The Patriots and Jaguars meet on Sunday afternoon for the AFC Championship Game and the right to move on to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. The teams don’t play each other very much, and going back a couple of seasons to look at games played against one another is difficult since roster and coaching turnover is so great. You can get a much better idea at what they are about by going back to the joint practices this summer.
The two teams conducted a few days of very good, spirited practices (and just to reiterate, it is practice and not a game) but we got to watch plenty of one-on-one matchups as well as full team drills and situational football, (something Jacksonville’s last opponent doesn’t seem to practice). The first two days were the true joint practices, the third day was just a walk-thru before their preseason game.
Thankfully I still had my notes on the sessions and it reinforces what we’ve been seeing from the Jaguars this season. In those practices, the prevailing things to look at and for on Sunday were the following observations:
The Jacksonville Defensive Line is Big, Strong and Physical: One of the more intriguing things about their defense is their size. They are very big and strong and during the goal line work, they were very tough to get a push for the running game on. The Patriots were stuffed on several occasions.
They are very good at getting pressure with just their front four. Because of that they can drop seven into coverage and provide tighter windows to throw in. And unlike Tennessee, the Jaguars will rotate defensive linemen in, using seven players, they are deep and their backups are very good.
The outside linebackers, Miles Jack and Telvin Smith are fast and will contest the short areas of the passing game very well. The guy that holds it together is Paul Posluszny, the big middle linebacker who is a thumper inside. It is amazing that Posluszny, who is in his 11th season, finally gets a chance to play for a winner.
One area that the Patriots can combat this is to go quick. If they go to the hurry up offense, the Jaguars big men inside could get worn down. Play action passing on first down and in a perfect world, running 65-75 offensive snaps will be something they’ll look to do.
The Corners are Big and Physical: Jacksonville has two excellent corners in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Many Patriots fans will remember Bouye from the Divisional Playoff game last season when he played for the Texans.
Both have good size, speed, and physicality. They’re very good at jamming at the line of scrimmage and disrupting the timing, something the Patriots offense is built on. During the joint workouts, there were some great battles going on where the Jags corners won plenty of one-on-one battles. The smaller Patriots wide receivers have struggled getting separation against tough, physical corners.
Unfortunately for New England, the one guy no one could cover was Julian Edelman. No matter who they trotted out there, Edelman’s quickness off the line was nearly impossible to stop and he was seemingly open on every play. But he’s lost for the season on IR, so will they attempt to use Danny Amendola and/or James White, in the same way, this week? But Jacksonville will attempt to flood the underneath zones and force Tom Brady into going to a deeper vertical passing game. The Steelers made them pay for those, but rewatching the tape, several of those catches were the type of highlight reel stuff and all were against extremely tight coverage.
The key from a New England perspective may be against the safeties using Rob Gronkowski. Both of the safeties (Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church) are banged up a bit this week, so we’ll see how that plays out.
Leonard Fournette is A Load in the Running Game: The Jaguars are built in the Tom Coughlin mode and coach Doug Marrone relies heavily on the running game, to wear down the opposition, control the clock and open up play action passing. Fournette was the highly touted prospect from LSU and the joint practices were our first look at him.
He didn’t disappoint. He’s big, physical with good speed and very good vision. He was impressive down on the goal line and at breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage. He will be the primary focus for the Patriots defense this week.
Don’t go to sleep on T.J. Yeldon. He’s a good runner in his own right and a very good pass receiver out of the backfield.
Bortles is the Wildcard This Week: It is hard to judge Bortles on what we saw during those practices because he struggled badly at the beginning of training camp and was particularly awful during the two days of practices that we watched. He had been throwing picks in practice and was gun shy about throwing downfield in 11-on-11. Everything was a check-down.
One of the Jacksonville beat guys we spoke with told us, that Tony Khan was actively trying to pry Jimmy G. away from the Patriots that week. Obviously, Bortles hasn’t played like that all season or the Jaguars wouldn’t be here now. But his consistency is the issue. Which one shows up? The one in control in Pittsburgh or the one leery to throw the ball downfield, like he did against Buffalo. Play action on first down will be key for his success this week. If he gets in third and long, it will be a long afternoon for the Jaguars offense.
One guy to watch is Marquise Lee. He had some great battles with Malcolm Butler and had his way with the Pats CB on many snaps during both days of workouts. Will the Pats use him or Stephon Gilmore against Lee? We’ll see.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season A.J. Bouye Bill Belichick Blake Bortles Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Jacksonville Jaguars Jalen Ramsey James White Julian Edelman Leonard Fournette Malcolm Butler NFL Rob Gronkowski Telvin Smith Tom Brady