For the seventh straight year, and the twelfth time in sixteen seasons, the New England Patriots are heading to the AFC Championship Game. As they prepare for Sunday’s showdown in Foxboro, Full Press Patriots provides a look at their opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Offense Rank: 5th in points per game (26.1 per game); 6th in yards per game (365.9 per game);
1st in rush yards per game (141.4 per game); 17th in pass yards per game (224.6 per game)
Defense Rank: 2nd in points allowed (16.8 per game); 2nd in yards allowed (286.1 yards per game);
21st in rush defense (116.2 per game); 1st in pass yards per game (169.9 per game)
Key Offensive Players: Blake Bortles QB, Leonard Fournette RB, Marquise Lee WR, Dede Westbrook WR, Keelan Cole WR, Marcedes Lewis TE
Key Defensive Players: Malik Jackson DT, Calais Campbell DE, Yannick Ngakoue DE, Jalen Ramsey CB, A.J. Bouye CB, Telvin Smith LB
Why this is a good matchup for the Patriots:
The Patriots and Jaguars did not play in the 2017 regular season, but there is some reason to believe this could be a favorable matchup for the Patriots. New England is slowly getting healthier. With Rex Burkhead and Alan Branch returning to practice, that means Mike Gillislee is the only injured player who didn’t practice.
The Patriots also have a diverse set of weapons that should be able to take advantage of matchups that favor them. Obviously, it is not ideal to challenge A.J. Bouye or Jalen Ramsey if you do not have an obvious window, but Rob Gronkowski over the middle of the field, as well as isolating James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead on linebackers should give the Patriots enough room to move the ball.
And although the passing game is normally the Patriots bread and butter, the key to beating the Jaguars may be in the rushing attack. The Jaguars have by the far number one passing defense in the NFL allowing about 22 yards less per game than the second place Vikings, but they rank just 21st in the NFL in rush defense. Conversely, the Patriots rush offense is 10th in the NFL, led by outstanding run blockers in Nate Solder and Shaq Mason.
This is just another example of how diverse and multiple the Patriots offense is and how they can take advantage of any small advantage. Another note is that Jaguars usually explosive returner Jordan Mickens has had trouble making clean catches on returns, something you can bet special teams coordinator Joe Judge and veteran Matthew Slater have noted in film sessions.
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Why this is a bad matchup for the Patriots:
This one is simple. The Jaguars do everything that has given the Patriots fit over the years. They have a strong man-to-man corner play on the outside that allows them to leave the corners one on one without help, they can get pressure with four-man and even some three-man rushes, they have a fast, athletic linebacker crew, and on offense, they control the ball with a power run game.
If the prognosticators are correct, it will most likely be a low scoring game. There would be a tremendous amount of pressure put on the Patriots defense that has given up yards but has tightened up in the red zone. However, the Jaguars have one of the strongest red zone offenses in the NFL, ranking second in the NFL by scoring touchdowns on 64.7 percent of the drives in the red zone.
The Patriots have a tough matchup on their hands as the Jaguars head up to Foxboro. For a team that has had trouble separating on the outside, there is a good chance this offense may struggle to move the ball.
Key Matchup: Patriots offensive line vs Jaguars defensive line
Although this section is usually reserved for a specific in-game matchup, the battle in the trenches is the one that will most likely tip the scales against the Patriots or for the Patriots. The Patriots offensive line has been solid against the run but is the worst ranked team in the playoff field as far as offensive pass blocking efficiency, while the Jaguars are 2nd in sacks with 55 sacks. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue both represent challenging matchups for an offensive line that will need to gives the receivers as much time as possible considering the skill and physicality of the Jaguars cornerbacks.
In the run game, the Patriots getting to the second level and attacking linebackers and corners will be critical to controlling the ball and moving the ball. If they can do that, the play action pass should be available over the middle of the field.
Favorability scale (1 being ‘stay away’ / 5 being ‘neutral’ / 10 being ‘Mr. Kraft should fly them here himself’
4– The Jaguars as stated above possess all the traits of teams that have had the number of the Patriots over the years. The cornerback play, pass rush and a potential ability to control the clock with the run game represent a dangerous matchup for a team that has had trouble getting their receivers to separate from man to man coverage over the course of the season.
However, one can’t help but feel the Patriots defense that finished fifth in points allowed per game at 18.5 points per game, would be more than able to hold their own against a quarterback in Blake Bortles who has committed 16 turnovers this year. In this scenario look for the Patriots to make the Jaguars put the ball in Bortles’ hands and make him read the defense and make some throws in tight windows.
Belichick and Patricia have a lot of pressure to come up with a solid game plan. However, they are at home. The Patriots should be able to put up enough points to make the Jaguars uncomfortable and have to put the ball in Bortles’ hands.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani