The New England Patriots started off the 2018 season on the right foot outlasting a tough Houston Texans team 27-20 in Gillette Stadium last week. This week they go on the road to Jacksonville, FL for a steamy and hot rematch of the AFC Championship game. Last year the Patriots came from behind to outscore the Jaguars 14-3 in the fourth quarter to pull out a dramatic 24-20 win.
This week’s match-up will be broadcast on CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 out of Boston and on WPRI Channel 12 out of Providence. CBS sends out its top broadcast team to Jacksonville to call the Patriots game for a second straight week. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines.
On the radio, this week’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on ESPN Radio. Tom Hart and Bill Polian (yes, THAT Bill Polian) will call the game with Jeff Darlington as the sideline reporter. The Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the nation and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on defense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
The New England Patriots face-off against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that has already captured the attention of NFL fans and made this game the first “must-watch” game of the young season.
Jacksonville offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was instrumental in drawing up a game-plan in the AFC Championship game that allowed Blake Bortles look like a functional quarterback for most of the game. Hackett is looking for another statement game after only making such a statement for three quarters in the AFC Championship game before Bortles turned into a pumpkin in the fourth quarter.
Will Leonard Fournette Play?
New England had a rough first week trying to stop the run against the Houston Texans. They allowed 167 yards on the ground on 34 carries (4.9 yards per rush), although 40 of those yards came from quarterback Deshaun Watson (all statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com).
Defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown could have played better inside and for some reason de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores allowed linebacker Elandon Roberts to play 20 snaps on defense. After the strong showing by fifth-round draft pick Ja’Whaun Bentley, he may force Roberts to the bench.
Leonard Fournette is going to be a game-time decision for the Jaguars after being slowed by a hamstring injury. Fournette had just nine rushes for 41 yards on Sunday against the Giants in the 20-15 win. If Fournette does not play, it means more work for T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant.
Bortles is mobile and with Grant in the backfield, there is more of a threat in the passing game. Yeldon is a better receiver than Fournette as well and the Jaguars offense was actually more explosive without Fournette as playing Yeldon and Grant created a need to open up the passing game and play more aggressively.
Blake Bortles is also a contributor in the running game having rushed for over 300 yards each season in the NFL. Last week he had 42 yards rushing, 41 of them on an option run to get the Jaguars out of their own end late in the third quarter and flipping field position.
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Matching up in the passing game
New England did well in their game plan to pressure Deshaun Watson and contain him in the pocket as well so he could not get outside and make plays with his arm or legs. The Patriots saw their four-man edge rusher unit of Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adrian Clayborn, and Keionta Davis pressure Watson and contain him. There is pressure on them to do the same.
The Jaguars lost wide receiver Allen Robinson in free agency and lost Marqise Lee to a knee injury in the preseason. Wide receivers Dede Westbrook (five receptions for 51 yards), Keelan Cole (three catches for 54 yards), and Donte Moncrief (one reception for 14 yards) have had to pick-up the slack.
New England counters with a secondary that looked solid in week one. Eric Rowe took over the starting role opposite Stephon Gilmore. With Jonathan Jones in the slot, the unit was solid despite a premier wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. Even though Westbrook, Col, and Moncrief are not stars, all can hurt a defense who fails to account for them.
The Patriots will likely keep Rowe and Gilmore on the outside with Jason McCourty in the dime defense. Patrick Chung will have to account for tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had a big game against New England in a Jets uniform last year. The linebackers will have to check that running backs as all of them can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Bill Belichick likes to talk about the pass rush being aligned with the coverage–both units working in unison with tight coverage and strong pressure resulting in turnovers and stops on third down. Houston was just two for 11 on third down and the defense piled up three sacks. Both units will have to have a strong performance to keep the Jaguars in check.