The 2015 season came to an end earlier today for the Jacksonville Jaguars, finishing out with a 30-6 loss to the playoff-bound Houston Texans. It was a year of ups and downs for the hometown Jags, as the team reached 5 wins for the first time since 2011 and even briefly contended for the playoffs in the abysmal AFC South. With the year being over, now is an appropriate time to both look back at the positives and negatives of this season, as well as look forward to what must change going into 2016.
2015 was a breakout year for second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles, who was thrust into the starting role early last season and struggled mightily in between flashes of brilliance, improved drastically this year. His 35 touchdown passes were tied for the second-best mark in the league, and he finished 7th in passing yards with 4,428. Those 4,428 yards were also good for a new single-season franchise record, surpassing Mark Brunell’s previous mark.
His struggles to hang onto the ball continued; his 18 interceptions were the most of any QB, and he fumbled the ball 14 times. His accuracy also remains problematic, as his 58.6% completion rate trailed the majority of the league’s starting QBs. However, some of the blame can easily continue to be placed on the dismal offensive line that allowed Bortles to be sacked a league-high 51 times, forcing him to make quick decisions that didn’t always play out well. Overall, Jaguars fans have to be happy with the progress Bortles has shown. It seems clear that the team has finally found its next franchise quarterback.
Rise of the Allens
As big of a year as Bortles had, Allen Robinson’s year was even better. The second-year wideout, much like Bortles, had shown flashes of brilliance the previous season. This season, he established himself as one of the NFL’s top receivers. Robinson’s 80 receptions totaled 1,400 yards, good for 6th overall. That includes three games of over 150 receiving yards. His 14 touchdown catches were tied for first among all receivers.
The Jags’ other second-year receiver, Allen Hurns, was also quite impressive. Hurns pulled in 64 catches for 1,031 yards, ranking among the league’s top 30 receivers. His 10 touchdowns were tied for 10th best in the league. Despite sometimes being overshadowed by the success of Robinson, Hurns has developed into a top wideout and go-to weapon for Bortles.
Together, the two Allens are sure to play a huge part in the team’s offense for years to come. The duo became the first pair of Jags receivers to reach 1,000 yards in the same season. It will certainly be exciting to see these young stars develop further next year.
Struggles on the Ground
The team’s running game continued its struggles from last season. Rookie back T.J. Yeldon showed signs of promise, winning the starting role from Denard Robinson and rushing for 740 yards in 12 games. However, Yeldon’s consistency will have to improve going into next year. That total of 740 yards included two games of over 100 yards rushing; this shows his potential certainly, but also means the other 10 games were mediocre at best. Robinson, was also limited in effectiveness in his new role as a third-down back, and played horribly upon regaining his starting role due to a late-season injury to Yeldon. With the rapid advancement of the team’s passing game, its struggles on the ground have only become more noticeable and in need of addressing.
While several of the team’s defensive players improved drastically over the course of this year, they often struggled to play together as a cohesive unit. The team’s passing defense was, to put it bluntly, terrible. It allowed opposing QBs just short of 270 yards per game, giving up the fourth most passing yards in the league. Its 9 total interceptions was tied for 26th.
Despite these issues, there were indeed reasons for optimism concerning individual players. Second-year LB Telvin Smith ranked second behind Paul Posluszny with 128 combined tackles, along with an interception returned for a touchdown and 2 forced fumbles. New addition Davon House flourished in Jacksonville, taking on the opposing team’s leading receivers and coming up with a team-high 4 interceptions. Second-year corner Aaron Colvin was tied for second in sacks (4.0) among defensive backs. Only time will tell if all of these talented individual pieces can fit together on a consistent basis.
The Saga of Jason Myers
It was a bumpy year for Jason Myers. The rookie kicker made 26 of 30 field goal attempts, including a 58-yard kick against Miami and a game-winning 53-yarder against Baltimore. Normally, this would be enough to at least not have fans rabidly calling for him to be cut. However, Myers caused fans quite a bit of frustration throughout the year. One of his four misses came within 30 yards. Far more baffling, Myers missed seven extra point kicks, by far the most of any kicker in the NFL. This includes two misses in a December loss to Tennessee that was decided by just 3 points; Myers’ missed extra points arguably altered the course of that game, and prompted calls for his dismissal. Coach Gus Bradley made it clear, however, that he has a lot of faith in Myers despite his struggles.
It is clear that Myers has an incredibly strong leg, strong enough to almost certainly earn him a second season in Jacksonville. Given his accuracy at long lengths, it seems equally likely that he will be able to fix whatever is causing his extra-point woes. For the sake of the team going forward, he will have to do so sooner rather than later; otherwise, Bradley’s patience may wear thin next year.
Keys for 2016
2016 will be a huge year for the Jaguars. The team’s offense seems poised to only get better as Bortles develops a stronger rapport with his young receiving core, and Yeldon develops further as a starting back. Additionally, players limited by injury this year such as big addition Julius Thomas and rookie wideout Rashad Greene are sure to play bigger, more consistent roles next year. The defense will have to improve, and will likely have to weather the loss of leading tackler Paul Posluszny if they opt to cut ties with his salary even in spite of his previous extension. Adding the injured Dante Fowler Jr. should certainly help, but realistically the team will need to target a suitable replacement for Posluszny in either the draft or free agency. Likewise, the team will also need to upgrade its offensive line to protect their young franchise quarterback. Even with the team’s flaws this year, the playoffs were still a vague possibility in the struggling AFC South. While the division may improve a bit next year, so too will the Jaguars, and this time the goal will be clear. The Jaguars are no longer just a rebuilding team, and it will be “playoffs or bust” next season with an extension for Gus Bradley and a future role for several players likely on the line. It’s an exciting time to be a Jaguars fan, and 2016 should only bring more excitement.