“For me, I like to run the ball every play,” Marrone said. “I want to go back to the old way. I want to change the game.”
Marrone wasn’t ripping his quarterback with that comment. He’s just a huge fan of the veer, which he ran when he was an assistant at Georgia Tech from 1996-99 and called his favorite offense. The Jaguars won’t be running that, but they are trying to become a more run-centric attack with rookie running back Leonard Fournette.
Theoretically that means less work for Bortles, which the Jaguars believe actually will help the fourth-year player become and better and more consistent quarterback. They don’t want him averaging 37 attempts per game like he has in his first three seasons. Thirty is a solid number.
“I don’t know right now if I have that number in mind,” Marrone said. “I do think this: When you look around the league for the most part — and you can argue this either way now — I know that you can say, ‘So-and-so threw it 50 times and they always win.’
“I think if you look at the NFL, it’s probably a lower number [of pass attempts] than what people think and a higher number running. When you have that, you’re usually in control of the game and you’re going to win the game in general.”
Over the past 10 seasons NFL teams have averaged seven more pass attempts than rushes per game. Over the past three seasons that number has increased to nine – and that’s where things get out of whack with Bortles.
The third overall pick in 2014 has thrown 1,706 passes in his career, which according to ESPN Stats & Information is the fourth-most by a quarterback in their first three seasons in NFL history. Only Andrew Luck (1,813), Drew Bledsoe (1,756) and Derek Carr (1,732) have thrown more.
Bortles is averaging 37.1 pass attempts per game, which also ranks fourth all-time among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 800 passes in their first three seasons. Bledsoe (39.9), Matthew Stafford (39.2) and Luck (37.8) are the only ones with more.
To put that further into perspective, Bortles has averaged more pass attempts per game in his first three seasons as a starter than Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Kurt Warner, John Elway, Warren Moon, Philip Rivers, Joe Montana and Dan Fouts did in their first three seasons as starters. Brees (37.6) and Stafford (39.3) are the only quarterbacks in the top 100 of the NFL’s all-time passing list — which includes all of the names previously mentioned — that are averaging more passes per game in their career than Bortles.
Having Bortles throw that much clearly hasn’t been the formula for winning games. Though Bortles has thrown for 11,241 yards and 69 touchdowns, he leads the NFL in turnovers since 2014 (63) and the Jaguars are just 11-34 in his 45 starts. In fact, he has as many interceptions returned for touchdowns as he does victories.
Marrone and Tom Coughlin, the executive vice president of football operations, have talked about committing to the run more since they were hired in early January — and Bortles says he’s fine with that.
“There’s obviously an ability to throw it almost every down and be successful [in the NFL] and there’s very few guys that have been able to do that and continue kind of that success,” Bortles said. “So obviously I think kind of the foundation and the formula for being successful is having a running game and being able to do everything off of that. So obviously that’s our goal.
“That’s what we’re going to try and do and that’s what we’re working towards.”
That’s why the Jaguars drafted Fournette fourth overall and grabbed offensive tackle Cam Robinson with the 35th pick. Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell traded for left tackle Branden Albert, as well, and are bringing back the fullback after dumping the position after the 2014 season.
Fournette is expected to average 15-20 touches per game and the Jaguars will still find ways to get Chris Ivory — a former 1,000-yard rusher who signed as a free agent in 2016 — and 2015 second-round draft pick T.J. Yeldon involved, too.
So fewer throws for Bortles, which means it’s even more important his decision-making and accuracy — with which he’s struggled in his first three seasons (58.8 completion percentage) — be significantly better.
“You’d like to think that if you throw the ball less you commit less turnovers, you have a higher completion percentage, all that, and I think that’s all stuff that kind of comes along with it,” Bortles said. “But you obviously still, from a quarterback perspective, have to still continue to make decisions and deliver the ball where it needs to be.”