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Forcing Bortles into mistakes likely Bills' best path to victory

The Jacksonville Jaguars are trying their hardest to protect Blake Bortles, and not only with an offensive line that allowed a franchise-low 24 sacks during the regular season.

They're also doing so with the structure of an offense that minimizes the times Bortles throws and the length of his passes. They're making every effort to be safe and conservative, letting dynamic rookie running back Leonard Fournette do the heaviest lifting.

"I think the play-calling has really benefitted (Bortles)," Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl safety Micah Hyde said. "I think that they've just called different types of plays as far as play-action, getting the dump-downs to his guys and letting them make some plays. Easier throws. He's not taking as many chances, so he's been a really good quarterback this season."

The approach is part of why the Jaguars won the AFC South with a 10-6 record and will face the Bills in Sunday's wild-card playoff game in Jacksonville, but it wasn't the formula they envisioned when they made Bortles a third overall draft pick from Central Florida in 2014. In a passing league, you want your franchise quarterback to pass.

The problem is that Bortles has proven to be a very flawed player with a tendency to meltdown and misfire and start putting the ball in the hands of the opponent. Having him be more careful has resulted in a career-low 13 interceptions this season, to go with 21 touchdown passes, although he still managed to fumble nine times.

Realizing it is likely their best path to victory, the Bills are setting out to get Bortles back to his error-prone ways.

"When you're going against a team and going against a guy like that, you've got to force him out of his comfort zone," Hyde said. "Get pressure in his face and try to get him to throw the ball up for us."

That's where the Bills' defensive scheming comes in.

Buffalo's defense is hardly known for applying overwhelming pressure on the quarterback, so whatever it generates will have to come from some creative maneuvering within the front seven by coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. The Bills also will be making a concerted effort to force Bortles into mistakes by disguising and mixing up coverages.

At various points, he will see (or think he's seeing) Hyde and fellow safety Jordan Poyer lined up deep or close to the line. At various points, he will see (or think he's seeing) zone or man-to-man coverage.

"Just making him feel like he knows what's going on and having somebody buzzing out," linebacker Preston Brown said. "Have (end) Jerry (Hughes) pop out and play something (else). I think that confuses him a lot, when people shift from different positions where he thinks they're not supposed to be.

"Sometimes you show two-high, show two-high and then all of a sudden, boom, he gets a guy on a post and you're showing it's a blitz. That's what we're trying to do the whole time, showing different things with the safeties because the safeties are a big key for the quarterback. And we've got two of the best safeties in the league, so they'll be good at it."

The Bills will have to at least do something to contain Fournette, or their chances of making life difficult for Bortles will be minimal. And the fact the Jaguars' receiving corps has been depleted by injuries won't matter all that much.

"I feel like, once they get up, they can run the ball all day with Fournette and that's what they want to do," Brown said. "If we score a lot of points on offense and make them have to throw to get back in the game, that's when he'll probably throw some mistakes."

From what Bortles has seen on video, he expects the Bills' defense to pose a challenge despite the fact it ranks 26th overall in the NFL and 20th against the pass.

"They do some different things on third down that confuse you, and so they got some good pressures that we’re going to have to pick up and be on point with," Bortles told reporters this week. "I’m sure we’ll see something different or something that someone has beat us on before. Something that we haven’t necessarily seen or worked on, and we’ll have to be able to make adjustments in the game and pick that stuff up.”

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Running back LeSean McCoy is listed as questionable for Sunday's game with an ankle injury. He practiced on a limited basis Friday.

Cornerback Shareece Wright remains in concussion protocol, and will miss the game.

Linebacker Matt Milano (hamstring), offensive tackle Jordan Mills (ankle), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (shoulder), and quarterback Joe Webb (ankle) are also listed as questionable.

Milano and running back Mike Tolbert (not injury related) missed practice, along with Wright. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (knee), tight end Charles Clay (knee), Thompson and Webb participated on a limited basis. Mills practiced fully.

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Hyde was named an Associated Press second-team All-Pro.

 

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