The Blake Bortles Dilemma
Editor’s Note: The guest post below disagreeing with all the Blake Bortles will regress takes was written by Bobby Korecky. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyJK28. …
No one’s giving Blake Bortles a chance of repeating his stellar sophomore season. … And it’s driving me crazy. I have read all the intricate statistics showing how fortunate Bortles was to throw for 35 touchdowns: his high number of attempts inside the five-yard line, the percentage of his team’s touchdowns he was responsible for, how far behind the Jaguars were in most games, the color of the mascot’s shoes on the third day before a holiday, and everything in between. I get all that, I really do.
What doesn’t get said, however, is that Blake Bortles is a professional athlete on a professional football team. Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt before we tell him what he can’t do, especially when he’s already done the things we say he can’t do.
Naysayers believe Jacksonville will be better because of an upgraded running game (hello, Chris Ivory) and an upgrade on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s improvement is supposed to keep the games closer and not lead to Bortles throwing as often and chasing points through the entire game. That seems to be the most common stat in the case against Bortles, the number of fantasy points he scored while his team was behind.
Blake Bortles is Here to Stay
No quarterback threw more touchdowns when trailing by 10 or more points, but why do people think Jacksonville won’t throw if they’re winning? Throwing touchdown passes is one of the best ways to create or take back a lead, after all. Ask Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning what it’s like when their team is leading games. Sure these are as elite of quarterbacks as it gets, but I’m not talking about the quality of quarterback, I’m talking about what teams may do depending on the score of the game.
From 2012 to 2015, Tom Brady threw 69 of his 128 TDs (54%) while the team was leading. During the same time span, Aaron Rodgers threw 58 of 125 TDs (46%) with the lead. In his time in Denver, we saw Peyton Manning throw 50 of his 103 TDs (49%) with the lead (according to Pro-Football-Reference). There is no reason to assume Jacksonville will treat their leads any different. Sure, we saw Bortles throw and throw last year while trailing in football games, but that was the predicament they found themselves in. Assuming things will drastically change when they have the lead is simply that, an assumption.
Running Game Regression?
Quarterback play is only part of the debate on the potential regression for Blake Bortles. The running game for Jacksonville last year did not provide a balance in scoring we typically see around the league. Jacksonville running backs scored only three of the offense’s 40 touchdowns last season. This is very low — and I recognize that — but it also has little bearing on what Bortles can do as a quarterback.
You can’t go into 2016 with the assumption Jacksonville will only score 40 TDs. They ranked 12th in TDs scored last season, according to Pro-Football-Reference, showing there is opportunity to improve. If their running backs score 10 touchdowns, great. But that doesn’t imply the quarterback must score fewer than he did last year. I’ve heard countless podcasters claim a better rushing attack is directly correlated to a less volume-based passing attack. This does not have to be the case.
Jacksonville ranked 31st in the league in RB rushing attempts with 295. The 20th-ranked team in this category had 351, and Houston took home the first place ribbon with 424 rushing attempts by a RB. Let’s say the Jags actually had finished top-20 in rushing attempts in 2016. Here’s how other teams in the top-20 fared in terms of passing volume:
- 18 of those 20 teams ran more total plays than Jacksonville.
- Nine of them had 600+ passing attempts.
- Bortles did what he did last year with 607 passing attempts.
If you’re still with me, this all means there is close to a 50% (9-of-20 teams) chance Bortles can repeat his passing volume from 2015 even with an improved running game.
Jags running backs may not have been as successful as they wanted to be inside the five-yard line last year, scoring only two touchdowns, but this is a trend the NFL is finding more common. As mentioned earlier, the Houston Texans ranked first in RB rushing attempts in the league, and they finished with only three rushing scores from inside the five-yard line. The New York Jets were eighth in RB rushing attempts and rushed it in only six times.
Jacksonville’s proposed increase in rushing volume does not necessarily correlate to more rushing touchdowns when close to the goal line. In fact, the entire league saw 900 touchdowns scored from inside the five-yard line the past two years, with 455 coming in the air and 445 on the ground. The two years prior to that the results were nearly flipped: 432 touchdowns were scored in the air and 517 were scored on the ground. The passing game in the NFL is becoming more prevalent regardless of field position.
The Myth of a Better Defense
The next instrument used in this Blake Bortles regression conspiracy deals with Jacksonville’s defense improving to a point that will not require him to throw the ball as often. Again, there is precedent showing this doesn’t have to be the case.
Jacksonville was the 24th-ranked defense in yards against last season according to NFL.com. I looked at all the teams in the league who not only had a better-ranked defense than the Jags but also more running back rushing attempts. I wanted to know which of those teams threw the ball at that special 600-attempt mark. Nine did in 2015.
What all of this nonsense tells us is very simple. There are already a number of teams in the league doing what Jacksonville is hoping to do defensively and in the running game while still throwing the football with a very high volume.
The final piece of the puzzle I want to share with you today is the touchdown potential for a QB relative to his pass attempts.
|Year||QB’s w/30+ pass TD’s||QB’s who did it w/607 attempts or less||QB’s w/35+ pass TD’s||QB’s who did it w/607 attempts or less|
As you can see, more than half the quarterbacks who threw 30+ touchdowns the previous three years did it with fewer pass attempts than Bortles. The percentages of the QBs who threw 35+ TDs in the same time frame isn’t far off that mark either.
Blake Bortles can play with a better defense and running game and still duplicate what he did in 2015. Let us not forget what we saw from Jacksonville in 2015, and remember that assumed improvements on either side of the ball are not a given. It is wishful thinking for an organization trying to fight their way out of the basement of the NFL. Bortles has every chance of building on his success from a year ago and I wish this was the narrative instead of trying to find a reason why the guy won’t do it.