Tag Archives: 2017 Patriots Season

Offense Anyone? Foles, Eagles Hold Off Brady, Patriots 41-33 in SB LII

Steve Balestrieri
February 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm ET

This one won’t go down as a defensive struggle as both teams combined for nearly 1200 yards of offense and 84 points, but it was the Philadelphia defense that made the one big stop when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball and it was the Eagles and Foles who played tremendous all game long walking over the Lombardi trophy and a huge win in Super Bowl LII.

Foles, who was the MVP completing 28-43 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He connected with Zach Ertz for a touchdown with 2:21 left to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead but it certainly appeared that the call would be reversed.

But the call didn’t matter a bit. It would have just 35-32 before the Brady sack.  There were a couple of close calls in terms of what is or what isn’t a catch… but again, when the defense couldn’t stop Foles and the Eagles offense all game, that wasn’t the reason for the loss.

It was simply another tremendous Super Bowl, maybe not if you like a defensive struggle in terms of drama, it doesn’t get much better. Right down to the final pass into the end zone as time expired. The Eagles made just one or two more plays than the Patriots did and that’s why they are the new Super Bowl champions.

Other observations include:

Philly’s Coaching Staff Called a Great Game:
Doug Pederson said after the game that the Eagles wanted to stay aggressive with their play calling and they did and the Patriots were completely unable to stop them. Alshon Jeffrey was getting the better or Eric Rowe early in this game. Nelson Agholor was beating everyone the Patriots trotted out there against him. The Eagles identified mismatches they felt they could win and exploited them. Agholor had nine catches on 11 targets…he was uncoverable all game long.

Zach Ertz had a very strong game and Corey Clement torched the Patriots for 100 yards receiving, including a 55-yarder where Jordan Richards took just a brutal angle on the play. Pederson’s best call was on 4th and 1 near the end of the first half, they ran the option pass to Foles. With him in the shotgun, no one accounts for him and he trotted all alone for a huge touchdown to put the Eagles up 10 at the break.

Defense Was MIA:
The Patriots defense was dissected and shredded for over 500 yards of offense (374 passing, 164 rushing) by the Eagles who also gashed them for 41 points. The Patriots defense was manhandled up front by a very good Philadelphia offensive line that opened up big holes in the running game while giving Foles plenty of time to throw.

The pass rush was missing most of the game, Trey Flowers had a very, very quiet Super Bowl and was not a factor at all. With the exception of Gilmore and perhaps Pat Chung, and James Harrison, it was their worst performance since Week 1.

Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick didn’t have the answers this week. With the exception of moving Gilmore on Jeffrey, who was shut down, they didn’t make any adjustments that worked. They were out-coached in Minneapolis.  It doesn’t happen often but it did tonight.

Brady Was Fantastic Despite the Loss:
Immediately after the game, I was reading criticism of Tom Brady which is laughable. Brady was shredding the Eagles defense in the second half as bad as they were being shredded.

Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns averaging 10.5 yards per attempt on the night. And the offense put up 33 points. I didn’t like the play call early in the game on 3rd and 2 with the end around to Brandin Cooks, where they were moving down the field, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, it could have been 40 with a better call.

Cooks left with a concussion on an awful collision with Malcolm Jenkins but Brady and the offense reacted well and spread the ball around. Danny Amendola was his clutch self, catching 8 passes for 152 yards, Gronkowski had nine catches for 116 yards with a pair of touchdowns, nearly all of it coming in the second half. Chris Hogan had six catches for 128 yards and a score. Overall the Patriots had three players with over 100 yards receiving.

The Butler “Didn’t Do It”, Benched for the Game:
With several players in the secondary struggling all game, it was more than curious that Malcolm Butler was benched for the entire game other than special teams. Bill Belichick said after the game that it wasn’t a disciplinary decision but a strict football one why he didn’t play.

Butler, who was very emotional during the National Anthem, may have realized that his last game in New England (and the chances of him returning now are practically nil) was coming to an end in the worst way possible, by riding the pine. What had to be particularly galling for Butler was that the secondary was being gashed.

With no one able to cover Agholor, in the biggest game of the year, was Butler the worst option between Rowe, Bademosi, Richards et al?

Changes are Coming:
Suffice to say, the team we see at the mini-camp in June will be quite different from the one that took the field tonight. Matt Patricia is gone. It was thought Josh McDaniels was gone too, but now, some in the media are saying to pump the brakes on that talk…at least for now. But the roster will see changes as the team will have several decisions to make in the coming days, which we’ll address later.

Sorry New England, no parade this year, we’re on to the NFL Combine.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 2-4, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-4, & AFC East Notes.

***Update****  Tom Brady was announced as the MVP of the NFL, the third time that Brady has won the award. Julian Edelman accepted the award for Brady as he was busy preparing for Super Bowl LII.

Patriot great Ty Law came up short in his bid to be named to the NFL’s Hall of Fame and once again Bill Belichick gets zero consideration for the NFL’s Coach of the Year

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, the Patriots are back for the third time in four years and with a win, they’d cap a double dynasty, the three wins in four years during the 2001-04 seasons and the run now. With the eighth appearance in the Brady, Belichick era in the Super Bowl it is amazing the extended run of success that they’ve had and worked hard to achieve. For those of us who grew up in the not-so-great years, it never gets old nor taken for granted.

With the bye week of the Super Bowl filled up with the hype and over-the-top “reporting” from some crazy folks given media credentials from the league, thankfully that is done and we can focus on seeing the actual football game tonight. But there were some good highlights this week. Among them and not in any particular order are:

Edelman Has a Love/Hate Relationship W/BB But Ultimately…it is About Respect:
Julian Edelman did a pretty revealing interview this week at the Super Bowl, despite missing the entire season, he’s in Minneapolis with the team.

We’ve got to see a lot of Edelman this week, on the Tom vs Time documentary with Brady, we saw the back and forth jawing the two and Danny Amendola share with one another but the incredibly hard work that goes into their workouts to build their chemistry and timing. But in regards to the Two Bills special, Edelman pulled no punches on his relationship and respect he has for Belichick.

“I love Coach Belichick, he gave me my opportunity. He believed in me, and a lot of people didn’t. He’s an a’hole and I hate him a lot of the times, but I still love that man to death.”

“I know that the day my production goes down or I’m not playing well he’s going to get rid of me. Doesn’t mean I don’t love him for what he has given me right now in my life.”

“When other coaches tell you to do something, you’re kind of like, all right, …, but if Bill ever says anything, my shoulders are back, my head is tilted straight. I’m still terrified of him.”

“I’m getting to witness greatness just being around him, I feel like I’m a part of it.” Indeed he is…a very big part of it.

Brady’s Excellence at its Zenith in the 4th Quarter of Big Games:
We’ve been hearing about the Eagles’ defense for two weeks, and they’re very good. They can rush the passer with four and not have to blitz but do so effectively when they send six or more as we’ve seen in some game tape. But if this game is close in the 4th quarter, and we believe it will be, don’t bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots pulling off some more fourth-quarter magic when the chips are on the line. And he’s done it against some very good defenses as well.

In the 2014 playoff game and Super Bowl versus the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, Brady was a 17-18 with 3 TDs in the fourth quarter and leading the Patriots to come-from-behind victories. In the Super Bowl last season, Brady was a very impressive 21-27 for 246 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions.

In this season’s AFC Championship Game, Brady led two late fourth-quarter touchdown drives after being down 10 points. He tossed two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola. These are the kind of games where he steps up big at crunch time.

Patriots By the Numbers:
Here are some interesting tidbits in terms of numbers for today’s Super Bowl.
4 – Number of points Stephen Gostkowski needs to score to move into a second-place tie all-time (175 David Akers) of points scored in postseason history. (Adam Vinatieri #1 with 234)

5 – Number of receptions TE Rob Gronkowski needs to become the #1 receiving TE in NFL postseason history. Currently, he’s fifth (Dallas Clark 64, Jay Novacek 62, Shannon Sharpe 62, Brent Jones 60)

5 – Brady is the only QB with five Super Bowl wins. He joined Hall of Fame DL Charles
Haley (5) as the only other NFL player with five Super Bowl wins.

8 – Number of Conference Championships by Bill Belichick, the most in the Super Bowl era. Second place belongs to Don Shula with six.

8 – Number of completions Tom Brady will need tonight to reach 900 career postseason completions.

11 – The Patriots scored in the final minute of the first half in 11 of 16 games in
2017.

11 – Super Bowl appearances by Belichick, eight as a head coach and three others as an assistant with the Giants

41 – Wins (regular and postseason) by three points or fewer, since 2001. The Patriots 41-17 .702 win percentage record in close games is the best in the NFL. Indianapolis is second with a 42-23 .646 win percentage.

51 – The number of Interconference wins by the Patriots since realignment in 2002. The Patriots 51-13 .797 is the best in the NFL. (#2 is Pittsburgh 43-20-1 .680

The “Two Bills”? A Fantastic Story: The ESPN 30 For 30 Series produced a classic and aired this week concerning the partnership and interaction of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

The lead-in for the show contrasts the bombastic “wanting to buy the groceries” Parcells with the dour, quiet Belichick. The Giants players called Belichick “Doom” because of his harping on the minutiae of mistakes he’d pick out from a game film. Belichick’s arrival in Minneapolis fed into that perfectly on Monday. Wearing a black fedora, “Doom” Belichick was like one of the capos in the Godfather. “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”  Of course, the truth is always somewhat different, sometimes vastly so.

Belichick wasn’t embracing the bad guy role this week, we learned. The hat belonged to his father. And his embracing of the past and its history is what, in essence, this story was all about. We see the older clip of Belichick, growing teary-eyed, his voice cracking as he looks inside the Giants old coaching offices, talking about the hours he spent inside there, “trying to establish my coaching career.”

Parcells, looking a bit aged now at 75, his voice getting a bit raspy is a much more mellow and at peace with himself man now, than he was a few years ago. Although the two men have long since made their peace with one another, they were still both a bit guarded, but when they cut back and forth between the two men when airing fantastic interview clips with former coaches and players that played for the two, and even Patriots owner Robert Kraft, they’d share glances and smile genuinely.

The two men have won seven Super Bowls between them and will be forever linked. They were the perfect combination. Belichick was the detail guy, he’d leave nothing to chance. Parcells was the master manipulator. As Lawrence Taylor said, “he always knew the exact buttons to push.” Together, they were a tremendous team and the coaching staff that Parcells built around those teams with Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Al Groh et al were fantastic.

While the “Two Bills” didn’t really break a ton of new ground, it was a fascinating, well-done look at two very complicated, vastly different personalities that at the heart, shared a very common trait. The burning desire to be the best at their chosen profession. And when they worked together, they were a truly dynamic duo… led by Darth Vader (teaser alert). If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on the must-see list. The ending is an absolute classic.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In the fascinating, docu-series that Tom Brady is airing, it gives an inside look at his life both inside and outside football that few people have ever been allowed to see before. The series has another segment which will air today before the Super Bowl and another segment which will air at a time TBD after the big game.

Filmmaker Gotham Chopra was granted some pretty incredible access and Brady wanted to show certain sides of him that we’re never allowed to see, namely his family and despite uber-ridiculous cheap shots taken at him and his children by some twisted people, it has been a fascinating watch for not only die-hard Patriots fans but anyone who is looking for an inside look at the life of the very rich and famous.

Chopra is an admitted die-hard Patriots fan who is excited (and rightfully so) about getting the chance of a lifetime. He spoke recently about wanting to show the different sides of Brady and not just football.

“There’s an emotional component,” Chopra said. “How do you manage all the stuff that’s going on with your family in your private, personal life with your desire to stay on top?”

As for Brady, he’s trying to show that he’s balancing the many facets of his life while letting people know what drives him. “I’m trying to find a deeper purpose,” Brady said.

“To live it through sports in a very authentic way makes so much sense to me. Having these dreams or goals or aspirations and waking up and putting in the work and miracles happening and all this magic that sports create, I’m in the middle of it. I get to live that through sports.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Sunday’s episode.

No AFC East Notes this week during the Super Bowl…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle Tafoya will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

Patriots WRs vs Eagles Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Super Bowl Sneak Peek, Eagles and Patriots Are Evenly Matched

Steve Balestrieri
January 30, 2018 at 2:10 pm ET

This is shaping up to be a Super Bowl worthy of its name as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for this Sunday’s championship. And in the Super Bowl, you’ll hardly find two teams more evenly matched.

The Patriots scored one more point offensively than the Eagles 458-457, and the Eagles allowed one less point defensively than the Patriots 295-296. It doesn’t get much closer than that points wise. Both are 13-3 and both are the #1 seed in their respective conference. Both have had to overcome serious injuries to get here.

Philadelphia lost MVP candidate, QB Carson Wentz late in the season, offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles. The Patriots lost Julian Edelman, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tackle Marcus Cannon amongst others.

While the teams met in the 2015 season, both are very different from the ones who played in Gillette. We’ll do a detailed break down of the key matchups later this week  But here is our quick look at the Philadelphia Eagles and what we’ve seen in watching the film of some of their games this season.

Foles Shook Off Criticism to Play Very Well in the Playoffs:
Nick Foles is in his second stint with the Eagles and they are certainly glad he’s back. After Wentz went down with a torn ACL, Foles stepped in and after some initial struggles to find his comfort level in the offense, he’s been excellent in the postseason.

Foles has completed 77 percent of his throws in the playoffs with three touchdowns and more importantly zero interceptions. The important factor for Philly has been, they didn’t have to change the offense with Foles at the helm.

With his comfort level in the pocket, the Eagles are clicking offensively. It will be the Patriots’ defense to change that comfort level early in the game by disguising looks and pressures. Otherwise, it could be a long evening.

Run-Pass Option (you’ll hear about this all week), RPO is NOT a New Star Wars Character:
One area of the Eagles offense that will be discussed a lot this week is the RPO.  Foles and the Eagles carved up Minnesota’s defense with this badly in the NFC Championship game. They took advantage of the Vikings aggressive nature and shredded them with it. The keys were the quick slants off of them, much in the manner that Jacksonville ran.

The Patriots, however, aren’t an aggressive defense, but more of a read and react group. So the key from New England’s perspective is maintaining gap integrity and setting the edge. Foles isn’t as mobile as Wentz so he’s not the threat to run that the starter was.

Linebacker play will be key here. With two good and very different styles of backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Foles will have the option of handing it off or faking it and passing the ball in the quick open field.

The Eagles Run Defense is Excellent:
Philadelphia’s run defense is #1 in the NFL allowing just 79.2 yards per game. It begins with the big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan. They are the big, immovable objects in the center of the line.

They make things very tough to run in the middle of the field, exactly where the Patriots like to run. The stretch plays and the slow developing runs to the outside are very tough on this defense because of the way they flow to the ball.

The Jaguars defense made running the ball tough last week on the Patriots offense. The opportunities will be there but Josh McDaniels will have to be creative. Which segways into our next topic…

The Patriots Need to Find Success on Early Downs:
Philadelphia’s subpackage defense is really tough. They go to a NASCAR type package in their pass rushers with Cox and moving Brandon Graham inside, then they still have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as their edge rushers.

While the Eagles don’t blitz a ton but will send safeties or corners on third and long situations and don’t rack up huge sack numbers, they do rack up a ton of QB pressure. Consistent pressure is what drives the defense and they’re very good at it.

So from a Patriots perspective, they need to be successful on first and second down. Mix things up, use play-action passes which should be very effective against their linebackers and use the hurry up once they get a first down to keep the Eagles from substituting. Of course, they’ll need to produce as well. Otherwise, it is just getting the Philly offense back on the field that much quicker.

The Eagles front four is deep and talented, arguably the best in the NFL. Getting in obvious passing situations on third down is inviting trouble and they’ll respond by bringing the pressure. In their last four games, Philly’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 10 points.

The Tight Ends for Both Teams are the Focus:
While both offenses operate quite differently, the tight end in each is a big part of what makes them go. The Eagles boast three good tight ends with Zack Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton. Ertz was their leading receiver in 2017 and was Foles’ go-to guy against the Vikings, completing first down after first down. He’ll be matched up with Pat Chung and if New England is going to be successful, Ertz can’t be allowed to become that kind of target again.

For New England, Rob Gronkowski (if he’s healthy) is the gold-standard for TEs in the NFL. While Malcolm Jenkins will probably see him a lot in this matchup. The Eagles may try to pull a page out of Jacksonville’s book and double up Gronk with Jenkins and Corey Graham. If that is the case, then the WRs will have to win one-on-one matchups.

Philly played a lot of zone coverage this year, Brady will pick those apart. Look for them to match up in man coverage. Their corners are ok but not great, they look better because of the pass rush, much like the Pittsburgh corners used to be in years past.

It is just another interesting piece of the chess match. We’ll be back later this week with the full matchups and our prediction.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Report Card, Super Bowl Bound (Again) 24-20 Win

Steve Balestrieri
January 24, 2018 at 8:17 am ET

The AFC Championship Game was the seventh in a row that the Patriots played in, the Jaguars were in the playoffs for the first time in several years. Both of those statements were apparent during the critical junctures of the game, especially at the end of the first half and late in the game.

When all was said and done, the Patriots made the plays that they needed to make. Tom Brady showed once again, why he is Tom Brady and was absolutely brilliant in the fourth quarter, passing for almost as many yards at crunch time in the final quarter as Jacksonville allows in an entire game.

The Pats made the big plays at the big times because Bill Belichick is simply the best in the world at preparing his team and being aware of situational football scenarios and handling them like a 7-7 practice and not in a conference championship.

Jacksonville did none of those things. They cracked under the pressure, like so many teams do when playing the Patriots because they simply don’t make many mistakes and will rip your heart out when you do. The idea that the officials “gave this game to New England” is ridiculous. The Jaguars were up 14-3 and lost a key third-down conversion at midfield with a chance to put further distance between New England and themselves at halftime by taking a  delay of the game penalty AFTER calling a timeout.

On the ensuing drive an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit and a needless shoving of a wide receiver out of bounds when the corner had body position. Watch the replay, the flag doesn’t come until the shove. 47 yards in penalties to Tom Brady before the half is a recipe for disaster.

In the second half, their play calling, so sharp in the first half go repetitive and predictable where they followed the same pattern. And the Patriots defense caught on and stuffed them in the fourth quarter. And after playing man in the first half, the defense, the top defense in the league got conservative and laid back in zones trying to stop the big play. Zone coverage against Brady is a recipe for going home early.

.
Quarterback: A

All of the hand-wringing over Tom Brady’s hand and his subsequent 12-stitches proved to be much ado about nothing which we said but were ignored in our pregame matchups. He was cool, calm and was at his best with the game on the line.

Brady put those worries to rest on the second play from scrimmage when he uncorked a seed for 31 yards to Brandin Cooks. His third and 18 throw to Danny Amendola was another rocket where the Jaguars were helpless to stop it.

Then down by 10 points with six minutes left, Brady ripped the Jaguars apart. Once he saw them going to those soft zone coverages to protect against the deep ball, the handwriting was on the wall. He found Amendola twice in those six minutes for scores. The game-winning touchdown pass was a beautiful throw, high across the back of the back of the end zone where only Amendola could catch it. Both made great plays to make it work.

Running Backs: C+

Dion Lewis wasn’t nearly the factor in this game that he has been down the stretch gaining only a total of 66 yards, with 34 on the ground and 32 more thru the air. The Jaguars front seven did a great job of not only giving he and the other backs precious little room to run, they wrapped up well too, limiting his yards after contact, an area where he has been outstanding.

Neither James White nor Rex Burkhead had a big day production wise as well. Big credit has to go to the Jaguars defense for shutting them down, especially in the passing game, an area that their defense has struggled in and the Patriots thought they could exploit.

James Develin made a huge block at crunch time, allowing Lewis to run for 18 yards and the first down to run out the clock

Wide Receiver: A-

What more can we say about Danny Amendola? The Patriots wide receiver with the best hands on the team was once again at his best on Sunday, catching both of Tom Brady’s touchdowns in the late game comeback. The game-winner was a beauty as he read the coverage got open in the back of the end zone and had to make a high leap with a great catch and had the awareness to get both feet down.

He also caught the ball that turned the game around, a 21-yard strike from Brady on a third and 18. He knew where the sticks were, and gave himself room to come back to the ball finding the open spot in the zone. He caught a backward pass and launched a 20-yard strike to Dion Lewis but Miles Jack jarred the ball loose for a fumble.

Brandin Cooks had a big day catching six passes for 100 yards and drew two defensive pass interference penalties totaling another 68 yards. But he had a terrible drop that cost the team points, perhaps even a touchdown. Phillip Dorsett played in only 3 snaps but had a huge 31-yard reception on a nicely thrown ball and an equally good catch.

Tight End: C

Rob Gronkowski was double covered early in the game before the coaches began to find ways of getting him open. He caught a really nice 21-yard pass down the seam and when Brady attempted to hit again deep down the field in the final minute and a half in the second quarter, Barry Church leveled him with a helmet to helmet hit while attempting to jar the ball loose.

Was it a dirty, targeted hit? No, but it was a penalty and the conspiracy theorists claiming it wasn’t are crazy. It was a clear helmet to helmet collision and intent has nothing to do with whether it was a penalty or not.

Dwayne Allen came on and was invisible until the Patriots final series. He threw a nice block on Dion Lewis’ game-clinching 18-yard run to seal the game.

Offensive Line: B

The Patriots offensive line had an up and down day but they got better, especially at protecting Tom Brady as the game wore on and kept the Jacksonville pass rush for the most part off of Brady. They allowed three sacks, but one was a coverage sack where Dante Fowler had the time to put a second move on Cam Fleming spinning sway and finally sacking Brady. Shaq Mason gave up a sack from Marcel Dareus, who bulled right past him and nearly another when he whiffed on a Myles Jack A-Gap blitz.

The run blocking on Sunday wasn’t opening any holes for the backs to exploit. The Jaguars front seven stuffed the run all day…until Lewis iced it.

Defensive Line: A-

This group led by DE Trey Flowers keeps getting better and better and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for playing solid football. Flowers just gets better as the game moves along, his conditioning and relentlessness are contagious for the group. He made nine tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and a tipped pass he nearly picked off.

The interior three linemen, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois and Malcom Brown were excellent against the run holding Leonard Fournette and the Jags rushing attack to just 3.1 yards per carry. They shut down the run in the second half and ramped up the QB pressure on Blake Bortles.



Linebacker: B-

The unit had both good and bad moments during the game. Kyle Van Noy was solid throughout, notching a sack and a pass defensed but was trucked by Fournette on his touchdown run. James Harrison was solid in the running game and he combined on a sack late on Bortles and jarred the ball loose. But the Jags got the faster Corey Grant isolated on him in the passing game and they got a big chunk play of 20+ yards.

Elandon Roberts was on the field for much of the base looks in run support while Marquis Flowers saw his snaps dwindle this week as the coaches decided to go bigger with Fournette in the mix. The unit had trouble getting their drops in tune with the secondary as the shallow crossers of the Jags gave them fits all day.

Secondary: B-

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had the play of the game and may have saved the season when he launched himself high in the air and knocked away Jacksonville’s final gasp on fourth down that sealed the deal. Dede Westbrook was in perfect position to haul in the pass at about the eight-yard line, He nearly had a pick earlier in the second half, but couldn’t come up with the ball.

The Jaguars consistently gave the corners fits with those shallow crossers that they couldn’t stop. All three corners were beaten on those. Malcolm Butler had good and bad moments, he was battling with Marqise Lee which was a highlight of the joint practices back in August.

Eric Rowe got roasted on a big 20+-yard chunk play from Allen Hurns who had him all discombobulated. He also gave up another big one to Corey Grant. But they tightened up in the second half. Rowe, too, nearly had a pick.

Devin McCourty was his normally solid self and made a few key tackles. Pat Chung was very good in run support but got caught in no man’s land on Marcedes Lewis’ 4-yard touchdown. Bortles had a run-pass option and rolled to his right where Eric Lee charged in. Chung was caught not knowing how to proceed and Bortles flipped the ball easily over to Lewis for the score.

The game plan was to stop the run and force the ball into Bortles’ hands. They accomplished the first part but the second? Allowing nearly 300 yards wasn’t part of the plan.

Special Teams: A-


The Patriots Special Teams were a very underrated reason why they were able to come away with a victory. Lost in all the silly hysteria over the penalty calls, was the stellar day by Ryan Allen. Allen dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line and didn’t have one of his six on the day returned. Because of the STs, the Patriots pinned Jacksonville on their last four drives no further out than the 16-yard line with the other three at either the 10 or 9-yard lines.

After pinning the Jags deep, Danny Amendola, already having a day for himself returned a punt from midfield, 20 yards to the Jacksonville 30. Stephen Gostkowski was good on a field goal and all three PATs but once again it was his kickoffs that pin the opponent’s deep. And teams keep taking the cheese, running out the ball from 1-3 yards deep in the end zone and the coverage units led by Matthew Slater keep making them pay.

Coaches:: A

Bill Belichick showed why he’s the master at clock management and situational football and his opponent was not. No one practices those type of scenarios more than the Patriots. And it shows… time after time, after time.

The adjustments made after halftime was good both offensively and defensively although the Jaguars helped by playing scared. Jacksonville played man coverage and did a great job in the first half. In the second, once Josh McDaniels began to empty the playbook, the Jaguars, afraid of giving up a big play, went to a zone. Brady eats zone coverage like candy….er avocado ice cream. And it wasn’t if it was going to happen (comeback) but when.

The Patriots coaches earned their pay by making the adjustments on offense, defense and special teams and the Jags did not. And decided to sit on a 10-point lead. Bad move.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Podcast: AFC Championship Game Review

Russ Goldman
January 23, 2018 at 10:50 am ET

This is our review of the Patriots victory against the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. We also talked about the NFC Championship Game, and finished the show by discussing the coaching carousel in the NFL that involves two Patriots assistant coaches.

Brady, Belichick and the Patriots Throw “Hot Take” Artists Out of the Club

Steve Balestrieri
January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

A Funny thing happened on the way to the Patriots funeral last night. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots made a slew of national writers delete their columns that were set to run on Monday morning that signaled the end of the Patriots run and then hammer home the idea that were cracks in the New England foundation.

Not that there was ever any doubt, but Sunday afternoon hammered home the truth. And while the guys who make a living spewing those hot takes on the air every week will point to minor stats that mean nothing or whine about an official’s call, Brady, Belichick et. al made them face an inconvenient truth. Although it is one that they won’t want to face, it is there and it is, as one hot taker likes to say, undisputed. On the Mount Rushmore of Coaches and Quarterbacks, the two of them come before everyone else. And the debate is over, finished, thanks for playing, and be careful driving home.

In the age of parity, the NFL has made it hard for teams to have continued success. Look around, there are different teams every season who end up vying for a Super Bowl berth from each conference. But every season, there is one constant, and now to the rest of America that doesn’t reside in the New England area, their nightmare is complete. Four the third time in the past four years, the Patriots are once again going back to the Super Bowl.

And in the 16 years that Brady has been the starting quarterback for the Patriots, they’re going to their eighth Super Bowl in Minneapolis in two weeks, an average of one every other year. That kind of success is unprecedented in the Super Bowl era and will be very hard for another team to replicate. And they’re not finished yet.

The manner in which they did it on Sunday was vintage Tom Brady.  Down 10 points in the fourth quarter against the top defense in the NFL in the Jaguars, there were a lot of people who were waiting to signal a shift in power to the young, hungry, physical Jaguars defense. But there would be no changing of the guard here. The Jaguars coronation was put on hold.

Brady turned 40 in August and for a guy with five Super Bowl wins, he heard a lot of naysayers this season talking about how “no 40-year old”…yada, yada. The season started off badly, his best, most reliable receiver, Julian Edelman, tore his ACL in a preseason game and was lost for the year. The team started slowly and limped to a 2-2 start.

But he led the league in passing and put up MVP-type numbers. And yet every week, the hot take crowd would tout another MVP candidate as it became the “anyone but Brady” race. Late in the season, there were molehill distractions created about his personal trainer Alex Guerrero, his “fractured relationship with Bill Belichick, and the absolute best was that he’s so mentally fragile that he couldn’t take his backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo pushing him that he lobbied owner Robert Kraft to trade him away. And this just happened to be the week before the Divisional Playoff against the Tennessee Titans.

Brady and the Patriots came out and wiped out Tennessee 35-14 and they were on to the AFC Championship Game for the seventh year in a row. The Jaguars were young and hungry with a new coach and a new attitude and went from 3-13 in 2016 to 10-6, winning the AFC South and beating both Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

Just three days before the game, Brady had a freak collision with teammate Rex Burkhead and gashed the inside of his thumb on his throwing hand. Brady needed a dozen stitches and then missed the important Thursday practice and the anti-NE part of the media was running wild. One particular pinhead who has been predicting Brady’s demise every year was ready to burst with glee over the news. And then the news got worse.

In the second quarter with the Patriots down 14-3, their best target, TE Rob Gronkowski went down with a concussion and was lost for the remainder of the game. And down by 10 with time running out in the game, Brady went to basically his fifth option on most days, Danny Amendola. Amendola was huge in that fourth quarter as he and Brady worked their magic once again. The play that got them going and was the tide-turning moment on a 3rd-and-18 play where Brady gunned the ball deep down the middle to Amendola, who got past the sticks and came back for the ball. The result was a 21-yard game and the offense began to click.

Two touchdowns later, the Patriots are ahead 24-20 and the Jaguars defense is left to shake their heads. How many QBs, minus their top two receivers, down by 10 in the fourth quarter of a championship game against the top defense in the league make that comeback? Only one. It happened three years ago against the Seahawks defense in the Super Bowl, where Brady and NE were down 10 against the “Legion of Boom” and he brought them back.

It happened last year down 25 against the Falcons in the Super Bowl without Gronkowski. And it happened again yesterday for the 54th time in his career. If the game is close near the end and Brady gets his hands on the ball, the guy with the most indomitable will in the game will much more often than not find a way to win. He has nerves of steel and isn’t a fragile egomaniac who is afraid of competition. It is what drives him to be the best. There is Brady, and then there’s everyone else.

Belichick is the master at morphing his teams from week to week to play any style that they’ll need to be in order to win. Want to play smashmouth? Finesse? It doesn’t matter, they meet you and rise. He’s also outstanding at finding players who were cut loose elsewhere and finding a role for them that plays to their strengths. Look at the Patriots defense. Marquis Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Pat Chung, Ricky Jean-Francois, Adam Butler, Malcolm Butler were all players who were considered busts or special-teamers only, or in the case of the two Butlers, were undrafted rookie free agents who are all playing significant snaps and roles on the defense.

No one practices situational football or works on their conditioning more than New England. And a big part of the reason they excel in the late moments of these games is their conditioning. When the Jaguars visited for the joint practices in the dog days of August, after a spirited two and a half hour practice session, the Jaguars watched as the Patriots ran sprints up and down the hill behind the fields as a team. Belichick likes to say that the sprints they run in August will win them the close games in January. And it is true.

Their situational football practices are another reason why they are so successful at crunch time and why other teams fail, or as Patriot-haters love to say, “gave the game away.” New England practices situational football heavily and this is why they never panic when they get in crunch time situations. This is a major reason other teams always seem to fail. And when they do, that’s when they commit penalties.

And in the case of penalties, this isn’t kindergarten recess, the referees don’t have to split the calls 50/50. If Team A commits 10 penalties and Team B just 2, the referees aren’t duty bound to call more penalties to even things out. The pass interference call was exactly that. The fact that it was New England and not another team was the reason it is now an issue. It takes away from the coaching that Belichick has done for years.

The Patriots under Belichick rattle off 12+ win seasons like clockwork and yet every year, the coach of the year (du jour) is someone else where he barely registers in the vote.

So the Patriots and Eagles are advancing to the Super Bowl, and for the sportswriters and fans from New York, this is a Stephen King nightmare scenario. The Eagles had the best team in the NFL all season and then rebounded nicely after losing their starting quarterback. We look forward to a great Super Bowl worthy of its name. But if the score is close at the end of the game, don’t bet against #12.

Brady, Amendola Lead Patriots to the Super Bowl in 24-20 Win Over Jax

Steve Balestrieri
January 21, 2018 at 9:42 pm ET

No matter how many times we see this script play out, it never gets old. Down by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the best defense in the NFL, Tom Brady had a daunting task. And his two best receivers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski weren’t available. So, Brady did what he always seems to do, he saved his best for last. He was absolutely spot on in the fourth quarter and his favorite target was Danny Amendola.

The diminutive but tough as nails slot receiver always seems to make a big catch at crunch time of big games and he scored both Patriots touchdowns in the fourth quarter but perhaps his biggest catch was on 3rd and 18. Brady, sore hand and all with a dozen stitches in the thumb web of his throwing hand, lasered a dime to Amendola down the middle for a huge first down that saved the Patriots season. Later, with the game on the line with under three minutes to go, Brady tried to find a receiver underneath just over the goal line.

It was covered and he launched a pass to the back of the end zone to Amendola. And the little guy with the best hands on the team made a great catch and got both feet inbounds before tumbling out of the end zone. Touchdown, Patriots take the lead, thank you very much, drive safely heading out on Route 1.

Brady was 26-38 for 290 yards with two touchdowns. Amendola had seven catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Brandin Cooks had six catches for 100 yards including drawing a couple of big pass interference penalties.

Lost in the late game heroics was the outstanding day by Blake Bortles, the Jaguars much-maligned quarterback. Even after putting up 45 points on the Steelers last week in Pittsburgh, Bortles still heard the talk. He played a cool, calm and collected game today, hitting the shallow crosses underneath all game long and never made a mistake.

Bortles finished 23-36 for 293 yards and a touchdown, a beautifully designed play where he rolled out sucking Eric Lee in. Pat Chung, stuck in no man’s land between Bortles and the receiver was frozen and Bortles lobbed a too easy touchdown to Marcedes Lewis for a 7-3 Jaguars lead.

On their next drive, the Jags mixed the run and pass perfectly and sliced and diced the Patriots defense much too easily for a 77-yard drive in 10 plays with Leonard Fournette powering in from four yards out to make it 14-3 and Foxboro was getting ominously quiet.

But right before the half, Jacksonville was hit with two major penalties and set the Patriots up for a touchdown right before the half. Barry Church tried to break up a pass to Rob Gronkowski and got flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit. It was clearly not a dirty hit, Church attempted to lead with his shoulder but was one of those bang-bang plays.

Gronkowski left with a concussion and didn’t return. His status for the Super Bowl will bear watching when the Patriots play Philadelphia.

The next penalty on A.J. Bouye was also an easy call. Bouye rode Cooks out of bounds while the ball was in the air, but the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists acted like it was the Brinks heist. Please. James White ran it in and the Patriots were back in the game at 14-10 at the break.

The Jaguars were controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the first half and if the Patriots were going to win, they needed to do a better job in the trenches.

The Jaguars got two field goals to push the lead to 20-10 but the Patriots defense stiffened down the stretch and they took away the run and began to finally get some pressure on Bortles, forcing him to unload the ball early on a few throws. And one of the key players was James Harrison who pressured Bortles and then knocked the ball out. He and Kyle Van Noy combined for a key sack of Bortles. Then it was Gilmore’s time to shine.

But the play of the game defensively, perhaps of the year was the 4th and 14  pass from Bortles to Dede Westbrook was broken up on just an incredible play by Gilmore. The cornerback from South Carolina has been a whipping boy for the fans since inking a big contract in free agency and struggling the first few weeks of the season. But since Gilmore has been simply excellent and he saved what would have a first and goal from about the six-yard line. The Patriots took over on downs and Dion Lewis iced it with a huge first down to send the team to Minneapolis.

The defense, while far from great, did a very good job of slowing down the Jaguars’ Fournette who had 76 yards rushing on 24 carries, an average of just 3.2 yards per carry. That took away the Jaguars ability to close the deal when they had the 10 point lead and set the stage for Brady’s heroics once again.

But it was Amendola who once again showed how clutch he is in big games, Bill Belichick was practically effusive in his praise for Amendola as well as Brady after the game. “Danny’s such a good football player,” Belichick said. When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary, his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery — whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration. He had some big plays for us

Brady followed suit stating, “He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field,” Brady said. “I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge, and without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play.”

So the Patriot haters in the NFL world will all be rooting for the Eagles two weeks from tonight as the two tee off in Super Bowl LII. But the Patriots don’t care. They like it that way. Especially with a 40-year old QB who is always at his best when the biggest games on the biggest stage are at stake.

We’re on to Minneapolis…and the Eagles. Not Done Yet.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Jaguars Conference Championship Game, Key MatchUps

Steve Balestrieri
January 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm ET

The New England Patriots remain at home at Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, January 21, at 3:15 p.m. ET and can be seen on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolffson will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (14-3) took care of business in easy fashion by easily dispatching the Tennessee Titans 35-14 last Saturday night.

The Jaguars (12-6) jumped out to a huge 21-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and then kept the heat on the Steelers defense by gouging them for 45 points in a 45-42 win in Pittsburgh.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Jaguars have a limited history against one another since Jacksonville entered the league in 1995. Sunday’s game will only be the 12th time the two teams have met. But the conference championship game will mark the fifth time the teams have met in the playoffs.

New England holds a 10-1 overall record including 7-0 at home over the Jags. The only game Jacksonville has won was a Divisional Playoff game in 1999. The teams last met in Foxboro early in the 2015 season, but not much can be gleaned from that matchup as both rosters have undergone a host of changes since them.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Jaguars Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game has been extremely effective since Dion Lewis has taken over as the primary running back. He and Rex Burkhead, who should return from injury this week gives New England a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game.

The Jaguars have a big, physical front and speedy outside linebackers that flow to the ball really well. But as aggressive as they are on defense at rushing the quarterback, they can be run on if you run the ball right at them. The slow developing stretch runs to the outside won’t work with the speed of the linebackers.

Look for Lewis and Burkhead to run to the weakside this week. Yannick Ngakoue is a slightly undersized but athletic defensive end as they try to keep the Jaguars defense from just teeing off on the quarterback. The key from a New England perspective for the running game is keeping the third downs to manageable distances.

Patriots WRs vs Jaguars Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game got some of their weapons back last weekend and it was no surprise that Tom Brady threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Now with Burkhead back, the backs in the passing game should be able to be at full strength too with Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White. Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, and Danny Amendola are the outside wide receiver targets and TE Rob Gronkowski remains the big mismatch in the middle.

Jacksonville’s defense allowed just 169.9 yards per game during the regular season by combining an outstanding pass rush that got 55 sacks and great coverage by their cornerbacks on the outside with A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Calais Campbell led the way with 14.5 sacks and Ngakoue was next with 12.

Look for the Patriots to mix their “11-personnel” with 3 WRs and 1 RB with Danny Amendola on the field with their “21 personnel” with 2 WRs, 2 RBs and a TE to keep the Jaguars defense guessing. With their big pass rushers, the key from NE’s perspective is to go hurry up as soon as the team makes a first down. They want to stop the Jaguars from substituting freely on the defensive line and hopefully wear them down.

Gronkowski and the backs are the keys for Brady this week in the passing game. Both of their safeties are dinged up a little bit and look for Brady to get Gronkowski involved early and often. The running backs are the big keys for New England in the passing game. The Jaguars corners should match up well with the wide receivers outside the numbers but another big key will be the quickness of Danny Amendola inside the numbers. Brady will look to get the ball out quickly, think of the game plan against the Seahawks (which is very similar to Jax), or the Falcons defenses.

Next up the Jacksonville offense:

Jaguars RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Jacksonville

The Jaguars have the top-rated running game in the league with the big man Leonard Fournette providing the bulk of the heavy lifting inside. Fournette smashed the Steelers to the tune of 109 tough yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. Chris Ivory was a healthy scratch and T.J. Yeldon is the change of pace and a good receiver out of the backfield with Fournette.

QB Blake Bortles has been very effective at scrambling out of the backfield and is very good at moving the sticks when there is no one open in the receiving patterns.

The Patriots struggled against the run all season and allowed 114.8 yards per game, which is coincidentally less than Jacksonville did (116.3 ypg). But in the last three games, the run defense has noticeably stiffened allowing a total of 189 yards (63 ypg). With Allen Branch and Kyle Van Noy back and healthy as well as the addition of James Harrison, it is a different unit now.

Look for the Jags to try to pound Fournette as they did all season to make third-down conversions for Bortles easier where they’ll have a run/pass option. Yeldon is a bit of a wildcard here. How well the Patriots do or do not cover the run will go a long way in this one. Their game plan will be to force the ball into Bortles’ hands and make the Jaguars win that way.

Jaguars WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Jaguars passing game is a microcosm how Bortles’ season has gone. When he has played well, the Jaguars have been very difficult to stop. And when he’s not, he’s looked at times awful. He had a poor playoff game against Buffalo which he turned around and had a very solid game against the Steelers.

With Allen Robinson on IR, the Jags have Marquise Lee, Allen Hurns and rookie Keelan Cole who shined when he was here during the joint practices/preseason game this summer. Tight end Marcedes Lewis is their leading touchdown receiver with five and provides a good weapon in the middle of the field.The aforementioned Fournette and Yeldon give Bortles good but not great weapons in the passing game.

The Patriots secondary has been much much better since the first month of the season. They have a trio of good corners in Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, and Eric Rowe. The pass rush has heated up down the stretch and had a franchise record eight sacks against Tennessee last week.

Look for Bortles to play action pass on first down a lot here, trying to catch the defense selling out to stop the run. That is a key for both teams this week. If the Patriots can force the ball into Bortles’ hands in constantly having to throw on third down, that’s the matchup the Patriots will win. The edge rushers must stay disciplined and not get past him to allow scrambling for first downs.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL, they excel in punt and kick coverage and continuously turn in big plays. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen is very adept at pinning opponents inside the 20 and the team has perennial Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Jaguars punter Brad Nortman had a punt blocked against the Steelers last week, something that STs coach Joe Judge may opt to try again. The Jaguars have good return teams and solid coverage teams as well. But at home, the nod goes to NE and Gostkowski who has had a very solid season.

 

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well with the hoopla around Tom Brady’s hand/thumb injury the past few days, unless rule him out, I’ll assume he’s playing and will be his usual self. Since his ACL injury in 2008, when the last time that Brady missed a start? Exactly.

This should be a good chess match as both teams will jockey for field position to give their offenses a shorter field.   Brady has faced similar defenses like the Jaguars run against the Seahawks in the past, I look for them to go hurry up as soon as they make a first down. The Jags corners and pass rush are very tough obstacles but as we’ve seen Brady will try to get the ball out in two seconds or less as they slowly work the underneath and middle routes, targeting the linebackers and safeties in coverage with Gronkowski and the trio of running backs. Danny Amendola may be the forgotten man in terms of defensive game planning, but he always rises to the occasion in the playoffs. And this is a battle-tested unit.

The Jaguars are a QB away from being a Super Bowl favorite soon but are they there yet with Bortles? I don’t think so. I equate him similar to Mark Sanchez with the 2010 Jets. They got to the conference championship game with great defense and a game manager QB. I see this one playing out similar to that season. With all the talk of the Jaguars defense (and it is deserved), no one is talking about New England’s defense which has been very stingy in allowing points. Well, they keep it going, Not Done Yet. Patriots 27-17

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Get to Know Jacksonville by Revisiting the Jaguars-Patriots Joint Practices

Steve Balestrieri
January 17, 2018 at 8:17 am ET

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.

Jax defensive line with pressure. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Jax corners are big, tough and physical. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

Bortles play is the wildcard this weekend. (SBalestrieri photo)

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.

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