The Morning After: Blake Bortles Leads Jags Past Seahawks, 30-24
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There is a really funny Twitter account called Blake Bortles Facts that tweets out ridiculous accomplishments by one of the league’s most derided quarterbacks. His current pinned tweet says, “Blake Bortles and Tom Brady have combined for 5 Super Bowl Titles, 4 Super Bowl MVP Awards, 12 Pro Bowls, and 2 NFL MVP Awards.” Funny stuff. Bortles has earned that sort of trolling by throwing the ball nearly as often to opponents as to his own receivers. Even during the Jaguars 8-4 runup to this Sunday, Bortles was at best a supporting cast member with a passer rating in the low 80s. The same could not be said about his role in a commanding victory by Jacksonville over the Seahawks yesterday. He was the single biggest reason the Jaguars won, playing a nearly flawless game, while the Seahawks made more than enough mistakes to lose.
A lot of people are ripping into Russell Wilson for his performance. On one hand, I understand why three interceptions would elicit frustration. On the other hand, it was clear before, during, and after that way too many people underestimated this Jaguars defense. They are really, really, really, good. There has been only one quarterback this season that has attempted more than 20 passes against them without throwing an interception. That was Jared Goff, and he threw for 124 yards and 1 touchdown. They held the 11-2 Pittsburgh Steelers to 9 points in Pittsburgh and picked off Ben Roethlisberger 5 times without allowing a touchdown pass. You want to know how many players have thrown for 3 touchdowns against this defense this season? One. That short kid on the Seahawks.
I am by no means trying to say Wilson played well, but he was not the disaster many are implying. Seattle came out with an aggressive game plan that appeared to be predicated on the belief that moving the ball down the field on long drives with many plays was not a recipe for success against this defense. That, combined with the fact that one of Wilson’s biggest strengths is deep throws, makes the approach logical. The problem with it is that deep throws are far less likely to work than intermediate or short throws, no matter how good you are at throwing them, and there is an increased risk of turning the ball over.
My strong preference coming into this game was that the Seahawks would play conservatively on offense in order to protect the ball, stop the Jags running game, and force Bortles to beat them. That plan likely would not have worked either given the true primary cause of this defeat. A Seahawks defense that had exceeded my expectations since the injuries to Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, disintegrated in Jacksonville.
Not only did they struggle to stop the run, but they produced absolutely no pass pressure all day. They had just one quarterback hit and that was arguably roughing the passer as Frank Clark hit Bortles a good second after he released the football. Give Jacksonville credit, their line blocked the best they have all season and the coaching staff called a clever game, killing the Seahawks on crossing routes time after time.
Bortles did not need to make many tough throws early on, but he made a number of great throws in the second half. If you told me this was the best game he has every played, I would believe it. He was accurate and rarely put the ball in harm’s way. Even so, the Seahawks were doing a decent job hanging around until Bobby Wagner left with an injury.
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The All-Pro linebacker has been nursing a sore hamstring for weeks, but has been able to make it through games. He could not finish this one, and it clearly hurt the Seahawks in run defense. It may have hurt them in assignments as well. After the Seahawks tied the score at 10-10, they uncharacteristically gave up a bomb to Keelan Cole for a touchdown. K.J. Wright could be seen trying to catch up to the speedy receiver, which screams blown assignment. Earl Thomas bit on another route on that play, so it may have been as simple as the Jags out-scheming Seattle, but Wagner is in charge of getting folks lined up and calling the plays on defense. It would not surprise me if there was a miscommunication. Once Wright went out as well, the defense was pretty helpless against the run.
Even with all that had gone wrong, from another missed field goal, to three picks, to losing multiple key players to injuries, to a long punt return, the Seahawks still had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to take the lead. If not for a rare mental error by Baldwin and a missed defensive holding against Paul Richardson, we might be talking about a Seahawks miracle. Baldwin did not have one of his better games. He usually is better in those contested catch situations than he was when Jalen Ramsey got the first interception, and his decision to step out of bounds instead of picking up an easy first down was costly. The guy barely ever makes mistakes, so it is hard to rip him, but those were big moments.
The biggest disappointment was easily the play of the Seahawks defensive line. They were handled in all aspects of the game by a Jaguars offensive line that is nowhere near the level of the Eagles group Seattle beat up last week. They then decided that playing poorly was not enough. They chose to behave poorly at the end of the game. This is not a new thing with the Seahawks defense. They often do not finish games with class. It does not really matter what you or I think of their behavior. My hope for the players involved is that they find their better selves. They represent their families, their hometowns, their franchise, and the city of Seattle when they are out there. Hate defeat, but channel that toward improving yourself and your teammates instead of taking cheap shots to bring winners down. The latter approach just confirms your status as a loser.
A few bouquets
A lot of the reaction I have seen to this loss has been by folks who simply did not respect the Jaguars. I came in with tons of respect for that defense, and so a few things stood out to me as better than I had expected.
First, I thought Darrell Bevell had a number play designs throughout the game. The early screen pass to Mike Davis was terrific, but it was unfortunately called back due to Luke Joeckel getting downfield too soon. The opening drive had some nice quick game that resulted in a few first downs before eventually punting. The touchdown to Doug Baldwin was beautifully called and executed. My primary confusion was why they went so exclusively to deep throws after having at least some success with underneath routes on that opening drive. I was also surprised we did not see a more concerted effort to involve the tight ends. Jacksonville’s defense is very similar to Seattle’s and can be vulnerable to tight ends up the seams.
Second, the offensive line was pretty darn good. Yes, Germain Ifedi had some bad penalties, but he also drew some. What stood out to me was how much time Wilson had to throw deep all game. This was the most dominant pass rush in the league, by a pretty wide margin. My biggest concern heading into this game was that the Jaguars defensive line was going to physically dominate the Seahawks offensive line. They definitely created some pressure, but there were not many free runners who made the offensive line look foolish and overmatched.
They also blocked reasonably well in the run game. Seattle finished with 141 yards on the ground, with 5.9 yards per carry, and every runner averaging at least 4.4 yards per carry. A lot of that came on the left side behind Duane Brown and Joeckel, with some help from Justin Britt here and there. The third thing that was promising was the play of Davis. His feet were light in the hole, meaning he hit a roadblock but managed to keep his feet out of defenders hands and cut it back outside. That happened at least three times, and maybe more. He had to leave again with an injury, which does not bode well for his future as a starting tailback. That aside, he was a difference maker again.
If you asked me which group played the best for Seattle in this game, I would say the offensive line. That provides at least a little hope for this next week against another dominant defensive front.
The win over the Eagles opened up the possibility that this team was ready to turn it on and finish with a flourish. This game against Jacksonville was going to tell us more about the Seahawks chances once they got to the playoffs than about their chances of making the playoffs. The truth is they exit this game with full control of destiny. Win their last three games and they win the division, make the playoffs, and host a game in the first round. It is tough for me to get too excited about that after watching Blake Bortles drop 30 points on this defense.
We will have to see what the status of Wagner and Wright are, but if either of them miss either of the next two games, it is going to be very tough to win. This Rams game is going to be tough even if they are playing. The most optimistic outlook is that the offensive line and running game is starting to show some promise and the Seahawks have scored 24 points in two straight games against two of the best defenses in football. Only one team had scored more against the Jags in regulation than Seattle did, and only one team had gained more than the 401 yards Seattle put up.
They did it all without Graham catching a single ball. Tyler Lockett now has touchdowns in two straight games, and Richardson caught another long score. Maybe the offense can catch fire. Maybe Dion Jordan can return and help the pass rush. Maybe there are too many maybes.
This game was a small taste of what a playoff game on the road would be like. It is hard to imagine this team going into Minnesota or New Orleans and winning. Instead, the peak accomplishment this year may be finding a way to win another division title and hold off the Rams. There are worse consolation prizes.