As the Arizona Cardinals head into the home stretch of the 2017 NFL Season, they all of a sudden have one of the hardest remaining schedules in the NFL.
That includes the 7-3 Jacksonville Jaguars, who roll into town with the best defense in the NFL.
Ryan Day of Big Cat Country was kind enough to take some time over the holiday and give us a look at the Jaguars.
1. Is the fan base bought in yet or are they going with the cautiously optimistic approach?
Buddy, we haven't hosted a playoff game since 1999. We haven't had a winning record in a decade. We'd be bought in at .500 after 10 games, much less a 7-3 record and the No. 3 seed in the AFC. I think the most encouraging thing I can say about this fan base is that most everyone seems to be in agreement that the biggest (and maybe only) thing wrong with the team is Blake Bortles. God bless he is awful. He's, like, a bottom-five starting quarterback, right? There have to be backups better than him... or at least not as bad as him.
Anyway, to answer your question, we were cautiously optimistic and to me it was the Bengals game in Week 9 that helped us turn the corner to full-blown "WE ARE GONNA WRECK THE PLAYOFFS DUUUUVVVVAAAAALLLLLL!" mode. And why shouldn't we? The defense is putting together one of the best seasons since the turn of the century.
2. The defense has become the calling card of the Jags. Who is one player that doesn't get the recognition he deserves?
Barry Church or Tashaun Gipson. I don't think safeties get the recognition they deserve generally, but those two and their instincts allow Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye to be so good. They know when to switch out coverages, when to cheat up, Church is a sneaky good blitzer, and Gipson has been fantastic as a safety net at center field (not that we've really needed it) but he's always in position.
3. The Jags subscribe to bully ball on offense, is that because of the lack of weapons at wideout now, because of Bortles or a combo of the two?
It's because we have a 1990's coaching staff running this team, honestly. Even the front office is led by Mr. I Don't Give A Shit About Your Millennial Football himself in Tom Coughlin. Against all conventional wisdom, they went in on a run-first offense that took the ball out of the quarterback's hands and into a three-headed ground game. Hell, they even signed a few fullbacks and drafted one. It was that important.
And it worked. It actually worked.
I thought it was crazy. I thought we'd be 6-10 by year's end and here I am eating crow every week watching Leonard Fournette pile on the yards, a cobbled together offensive line lead the league in rushing and set franchise records in sacks allowed, and the defense play out of their gotdamn minds.
Now, having a literal potato sure helps the Jaguars do what Coughlin knows best, but even if they had a decent, middle-of-the-road guy I think you'd still see this approach. You'd just see a higher third down conversion percentage, more time of possession, and more points on offense. I'm serious when I say that an average quarterback has us 10-0 at this point in the season.
4. Speaking of Bortles... It seems the entire Jags fan base as well as most that follow the NFL are just waiting for him to screw it up. Is there nothing he can do to win over people?
He's just not good and I think people can easily see that with how everything except for the passing game has been elevated. There's literally no excuse. The Jaguars have the best run game in the league, the best defense in the league, a near-perfect kicker, and he's still playing like an actual garbage can. He is who he is and whether he flames out in Week 17 or wins us a Super Bowl everyone will know it was in spite of him and not because of him.
5. Are the Jags about to go to 8-3 and guarantee themselves a non-losing season?
*sees Blaine Gabbert starting for the Cardinals*
*can't stop giggling*
Bonus: What does getting a chance to go against Blaine Gabbert mean for exorcising those demons?
I want Calais Campbell to literally break Blaine Gabbert's back after a sack Bane-style. Does that answer your question?