The Jaguars have done some absolutely spectacular things in 2017. The rushing attack leads the NFL thanks to Leonard Fournette and Co. Their defense is widely considered the best in the NFL thanks to a shutdown secondary and pass rush that is on pace to break the NFL single season record for sacks. Even the passing attack, despite being led by the much maligned Blake Bortles, has had it’s days. But if there is (there is) one area the Jaguars greatly need to improve it is the passing attack.
It’s hard (in a way) to blame the Jaguars for their passing struggles. Sure, the Jaguars probably (definitely) should have addressed the QB situation in the offseason, but it seems likely to me that no matter who the Jaguars had under center this season that there would be struggles. The team lost their best WR (and one of the best young WRs in football) Allen Robinson for the entire season on the team’s very first drive in week one. They’ve also been without electric rookie WR Dede Westbrook in all of their regular season games. That’s left Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, Keelan Cole (an undrafted rookie), Marcedes Lewis (woof), and Arrelious Benn (more of a special teams star than a receiver) to pick up the slack.
It’s been very ugly most of the time. The passing game has been wildly inconsistent - many times the blame has fallen on the shoulders of Blake Bortles, but the receiving corp hasn’t been all that effective themselves. The team is averaging under 200 passing yards per game - of course some of that is by design. But there have been flashes of brilliance. Against the Ravens in week three Blake Bortles looked like a god, tossing 4 TD passes and completing 70% of his passes. In week seven against the Colts Bortles had a huge day throwing for 330 yards and completing 69% of his passes.
This brings to mind a couple of questions - Can the Jaguars passing attack find more consistency after the bye week? Will the return of speedster Dede Westbrook help in that regard?
The answer to the second question should be a resounding yes. Westbrook is eligible to return for the Jaguars next contest and all signs point to him being ready to go in week nine. Dede Westbrook was nothing short of a star in preseason. He caught everything thrown to him, making difficult catches look easy and making defenders miss once he got the ball in his hands. Of course that was against backups, but the talent is clearly there. Not only is he talented, but he brings at least one skill (probably more) to the table that the Jaguars haven't had this season - the ability to get open deep down field. He'll probably also have the best route running ability and hands of any Jaguars receiver upon his return. With Westbrook in the fold defenses will have a more difficult time loading the box against the Jags. Perhaps, if he were healthy for the Jaguars week six contest with the Rams, Wade Phillips would have been more hesitant to play goal line defense in the middle of the field. Westbrook has elite agility and can make the slightest misstep by a defender turn into a big chunk of yards. He should make it easier for Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee to get open too - drawing coverage and attention away from the Jaguars established, yet unspectacular receivers.
Westbrook having a major impact is far from a guarantee - there are several factors that could hold the rookie back. We don't know where his conditioning will be when he is cleared to play. Will he immediately earn playing time? In the preseason he didn't get any run with the starters. And of course the inconsistency of Blake Bortles could be a limiting factor. But the Jaguars need to do everything they can to try to incorporate College Football's best receiver from 2016. He can and will, if given the opportunity, help the Jaguars offense to become much, much more dynamic.
So, it’s easy to say (assuming he gets a chance) that Westbrook will make the Jaguars passing offense more potent, diverse, and could even help them be more consistent. But will they become consistent to the point where they aren't considered a weakness? That’s a much tougher question to answer. But the answer might be that the Jaguars don’t need their passing offense to be regularly consistent - maybe they just need the passing offense to make plays when they are presented with easy chances.
The Jaguars recipe for success is going to be this: play elite defense and run the football. But if Dede Westbrook can open up the field and help the Jaguars offense to not be as one dimensional then his return could mean the world to a team that’s already in playoff contention and tied for the lead in the AFC South.
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