Just two seasons ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars were 10 minutes away from the Super Bowl. Brady and his band of merry men put an end to this dream and it seems the Jaguars have yet to recover from this heartbreak. They limped to a 5-11 record in the year just gone, which prompted a big splash in free agency. Nick Foles arrived from Philadelphia, with his still fresh-in-the-mind heroics that made the Eagles world champions when the Jags faltered.
The quarterback position has been given a revamp with the arrival of Foles. Other areas of this team are more in need of a breath of fresh air. Newly hired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo will be trusted to provide that. Of course he and Foles have a rich history, the hope will be that this previous success will rub off on the rest of the offense.
A difficult season does of course make a team the owners of a high draft pick. Jacksonville were able to snag OLB Josh Allen out of Kentucky with the 9th overall pick. He racked up 17 sacks in his last year of college ball and earned the title of SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Jags executive VP of football operations, Tim Coughlin, described Allen as being “too good a player to possibly pass up”. Expectations will be high for sure.
Is Nick Foles the answer?
What the Jaguars have in Foles is the division’s most durable QB. The injury histories of Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson are well documented. Now with Andrew Luck‘s shock retirement, it means the relatively unknown and largely untested Jacoby Brissett will be thrust into the limelight.
It seems Foles is the only QB in the AFC South you can say, with confidence, you expect to last 16 games plus any potential playoff match-ups. This should be seen as a big advantage. One that certainly needs capitalising on, if the chance comes.
Ownership are for sure completely sold on the idea of Nick Foles. Owner Shad Khan stated in the off season “I can tell you this, categorically, that as soon as the season was over, our dream was to get Nick Foles,”.
So, with this dream now reality, it seems there is renewed faith in the front office that this offence is capable of achieving over 8.5 wins. Which should be enough to ensure playoff football in this division. If the wins don’t come, it’s hard to imagine Doug Marrone being head coach of this team beyond 2019.
Foles brings with him solid looking stat-lines. A 61.6% career pass completion rate, complimented by a 68:33 TD-Int ratio. Compare this with his predecessor Blake Bortles, who currently sits at 59.3% with a 103:75 ratio. The difference between the two is subtle, but Foles can still be seen as an improvement going by this. When drilling down and comparing the last 12 months, the difference is quite staggering. Foles boasts a 72.3% completion rate with Blake sitting at 60.3%.
More startling however is seeing that Bortles had only 13 TD passes from 13 games. Compare that to his successor, who found the red zone 7 times but in 8 fewer games. Blake Bortles appears to be in regression and the Jags have certainly done the right thing in severing their ties. Foles is an upgrade and this will show up in the upcoming season.
This is an offence that mustered up only 15.3 points per game last season. Drastic improvement must come. The talent is certainly there on the roster. A wide receiver room that boasts Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole and DJ Chark is capable of much better. They should be expecting a better service from the new QB.
On the ground it will be Leonard Fournette leading the way again, as has been the way since he was drafted #4 overall in 2017. He carried the team on his back during his rookie campaign, but since then it’s become a bit of a mess. In 2018, he missed seven games in total, six through injury and another through suspension. With this in tow, it was a poor return for Fournette. Only managing 439 yards on the ground with five scores.
Enter new OC John DeFilippo, who will open up the playbook and give this offence the revamp it so desperately needs.
Expect more shotgun looks and play-action aplenty. It absolutely will not be a return to running the ball 25-30 times a game with emphasis on the power run. This is in spite of adding Alfred Blue in free agency and drafting Ryquell Armstead, who are more seen as ground and pound guys rather third down specialists. There’s a few intricacies to work out here, but there is faith within the building that the coaching staff will make it work.
Aggressive down the field passes will most likely land in the hands of the big-bodied guys on the outside, namely Conley (6″3) and Chark (6″4). But in between Fournette looking to break tackles and Foles sending the ball flying, Dede Westbrook is the name to watch. Last year he led the team in catches with 66 of them, whilst also tacking on five touchdowns. With better QB play and more favourable play calling, Westbrook should get close to hitting 1,000 yards receiving.
Can ‘Sacksonville’ make a return?
During their most recent playoff run in 2017, it was the defence of the Jaguars that struck fear into opponents. So much so was their dominance, the team felt it was appropriate to change their team twitter handle to ‘Sacksonville Jaguars’. This was with good cause. It was a defence that notched up 55 sacks and 33 takeaways. Compare this with 2018 where they only managed 37 sacks with 17 takeaways and hardly any big plays of note.
Game changing talent remains on the roster, but a repeat of the 2017 numbers will take a herculean effort. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue will still allow opposing QBs little time to think. Jalen Ramsey will continue to patrol the secondary, with partner in crime AJ Bouye in support. It will be interesting to see how top draft pick Josh Allen is deployed. He arrives in Jacksonville to a new defensive scheme, but the belief is his talent will shine through regardless of however long this learning process will take.
Despite all this promise, some concerns remain. Salary cap management led to the departures of Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson. This in addition to linebacker Telvin Smith who announced in May his unexpected departure from the NFL. All three were still capable of making big plays, before their time in Duval was up. 2018 1st round pick Taven Bryan will be expected to fill the void of Jackson. However, in his debut season he produced just the one sack. He will need to play much better in 2019 to give the Jags a fighting chance in the trenches.
The back end also faces a small crisis. It appears the two starting safeties will be Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson. Between them, they have only 10 career starts. It’s easy to imagine this being a weakness that opponents of the Jaguars will target early in the year.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: Average
Main divisional rivals losing key players has now sprung the Jacksonville Jaguars into the playoff picture. This coming season will have little resemblance to the ultimately doomed to fail 2018 campaign. Renewed belief is largely attributed to the signing of Nick Foles. John DeFilippo will extract the very best from everyone on this offense. The Jags have a potentially very exciting and dynamic receiving core. If the running game can return to its best form, this coupled with a strong passing game, could propel this team back to the top of the AFC South.
It should be mentioned this is, of course, all coach talk. There still so much promise that must be delivered upon. With the lingering concerns on the defensive front, it may just prevent this team from hitting their full potential quick enough. But in what is now a wide open division, no one team can be ruled out. It certainly will be one to watch with much intrigue and mystery surrounding it.