win.
So what about ’19? First, can running back Leonard Fournette stay healthy this season? He was limited to just eight games and starts in ’18 but still led the Jaguars with 133 carries, 439 yards on the ground and five rushing touchdowns. However, coveted backup T.J. Yeldon is now a member of the Buffalo Bills. And his departure also affects the passing game. The four-year pro finished second on the team with 55 receptions, four for scores this past season.
As of the aerial attack, wide receiver Dede Westbrook has shown the penchant at times for the big play and did lead Jacksonville in grabs (66), receiving yards (717) and touchdown catches (5) this past year. Having wideout Marqise Lee back on the field in ’19 would be a huge help. The team used a second-round a year ago on DJ Chark. He played in just 11 games and caught less than half (14) of the 32 passes thrown to him in ’18. But so far this offseason, there’s been progress made.
So what did general manager David Caldwell do this offseason to give the Jacksonville offense a bit more punch? Wide receiver Chris Conley comes over from the Chiefs, the team added tight ends Geoff Swaim (Cowboys) and rookie Josh Oliver (3-San Jose State) and well-traveled receiver Terrelle Pryor is on the comeback trail. There’s a slew of newcomers in the backfield in Alfred Blue, Benny Cunningham, oft-injured Thomas Rawls and 2019 fifth-round pick Ryquell Armstead (Temple).
Up front, left tackle Cam Robinson is still on the mend after missing all but three games a year ago. The Jaguars did use a second-round pick in April on talented tackle Jawaan Taylor. The club allowed a whopping 53 sacks in ’18.
By all accounts, the signing of Nick Foles by the Jaguars was a necessary move for an offense that has been problem-plagued for far too long. This past year, the club turned over the football 29 times for the second time in three seasons. The arrival of the Super Bowl LII Most Valuable Player – paired with former Eagles’ quarterbacks coach/turned Jacksonville offensive coordinator John DeFiliippo – is certainly cause for optimism. But unless several of the offensive counterparts step up in a big way this season, it could be another year of futility for this unit and the team overall.