After a tough-earned week one win against the Texans, the Patriots face perhaps their toughest test they will have all season. Some may be taken aback by that statement, but when you consider the Jaguars elite defense, the humidity in Florida (something that plagues the Patriots every trip to Miami and leads to a lot of cramping), the lack of defined weapons and packages to this point, and the fact the Patriots do not play their best football normally for another month or so. Throw in the fact that Jalen Ramsey’s trash talk has been well publicized and this has all the makings of a hard-fought and highly entertaining football game.
Despite all the things stated above, there is plenty of reason for optimism and to think the Patriots can leave with straight wins against two of the tougher teams in the AFC this year.
Here are some things to watch for:
1.) Patriots cashing in on turnovers and limiting theirs
Unlike most games with the Patriots, this game has a high likelihood of being low-scoring and a more defensive minded game. The Jaguars possess an extremely fast, highly athletic defense with shutdown corners on the outside, an outstanding defensive line, and smart, physical linebackers. Because of that, every possession is critical and a three-turnover performance like last week would not be good and would give a subpar offense like Jacksonville an advantage.
Moreover, as much as the Patriots need to limit their turnovers, they should be able to claim at least one or two off Blake Bortles if they play at a similar level or better than last week. Bortles can be highly erratic and has had double-digit interceptions in all four prior years in his career. With a somewhat limited group of weapons on the outside and Leonard Fournette still struggling with his hamstring injury (he was a DNP in practice on Wednesday), this offense could be on Bortles’ shoulders, in which case the Patriots should be able to cash in on some bad throws.
2.) How will the Patriots move the ball in the passing game?
Last week Philip Dorsett had a huge game and showed why the Patriots were so bullish on his future after a big training camp. However, this week may prove to be a tougher test with A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey as shutdown corners on the outside having shut down much tougher receivers. Throw in the fact Telvin Smith and Myles Jack are both highly athletic and extremely instinctive players and could limit Rob Gronkowski’s damage as well as cover backs out of the backfield and this could be a huge test for Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels.
There is also the issue of Rex Burkhead being listed as a DNP from practice on Wednesday with a concussion, which could hamper their game plan if he is unable to go. If Burkhead is absent, it could be tough for the offense to have any semblance of a run game considering he is their best rusher between the tackles.
3.) Patriots offensive line against the Jaguars defensive line
Last week I highlighted the Patriots tackles as an area to watch and man did they do a job. Trent Brown specifically was a beast controlling his matchups and engulfing whatever came his way. This week though could be an even tougher test considering everyone in the Jaguars’ front seven has the ability to rush the passer and can get after it. The big names are Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, and Marcell Dareus, but the best pure rusher is Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue can use power or speed to attack tackles or guards and is most likely going to require a chip on some downs.
As good as the Patriots offensive line was last week, they will have to be even better with more multiple fronts attacking them. As mentioned in the opening, the humidity and heat could lead to the Patriots having to rotate in linemen to avoid cramping and fighting fatigue. If that is the case, I would expect Ngakoue to matchup with Waddle as much as possible.
4.) Aggressive Patriots defense to prevent rushing game
Last week the Patriots were very cognizant of Deshaun Watson’s scrambling ability and did a great job holding him in the pocket. This week Bortles does not have Watson’s rushing ability, but he can still run if given the lane. Furthering that is the fact the Jaguars lean heavily on their rushing attack which is led by stellar back Leonard Fournette. Fournette
No matter whom the back is behind Bortles, the Patriots should be aggressive to prevent the Jaguars getting a rhythm going in the run game and making the Jaguars throw from third and long. If the Patriots can do that, they can most likely collect some poor throws from Bortles, but it should also make the offensive linemen play on their heels slightly considering how rush oriented their game plan is each week. One thing to note is Jaguars’ center Brandon Linder did not participate in practice Wednesday, which would be a big loss for them and could be something Brian Flores and Bill Belichick look to exploit. Danny Shelton, for example, could line up at the nose and get do some damage.
5.) How will Gronk and Jalen Ramsey be acquainted?
Jalen Ramsey has gone on record as saying “I don’t think Gronk’s good” and “Any time Gronk has been matched up with a corner, he’s had a very bad game”. Well, that may be partly true, but he also always has so many eyes on him at all times that him just being on the field is a huge help. So the real question is does Ramsey get Gronk man to man? Who will cover Gronk? Will we see Gronk disprove Ramsey’s allegations? The possibilities are such that the Jaguars will most likely vary their coverages, but if Ramsey and Gronk go at it, that would be must-see tv.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani