Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Minnesota Vikings preview: Jaguars loaded with talent … and turnovers

The Jacksonville Jaguars should be better than their record indicates, but turnovers have been the Jaguars’ undoing.

Few teams in the 2016 season have been more frustrating or confounding than the Jacksonville Jaguars. In a wide open AFC South, where it was believed any of the four teams could end up winning the division title, the Jaguars are a team loaded with young talent but have had a history of shooting themselves in the foot.

Turnover ratio is always a good gauge of determining whether a team will succeed or fail and the Jaguars have been the worst in the NFL in that regard. Only two teams in the NFL have a takeaway/giveaway ratio worse than minus-9. The worst by far is Jacksonville at minus-18. Not only have the Jags given the ball away as often as any team in the league (25), their seven takeaways are the fewest in the NFL – a combo platter that goes a long way to explaining why they are 2-10 and already out of the running in the AFC playoff race.

Offensively, Blake Bortles was one of the most hyped quarterbacks in the league coming into the season. After putting up some huge numbers game after game in 2015, things just have not clicked for Bortles this season. He has completed just 58 percent of his passes, has been intercepted 15 times – including three picks returned for touchdowns – and is 29th in passer rating at just 76.9. When you add in four lost fumbles, Bortles has accounted for 19 turnovers, which is as many or more by himself than 31 other teams have accounted for.

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What has made the problem worse for the Jaguars is that the balance the team was seeking on offense hasn’t materialized. The team was looking to improve the running game, which was at the bottom of the NFL last season. They had hoped former Viking Toby Gerhart would get the job done, but he was released and replaced by free agent Chris Ivory. Injuries early kept Ivory out of the lineup and the results have been the same. T.J. Yeldon leads the team with 373 yards on 103 carries and Ivory has just 350 yards on 93 carries. The two have combined for just three rushing touchdowns and, with third-down back Denard Robison out and Ivory a question mark with a shoulder injury, the Jaguars find themselves once again unable to control games on the ground.

There were also high hopes for the passing game that seemed set up for success. The trio of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas combined to catch 190 passes for 2,886 yards and 29 touchdowns. Not only were they catching passes, they were making plays. Robinson averaged 17.5 yards per reception and Hurns wasn’t far behind at 16.1 yards.

This year? That’s another story completely. Through 12 games, the three of them have combined to catch 121 passes for 1,380 yards and 12 touchdowns. With Hurns out Sunday with a hamstring injury and Thomas sidelined with a back ailment, the Jaguars are going to be shorthanded, which could make a bad situation worse for them.

Defensively, the Jaguars have a talented young defense, but simply haven’t been creating turnovers to get the offense on the field or impact field position.

Up front, Jacksonville will be without starting defensive end Jared Odrick, but they won’t feel too big a pinch because the team mixes and matches defensive linemen given their impressive depth. At the end spots, rookie Yannick Ngakoue, Tyson Alualu and Dante Fowler Jr. are an impressive trio that can make up for the loss of Odrick. On the inside, the Jags have former Bronco Malik Jackson, Sen’Derrick Marks, Abry Jones and Sheldon Day – a foursome that gets rotated in and out to keep the line fresh. Ngakoue has quietly led the team in sacks with six and five of their linemen have recorded 2½ sacks or more. If not for so few turnovers, this group would be viewed with much more respect than it currently is.

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In the middle of the defense, the Jags have a proven leader in Paul Posluszny and a strong veteran in Telvin Smith. They were joined this year by Myles Jack of UCLA. As a group, they have the ability to make a difference but haven’t created the game-changing play that makes linebacker groups stand out. The three of them have combined for just two sacks and one interception – almost all of that minimal production from Posluszny – and haven’t been the playmakers that were expected.

Even more devoid of game-changing ability has been the secondary. Through 12 games, the Jaguars have just three interceptions and only one of those has come from the defensive backs. The Jaguars have talent here, with veteran Prince Amukamara and fifth pick of the draft Jalen Ramsey at cornerback and Johnathan Cyprien and Tashaun Gipson at the safeties. All four have a history of making plays, but this season none of them has stepped up to make the play to bail out a defense and are largely responsible for why the Jaguars are where they are. With a defense that has allowed 29 touchdowns and 28 field goals, the Jags are simply allowing more points than their offense can make up.

A look at the Jaguars roster creates the sense of frustration that the front office has been experiencing all season. On paper, they have the talent on both sides of the ball to be an impressive team and have a nice blend of young stars and veteran standbys, yet it hasn’t come together and, at 2-10, they appear to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. The roster tells you what individual talent you have, but the record tells you if your team is good or bad and that 2-10 number speaks louder than any other stats or scouting report can.


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