For the first time since 2007, the Jacksonville Jaguars have an offense capable of putting up big numbers and the team is in the playoff hunt because of it. Leading the way is second-year quarterback Blake Bortles, who is rewriting the franchise record books. In the last two weeks, he led the Jaguars to 90 points with eight touchdown passes, a rushing touchdown and no interceptions.
But advanced stats experts aren't impressed.
In a 51-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the most points ever scored by the Jaguars in a regular season game, Bortles received a 3.8 Total QBR, which is impossibly low on the grade's 0-100 scale. According to FiveThirtyEight, the previous worst QBR for a quarterback on a team that scored 50 or more points was Jay Cutler's 43.8 in a 51-20 win over the Tennessee Titans in 2012.
To his credit, the 23-year-old passer doesn't seem too bothered by the idea that analytics don't favor him much.
"I don't really care," Bortles said on Wednesday. "They'll give credit to whoever they want to give credit to. I'm worried about the guys in this building and what we need to do in order to be successful and how I can help with that, and so that's really the only thing I'm worried about."
Bortles has 30 touchdowns and thrown 13 interceptions with three games left in the 2015 season, already smashing the franchise record of 23 passing touchdowns.
While he is third in the NFL in touchdown passes, Bortles isn't even a top 10 quarterback on Pro Football Focus. He was dismissive of that on Twitter, as well.
So what is it that he's doing so poorly, according to advanced statistics? For one, many experts contend that receivers like Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have bailed him out by making plays on balls that were thrown into traffic.
On an 80-yard touchdown, Bortles threw a pass to Hurns that was caught between defenders, but the second-year receiver shook off an incoming safety to run down the sideline for a score. Critics of Bortles panned the throw as an example of him needlessly throwing into traffic, while defenders of the Jaguars quarterback say he is taking advantage of the fact that his receivers are capable of making contested catches.
Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus offered a further explanation why Bortles received a mediocre grade from the site, despite notching a 114.6 passer rating in the box score:
Bortles gets a lot of credit from fans for "giving his receivers a chance to make a play" or playing to the strengths of his receivers. This is where things get murky, because Ryan Fitzpatrick gives his receivers a chance to make a play like no other quarterback in football, and it often works, but it means there are a lot of dangerous passes in the air that other quarterbacks never attempt. This season, he has the fifth-highest number of "turnover worthy plays," with 25, but only 11 of them have been caught. Sometimes he goes on a lucky run and none of them are picked off, and sometimes he looks like he can't stop throwing picks.
"We like where he's at right now in terms of his improvement and where his game is right now," Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olsen said. "There's room for improvement, but he's shown steady progress and that's what we're most encouraged about. We don't think he's hit a ceiling and we think there's still plenty of growth ahead."
Robinson already broke the franchise record for touchdown receptions in a season with 12 and became the first Jaguars receiver in a decade to eclipse 1,000 yards. Hurns isn't far behind with 51 receptions for 863 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 2014, neither receiver reached even 700 receiving yards during their rookie campaigns. Bortles' stats weren't particularly impressive in his first year either, throwing only 11 touchdowns with 17 interceptions, finishing with an NFL-worst 69.5 passer rating.
Whether Bortles is given the credit for the offense's hugely improved numbers in 2015, the team is ninth in the NFL in scoring and finishes the season against three teams with losing records, including the historically bad defense of the New Orleans Saints in Week 16. That means Bortles' statistics could continue to reach unprecedented highs for a Jaguars quarterback, even if advanced statisticians scoff at the praise he's receiving.