Sunday’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars is correctly being billed as a low-scoring defensive struggle. Neither offense has much talent, nor have they had much production thus far in 2018.
While each of the starting quarterbacks in this game have had their fair share of issues throwing the ball, they both present a threat with their legs as runners. And, despite college playing styles, it’s actually Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles who is the most effective and dangerous running quarterback in this game.
So far on this season Bortles has rushed 22 times for 166 yards and a touchdown, including a long of 41 yards. That’s 7.5 yards per carry, a number unheard of by most quarterbacks in the history of the league.
If the Cowboys are going to win on Sunday, they’ll need to contain Bortles within the pocket for four quarters.
So how do they do it?
Well, as usual, it all starts upfront. The Jaguars offensive line is incredibly banged up, with starting left tackle Cam Robinson out for the year and his backup showing up on the injury report as well. The Cowboys defensive line has to be able to create pressure with four, and get to Bortles before he can either run or hit one of the mesh routes over the middle.
DeMarcus Lawrence can’t do it by himself, however, and the Cowboys need one of their right defensive ends to step up on Sunday. Whether it’s Taco Charlton, Randy Gregory, or Dorance Armstrong, someone needs to start making plays and take some pressure off of Lawrence.
Then, of course, the Cowboys need to execute at the second level with their linebackers. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have been impressive this season, and they’ll need to be on their A-game once again this week.
Jaylon Smith showed his sideline to sideline burst a week ago when chasing down Deshaun Watson, and if he can contain Watson, he should be able to keep Blake Bortles in check. Vander Esch is also a highly athletic linebacker, who will need to stay disciplined in his drops as the Jaguars try to create separation with crossing routes.
Blake Bortles is the most high variance quarterback in the NFL. One week he looks legit, like a quarterback who could win a Super Bowl with his defense. The next week he looks like the worst starting quarterback on the planet, throwing the ball into the backs of his offensive linemen’s heads.
If they’re going to win the Cowboys need to bring “Bad Bortles” out on Sunday, and it all starts with creating pressure and making him uncomfortable in the pocket.