NFL Preview: Can Jaguars Take the Next Step?

High expectations followed the Jacksonville Jaguars into the 2016 NFL Regular Season. After all, Jags’ QB Blake Bortles went into 2016 off his best season as a pro. The Jaguars’ defense had made nice free agent additions. It had also drafted Jalen Ramsey, one of the best cornerback prospects to come out of college in a long time.

Why wouldn’t Jaguar fans expect the team to improve off a 5 and 11 season? Maybe, fans shouldn’t have had high expectations because, well, these are the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags are never good. No matter what they do.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2017 Preview

Knowing this, owner Shahid Khan cleaned house. He hired Tom Coughlin as the team’s Executive VP of Football Operations. Coughlin promoted Doug Marrone to be its head coach. Coughlin and Marrone drafted former LSU RB great Leonard Fournette in Round 1.

Other changes ensued. Could all the changes signal that things are looking up in Jacksonville? Keep reading our Jacksonville Jaguars 2017 preview to find out!

What do Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone add?

Before winning 2 Super Bowls with the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin spent 8 years coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars. He remains the Jaguars’ winningest coach with a 68-60 overall regular season record as well as a 4-4 NFL Playoff record.

The Jaguars haven’t been the same since Coughlin left. They’ve reached the playoffs a few times since Coughlin’s departure. But, they haven’t come close to being as successful as they were when Coughlin coached the team.

Will Coughlin transfer his on the field success to the front office? Coaches becoming successful front-office personnel doesn’t always pan out. Just last week the New York Knicks in the NBA finally admitted that they had made a mistake by handing over the reins to Phil Jackson.

But in this case, I believe Khan’s made a great decision. Tom Coughlin has a fantastic football mind. He knows the NFL, he knows football: he gets it. He’s proven how adept he is at understanding talent by making Doug Marrone, the interim head coach after Jacksonville fired Gus Bradley, the Jags’ full-time head coach.

Doug Maroone’s Role

Marrone has head coaching experience. He held the position at Buffalo for a few years. He’s been in the league for a long time. The key with Marrone is that he’s as honest as they come. He, like the most successful head coaches in the NFL, rely on their coordinators.

Marrone decided to keep Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator. Marrone also kept defensive coordinator Todd Wash.
Coughlin and Marrone know that the key to winning right away in the NFL is consistency. Wholesale changes in the NFL don’t work. Not only that, but Marrone and Coughlin inherit a team with talent on both sides of the football.

Will QB Blake Bortles Step It Up?

The biggest question on offense is whether quarterback Blake Bortles takes the next step. Although the jury is still out, signs are that he might. I see how Coughlin has some faith that Bortles becomes a decent signal-caller in the NFL this season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars had pick 4 in Round 1. Instead of trading down and drafting a QB like DeShaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, the Jags went with LSU RB Leonard Fournette. Some believe Fournette is the next Adrian Peterson.

I’m not one of those guys. It doesn’t matter what I think. Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone feel that Fournette should add to Bortles’ development. If they had no faith in Bortles, they would have made a move for Watson, Mahomes, or even Mitch Trubisky whom the Chicago Bears traded up to grab at 2.

What else?

There’s a couple of other reasons to believe that Bortles improves. Surprisingly, Cam Robinson, one of the better offensive lineman in this year’s draft class, fell to Round 2. Coughlin immediately drafted Robinson to block for Fournette.

That’s the key for the Jaugars’ offense. Jacksonville ranked 22 in rushing yards per game last season. If the Jags can find a way to get into the Top 15 by leaning on Fournette and Robinson, Bortles should step it up big time in the passing game. Bortles had a great rapport with WR Allen Robinson in 2015. It’s only a matter of rediscovering that rapport in 2017.

One thing to keep in mind is that when current offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett took over in the middle of last season, the Jags’ offense improved from 15th to 4th in goal-to-go efficiency. The offense improved from 16th to 5th in red zone effiency. What’s ultra-impressive is that the Jags improved from 32nd to 1st in rushes of 4-plus yards.

How Has the Jaguars’ Defense Improved?

Jacksonville fielded a Top 10 defense last season. The Jaguars ranked 6th in total defense allowed. Jacksonville’s D allowed 321.7 total yards per game in 2016. The Jaguars ended up ranked 5th in passing yards allowed per game at 215.2.

Knowing that Jacksonville only needed to improve, Coughlin signed 3 free agents that should help right away. Calais Campbell can stop the run and pressure opposing quarterbacks. Safety Barry Church can help stop the run, and cover opposing tight-ends, or slot receivers. Corner A.J. Bouye compliments Ramsey well.

The defense should be better in 2017 than it was in 2016. In fact, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense could be the best unit in the AFC after the D in Denver.

Breaking Down Jacksonville’s NFL Regular Season Schedule

Although the schedule appears difficult, Jacksonville could manage a 10 and 6 season. I see the Jags beating Indianapolis twice. That’s 2 wins. I think they split with both Houston, and Tennessee. That’s 4 wins.

The Jags should beat Baltimore at home in Week 3. That’s win 5. A win over San Francisco on the road in Week 16 is another victory. Before beating San Francisco in Week 16, the Jags should have no trouble taking down the L.A. Rams in Week 6. Before the win in Week 6, the Jags should beat the New York Jets in Week 4.

What are we up to? 8 wins? Now we’re up to 8 wins. Wins versus the L.A. Chargers in Week 10 and the Cleveland Browns in Week 11 equals 10 wins. The Jaguars 4 losses outside of 1 loss each to Tennessee and Houston should be to: at Pittsburgh in Week 5, versus Cincinnati in Week 9, at Arizona in Week 12, and versus Seattle in Week 14.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2017 Preview Prediction

I watched Blake Bortles play many times last season. He forgot some of the simple things you learn as a QB in high school. Forget about college. Some of the things he didn’t do in 2016 that he did in 2015 were set his feet, twist his hips on throws, and look off defenders.

Those aren’t things that you learn to do in the NFL. What impresses me about the Jaguars is the immediate improvement they saw once offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett took over last season. Hackett immensely improved the rushing attack. With Fournette and Robinson, the rushing attack should be even stronger in 2017.

What will a strong rushing attack do for QB Blake Bortles? In Week 16, The Jags only rushed for 84 yards. But, the per carry average was above 4. Bortles threw for 325 yards. He tossed a TD. Jacksonville beat Tennessee 38 to 17 while Blake had an over 103 QB rating. Bortles also completed over 68% of his passes in that game. That’s what a strong rushing attack can do for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback.

Tom Coughlin did the smart thing by maintaining consistency with the Jaguars’ coaching staff. Jacksonville’s defense was already a Top 10 unit. The upgrades make the Jags’ D a Top 5 unit.

If Bortles improves, and I believe he does, the Jaguars should challenge Houston for the AFC South Division. I think Jacksonville is this year’s surprise team. Remember that I wrote this first: the Jacksonville Jaguars win 10 games and march to the NFL Playoffs in the 2017-2018 NFL Season.

What do you think?

Written by D.S. Williamson


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