After a significant performance in all three phases of the game in the season opener vs the Houston Texans, The Patriots are now shifting their focus onto their week #2 opponent: The Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars and Patriots are quite familiar with each other, as these two teams met back in January in the AFC Championship. The Patriots edged out the Jaguars in a 24-20 win in comeback fashion to head to the Super Bowl.
However, both teams have changed since then. The Patriots lost a handful of talented players to free agency this past offseason, most notably in Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Butler. Back in January, Cooks, Amendola, and Lewis accounted for a whopping total of 20 receptions for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns. The new look Patriots will have some big shoes to fill on Sunday, as these 3 players accounted for 74% of Tom Brady’s total yardage in the AFC Championship.
The Jaguars had a couple of big named departures this past offseason as well, but not as noteworthy as New England’s.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny decided it was time to hang up the cleats after he decided to retire this offseason. Posluszny was a leader on the Jaguars defense and spent the last 7 years of his career in Jacksonville. Wide Receiver Allen Robinson took his talents to Chicago to join the Bears after 4 years on the Jaguars. He was the team’s number one receiver over the course of that time and finished his career in Jacksonville with 202 receptions, 2,846 yards, and 22 touchdowns. Robinson was absent for all of last season after he suffered a torn ACL in the first week of the season.
As the week goes by and Sunday approaches, it is key to take a look at what the Jaguars present on both sides of the ball. There has been a wide range of struggles on offense for the Jaguars over the last few years, but it is no secret that they established themselves to have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Their defense is full of young, bright talent that can create a disadvantage for any opposing team.
Lead by the cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars have an elite secondary that can give any opposing quarterback nightmares. Ramsey is one of, if not, the best cornerback in the league. Standing at 6’1 and weighing 194 pounds, Ramsey has the size and length to match up with anyone in the league. In the AFC Championship game, we saw Ramsey keep Gronk in check until he suffered a concussion that ended his day. On 3 targets, Gronkowski caught one ball for 21 yards, so it is no secret how lockdown Ramsey can be against any opposing receiver.
On the opposite side of the field stands cornerback A.J. Bouye. Bouye signed with Jacksonville last offseason for a whopping 5-year, $67.5 million deal, as during that offseason Bouye was one of the top free agent cornerbacks on the market.
To some, that contract might seem a bit extreme for the up and coming pro bowler, but he showed his worth with a stellar 2017 season.
Bouye was 3rd in the league last year with 6 interceptions. Crazy enough, it wasn’t until the AFC Divisional game vs the Steelers where Bouye let up his first touchdown of the season. Bouye is cornerback #1 caliber playing the cornerback #2 position, so he is favorable in matchups against an opposing team’s number 2 receiver.
When it comes to the Safety position on the Jaguars defense, Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson are just as interception happy as the team leader in interceptions last year A.J. Bouye. Both Church and Gipson totaled 4 interceptions each last year, which ranks 12th in the league. As a team, the Jaguars had 20 interceptions in 2017 which was second in the league to the Ravens, who had 21. When it comes to the secondary, the Jaguars defense is loaded with high talent all over the board.
When looking at the linebacking core, the Jaguars are young and fast enough to keep up with any offense. Linebacker Telvin Smith lurks all over the field with his blazing speed and is able to match up with most running backs in the league. In 17 games last year, the pro bowler had 107 tackles and assisted on another 30 tackles. Smith has the ability to take over a game and wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Linebacker Myles Jack is also a big-time playmaker. He was drafted with the 36th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft after he slipped through the first round due to injury concerns. Similar to Telvin Smith, Jack also has incredible speed and athleticism that can ruin a day for an offense. In the AFC Championship game last year, the Patriots ran a trick play that allowed running back Dion Lewis to be wide open with only green grass ahead of him. Jack was able to chase down Lewis from behind and strip the ball from his hands and recover it all in the same motion. That play alone represents how explosive of a player Myles Jack can be.
Linebacker Blair Brown was drafted in the fifth round in 2017. He lacked the size to be chosen earlier in the draft, but he ultimately made the team. Brown substituted last season for injured players and played on special teams. He is slated to be a starter in 2018. In his senior year at Ohio University, he totaled 128 tackles, which ranked 8th in the NCAA that year. Only time will tell if Brown will be a star, but he is off to a solid start as he gets to learn from two elite linebackers.
The Jaguars boast one of the defensive lines in the NFL. They typically line up with Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus, and Yannick Ngakoue. Campbell stands at 6 foot 8 inches, so his height gives him the ability to disrupt the throwing lane for a quarterback. The 10-year veteran is a three-time pro bowler, and most recently got nominated for the pro bowl last season after a monstrous season where he had 14.5 sacks.
Malik Jackson clogs up the middle of the line and can efficiently stop the run. Even as an interior defender, Jackson was able to total 8 sacks last season which is eye-opening.
Marcell Dareus is a player to watch out for. Entering his second season as a Jaguar and had only played 9 games last season, Dareus is looking to rebound this year by staying healthy and being productive. Dareus had a stellar stint with the Buffalo Bills for the first 7 years of his career, as he made the pro bowl twice over that time span.
Drafted in the third round in the 2016 draft, Yannick Ngakoue has had an imposing start to his young career. Throughout his first two seasons, he has put up 20 sacks total and he didn’t start every game. The Jaguars defenses possess one of the best groups of young talent in the NFL, and that can be backed up by their defense forcing a turnover in all but two games last season. Quick decision making and ball security should be at the top of every team’s list when going up against this superb defense.
When thinking about the Jaguars offense, the first thought that comes to the mind of many is their quarterback Blake Bortles and his constant struggles. It is no secret that Bortles is on the low tier of quarterbacks in the league, however, the Jaguars extended him last February to a 3-year, $54 million contracts. Despite his struggles, head coach Doug Marrone seems to still believe in Bortles. In the AFC Championship game, he finished with one of best stat lines of the season. He went 23/36 with 293 yards and one touchdown, but most notably he didn’t turn the ball over. Bortles has major interception issues, but if he can keep the turnovers down this season he should be a serviceable quarterback led by his defense and running back.
Speaking of running backs, the Jaguars are led by 2nd-year star Leonard Fournette. Drafted 4th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, the powerhouse back had an efficient rookie season. He racked up 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns and caught 36 balls for 302 yards and one touchdown. However Fournette has been out of practice this week with a hamstring injury, so it will be worth keeping an eye on him over these next few days to see what his availability will be on Sunday.
When it comes to pass protection and creating holes for Fournette, the Jaguars offensive line is an underrated group. This past offseason, the Jaguars struck a deal with star offensive guard Andrew Norwell. 5-year, $66.5 million is a pretty penny for the guard, but his presence on the line will provide leadership on and off the field and will boost the teams need for better pass protection. Their starting five now consists of Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, AJ Cann, and Jermey Parnell. Their starting five should be more than good enough in pass protection and should be an upgrade in the run game. They’ll be a workhorse of a group once again this season for the Jaguars ground-and-pound offense.
At tight end, the Jaguars will be without Veteran Marcedes Lewis who signed a deal with the Packers in the offseason. Filling his duties will be Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who spent his first few years in the league on the Buccaneers and Jets. Seferian-Jenkins has a career stat line of 108 receptions for 1,095 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has had success in the passing game over his first 4 years in the league, but developing into a profound run blocker will be needed to fill the role Marcedes Lewis once had.
The Jaguars took a big blow to their wide receiving corps this summer when they lost Allen Robinson to the Bears. In the preseason, wideout Marqise Lee was looking to be the replacement for Robinson at #1 wide receiver. Lee suffered a torn ACL in the teams 3rd preseason game against the Falcons. This was a major blow to the offense, as Jacksonville signed Lee to a 4-year $34 million contract over the summer which prompted him to be the go-to weapon in the passing game. Without Lee, players like Donte Moncrief, Rashad Greene, and Dede Westbrook are going to have to pick up their slack and produce much more than they have throughout the careers. A combination of a depleted wide receiving core and a below average quarterback is a recipe for disaster, but only time will tell if the Jaguars can overcome the loss of their best wide receiver.
When Sunday rolls around, we should be in for another treat. Expect the Patriots to get the running backs involved early on to open up passing lanes and keep the Jaguars defensive line on their toes.
On defense, the Patriots should send pressure and jam receivers to throw off Bortles and force turnovers. If Fournette is a no-go for Sunday, then the Patriots defense has the chance to pad their stats with interceptions and sacks all throughout the game.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr