The one clear truth regarding the habits of Patriots coach Bill Belichick flows from his determination to take away what the opposing offense does best. The one clear truth regarding Sunday’s opponent for a berth in the Super Bowl? The best aspect of the Jacksonville offense traces to running the ball with rookie tailback Leonard Fournette.
Let’s assume that, unlike the Steelers, the Patriots will both try to take away Fournette and succeed. That will place responsibility for moving the ball in the hands of quarterback Blake Bortles.
Maybe Bortles can make the throws into the windows the Patriots will give him. (Stop laughing.) Regardless, he also should be ready to use not only his arm but also his legs.
Bortles rushed for 323 yards in the regular season, and against the Bills in the wild-card round he fared better on the ground (88 yards) than through the air (87).
While the Patriots surely will have a plan for Bortles opting to go mobile, the door is open for doing it in a creative way. As Chris Simms suggested on PFT Live after the win over Buffalo, the Jaguars should consider a Wildcat-style offense — with Bortles, not a running back, taking the snaps.
Remember what Miami running back Ronnie Brown did to the New England defense in 2008? He rushed for four touchdowns and threw for another under the seat-of-the-pants Wildcat plan hatched by a desperate Dolphins team that secured a 38-13 win at New England. That outcome proved the benefit of the element of surprise when facing the Patriots; on Sunday, if they simply aren’t ready for a different kind of Bortles, they may not be able to deal with him.
And here’s where it gets even more interesting. Bortles has a fifth-year option for 2018 at $19 million. If he finishes the year healthy, the team could cut him before the start of the league year in March and avoid that commitment — possibly re-signing him for less. But if he has any injury that prevents him from passing a physical before the start of the league year, they can’t cut him before the salary becomes fully guaranteed. Which guarantees he’d get $19 million for next season, at a minimum.
From a business standpoint, that reality could prompt the Jaguars to not throw caution to the wind by throwing Bortles’ body to the wolves. But if they want to advance against a franchise whose top dog is walking funny on an injured paw, the best way to do it could be to let the Patriots take away a Fournette-based rushing attack — and to repeatedly run the ball with quarterback Blake Bortles via a read-option attack that induces the New England defenders to swarm Fournette, and that allows Bortles to run to where the other guys aren’t, with the kind of Elway-copter reckless abandon that the circumstances (both football and financial) will dictate.