JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Lost in the attention surrounding quarterback Blake Bortles’ struggles and potentially historic turnover futility is the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars have not been very good on special teams, either.
In the past four games, the Jaguars have fumbled or muffed three punts and given up a 57-yard punt return. Those gaffes have led to 20 points.
And for added negative emphasis, the Jaguars are tied for the NFL lead with 16 special teams penalties.
"We have three fumbles by three different guys; that’s concerning," coach Gus Bradley said. "The things that are under your control, you can’t make mistakes. Then when you have opportunities to make plays, you’ve got to make plays."
And tackles. The Jaguars missed several on Tyler Ervin’s 57-yard punt return during the third quarter of Sunday’s 24-21 loss to Houston. Ervin eventually was tackled at the Jaguars’ 7-yard line, and the Texans scored a touchdown on the next play on Brock Osweiler’s pass to Stephen Anderson.
Punter Brad Nortman had been very good this season, but he averaged only 38.3 yards on three punts. The punt that Ervin returned was Nortman’s longest of the day (48 yards), but he hit it low and in the middle of the field.
"Brad Nortman has done a great job all year for us [but] I don’t think it was one of his better days [Sunday] as far as direction [punting]," Bradley said. "And if you are going to punt it more down the middle without direction you’ve got to add hang time and we didn’t have great hang time on that. So in that spacing and that coverage we got out of whack a little bit because of the direction, but it’s a play we also missed two tackles."
That was just the latest weekly mistake.
Rashad Greene had a punt bounce off his thigh against Oakland on Oct. 23. The Raiders recovered at the Jacksonville 17-yard line and eventually kicked a field goal.
Marqise Lee dropped a punt on Oct. 27 against Tennessee. The Titans recovered at the Jaguars 35 and went on to kick a field goal.
Bryan Walters didn’t have trouble catching a punt against Kansas City on Nov. 6, but he had the ball knocked loose and the Chiefs recovered at the Jaguars 23. Two plays later, they scored a touchdown.
The Jaguars do have one of the league’s better kickoff coverage units (teams are averaging 17.6 yards per return, the second-lowest in the NFL), but they rank 26th in punt coverage (12.1 yards per return).
With the offense struggling to move the ball consistently and the defense going five-plus games without forcing a turnover, the Jaguars need to get a lift from their special teams. But they’re not getting it.