Behind Enemy Lines: Bolts vs. Jags, Part II

In the second installment of our Chargers-Jaguars game primer, team experts Charlie Bernstein and Mike Lombardo talk about the start of the Blake Bortles era, the impact of the Toby Gerhart addition, the regression by Jacksonville's defense and more.

To read Part I of this exclusive series, where we talk about Philip Rivers, Donald Brown, Ladarius Green, Jason Verrett and others, click here.

Michael Lombardo: The original plan was to let Blake Bortles spend his rookie season watching and learning. Gus Bradley has scrapped that plan just three weeks into the season and will insert Bortles behind an offensive line that has already given up 17 sacks, six more than any other team. Is this decision wise or short-sighted?

CB: The decision to start Bortles is a wise one, as it's abundantly clear that he's a superior quarterback to Chad Henne. The Jaguars offensive line is far from an elite unit, but they're nowhere near as bad as the stats show in pass protection. Henne simply held the football in the pocket and, although not every sack was his fault, many were.

In 10 drop-backs last Sunday, Henne was sacked three times. Bortles dropped back 25 times and was sacked once -- against the same defense, with the same offensive line. Bortles is not Blaine Gabbert and if he develops bad habits from a heavy rush then he probably wasn't the right guy anyway and it's better to find that out sooner than later.

ML: Toby Gerhart averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry during his four seasons in Minnesota. Since signing with Jacksonville, he has averaged just 2.4 yards per carry and has yet to run for more than 42 yards in a game. Does this reek of a bad signing? Or can he be a featured back if the Jaguars find some cohesion on the offensive line?

CB: At this point it's tough to make a case that the Gerhart signing was a good one. He's an upright runner with poor vision and the Jaguars offensive line hasn't opened up a lot. Gerhart will probably find running a little easier when teams stop loading up the line of scrimmage and that could happen with Bortles.

ML: As someone who has covered the Jaguars forever, what are your thoughts on Marcedes Lewis (currently on short-term IR with an ankle injury)? It is wild to think this is his ninth year with the team. He almost reminds me of former Charger Quentin Jammer ... that rare first-round pick who stays with his team for a long time, never playing well enough to be a franchise player or poorly enough to be demoted. Can we invent a new category for classifying players like this?

CB: Lewis is a great team guy and -- although he never grew into the dominant target over the middle that the Jaguars envisioned when they took him with the 26th pick in 2006 -- he is a dominant blocker. Lewis is a guy who it's never been a detriment to have on the roster and he can make just enough big plays to keep defenses somewhat honest. It definitely helps that he plays tight end, a position where a dominant blocker can play well into their 30's, assuming the salary matches up correctly.

Although Marcedes hasn't really lived up to his draft status or pricey contract extension, the team is better off with him than without and so is the city. As for a new classification, there are so few players that actually hang around with their teams with or without being stars, it would certainly be an exclusive group.

ML: You would expect the Jacksonville defense to be ahead of the offense, what with Coach Bradley being the architect of a dominant Seattle defense and all. Instead, the Jaguars rank dead last in total defense, allowing more than 40 yards per game more than the second-worst unit. What has caused the collapse on that side of the ball?

CB: It's really been a number of things that's caused the horrific play defensively. In the second half of the Week 1 loss at Philadelphia, safety Jonathan Cyprien left with a concussion. The Jaguars aren't at the stage in rebuilding where they can absorb injuries to starters; there just isn't enough depth. Cyprien missed a game and a half and the Eagles and Redskins simply had their way through the air. Indianapolis was able to do whatever they wanted because they have Andrew Luck. I would expect the Jaguars defense to be a little more energized with the change at quarterback and hopefully there will be less three-and-outs.

ML: As bad as the first three games have been, is it really that farfetched to see the Jaguars challenging in the AFC South this season? I mean, who is going to win that division? The Colts do not have the look of a playoff team (except when they are playing in Jacksonville, of course), while the Texans and Titans have been uninspiring. How do you see those teams finishing?

CB: If you watched the Jaguars during the first three games, it is farfetched to imagine them challenging in the SEC West. Never say never, but there are so many depth issues with this roster that even improved quarterback play will likely not be enough to get this team near .500. I would handicap the division by saying that the Colts are still the best, mostly due to Luck; Houston has some weapons but no QB answer; and Tennessee has the makings of a very good offensive and defensive line but again, no QB.



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Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN. He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.


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