JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The worst offensive stretch in franchise history is not enough for the Jacksonville Jaguars to consider making a quarterback change.
Coach Doug Marrone said Monday that Cody Kessler will remain the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the season unless he gets injured or Marrone thinks the offense needs a spark. While one offensive touchdown in three weeks -- the first time that has happened since the team's inception in 1995 -- certainly qualifies, Marrone said dumping Kessler for Blake Bortles isn't the sole answer to the team's offensive issues.
"You know, I think it [switching back to Bortles] would [provide a spark]," Marrone said. "I'm not going to lie to you. It would. But I think it goes back to: How do you evaluate all the stuff when it's so inconsistent all over the place?"
The Jaguars are sticking with Kessler, even though Marrone said he "would have no problem putting [Bortles] back in there" in the right situation. However, it's clear that the Jaguars have decided to move on from Bortles, and putting him back on the field would expose him to increased injury risk -- even though he had never missed a start before getting benched -- because of the subpar offensive line. The Jaguars want to be able to cleanly cut ties after the season.
The Jaguars have a better chance to win with Bortles on the field, even though he struggled in the two games before his benching. He has had some bad stretches in his career and has thrown more interceptions (74) and committed more turnovers (93) than any other player since he entered the league in 2014, but the offense was never this bad when he was on the field.
That's why it's a better long-term strategy to keep Bortles off the field. Even though the Jaguars (4-10) would never admit it publicly, it would be better if the team were to lose its final two games to get a higher draft pick and increase the chances of landing the quarterback it wants. Jacksonville (4-10) currently has the fifth overall pick, behind Arizona (3-11), Oakland (3-11), the New York Jets (4-10) and San Francisco (4-10). All of those teams already have quarterbacks.
Still, it's hard to watch the Jaguars' offense muddle around the field. Marrone's reason for benching Bortles after the Nov. 25 loss at Buffalo was that the passing game needed to be more productive. Kessler has completed 62 percent of his passes for 447 yards and one touchdown with one interception, but he has also lost two fumbles and been sacked 13 times. He has led the offense to just 26 points in his three starts.
Eleven of the Jaguars' 31 possessions (not including a three-play drive at the end of the first half against Indianapolis) in Kessler's starts have been three-and-outs, and the Jaguars have managed just five trips into the red zone. The only touchdown came in garbage time against Tennessee, when Kessler connected with Dede Westbrook on a 7-yard pass late in the third quarter of the 30-9 loss. The Jaguars were trailing 30-2 at the time.
The offense's lack of production is certainly not all on Kessler. The offensive line and tight end positions have been ravaged by injuries. Nine of the 11 starters on offense in Sunday's loss to Washington were either backups or not with the team when the season began, including four offensive linemen. That has hampered the run game as well as pass protection, though Marrone said Kessler was fully to blame for one of his six sacks and partially to blame for another on Sunday.
"We're not being able to make plays," Marrone said. "Run-game-wise, we're not being consistent enough, and I'm responsible for that, so that falls on me."
The Jaguars have totaled 658 yards the past three games, which is the fewest in a three-game stretch since the Jaguars had 610 in Weeks 4-7 in 2012 (they had a bye in Week 6). That was the season the Jaguars went a franchise-worst 2-14.
"The lack of touchdowns, it puts a tremendous amount of burden on your defense and your special teams," Marrone said. "Those guys are stepping up, and we have to find a way to step up offensively."