Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has certainly taken a verbal beating this season, and the criticism has come from just about every angle. I haven’t followed their team particularly closely throughout the season, but I would not find it surprising if there were some internal criticism as well.
Some of the harshest criticisms have come from players, though it should not be surprising that the bulk of them have come from his division rivals. The Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney famously said that Bortles is “trash”, and that prompted Jaguars fans to send the former first-overall pick a number of trash cans.
More recently, the Tennessee Titans’ Kevin Byard, their Pro Bowl safety, who picked off Bortles twice, said in preparation for their team’s game tonight against the New England Patriots that their goal is to make Tom Brady look like Bortles.
We can even go back to August when the New Orleans Saints’ All-Pro defensive end, Cameron Jordan was participating in a radio interview about his own team, talking about the difficulty of practicing against Drew Brees. “It’s not like we’re going against Blake Bortles”, he said. “It’s not like Drew is giving picks away”.
This is not the approach that the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking this time as they head into tomorrow’s game hosting the Jaguars, the one team during the regular season that actually embarrassed them. While it was not Bortles who did the damage, they are still providing a cursory level of respect for the quarterback who led the Jaguars to their first playoff win since David Garrard beat the Steelers in 2007.
And they did so in ways that do sound as though they are basically backhanded compliments—but after all, there are so many nice things you can say about Bortles as a player. Either way, it was friendlier than Jalen Ramsey’s approach to Mike Mitchell.
“He’s a quarterback for a team that’s in the playoffs”, safety Sean Davis said. “I say we give him his credit. We’re not running from anybody. We’re not scared of anybody. We’re just going to see what happens. We’re not going to let him beat us with his feet”.
When you repeatedly talk about how mobile a quarterback is, that doesn’t say much about how well he throws, of course, but you do have to watch for Bortles as a runner. And his mobility also helps to buy time to throw. “We’ve got to keep him in the pocket”, Davis added. “Can’t give him easy throws”.
Rookie Cameron Sutton, who was on injured reserve back in Week Five when the two teams played, said that Bortles is “a guy that can definitely get hot. When they get that run game going, it makes his job that much easier…he’s had some good passing games”.
Sutton stressed keeping the Jaguars out of play-action situations and making him uncomfortable, forcing the fourth-year quarterback to make reads and think after the snap. But they will likely have to stop the run before that becomes relevant.