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 offense 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 defensive coordinator Todd Wash was the defensive line coach in Seattle in 2012 when a brash young Seahawks team handed the Patriots a stunning 24-23 loss in a week six match-up signaling the rise of the Legion of Boom. Wash is looking for another statement game after only making such a statement for three quarters in the AFC Championship game.
The battle in the trenches could be the turning point on Sunday
The Jaguars have an embarrassment of riches on their defensive line. Edge rushers Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks) and Yannick Ngakoue (12 sacks) lead the pass rush while back-ups Dante Fowler (8 sacks and two of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game) and rookie first-round draft Taven Bryan make-up one of the deepest pass rushing groups in the NFL (all statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com).
On the inside, the Jaguars have former Buffalo Bills star Marcell Dareus in shape and motivated again. He has 36 career sacks and had a career-high 10 in 2014. Next to Dareus, Jacksonville has former Denver Bronco Malik Jackson. Jackson had a career-high eight sacks last year earning his first Pro Bowl berth.
The Patriots will counter this ferocious front with their stout offensive line. Left tackle Trent Brown nearly pitched a shutout against Houston as he completely negated Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in week one. On the right side, a hobbled Marcus Cannon split snaps with LaAdrian Waddle due to an ankle injury. Both handled a tough match-up against a healthy J.J. Watt well although Watt won a few battles against Waddle later in the game.
The interior offensive line was solid with guards having one of his best games not allowing a single pressure and Shaq Mason solid as well. Center David Andrews had his hands full with the impressive D.J. Reader getting beat badly once and another time he and Mason had a miscommunication letting Reader split them both untouched on his way to sacking Brady.
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This is a match-up of Speed versus Savvy
Last year in the AFC Championship game the Patriots made the tactical error in their game-plan of trying to establish the run–particularly on first down. Running on passing downs did not confuse the Jaguars either as the Patriots tried a run on third-and-three in the first quarter and a short pass on third-and-three later in the game. Both led to punts.
To negate the power and pass rush ability of the Jaguars’ front four and speed of their linebacking group, the Patriots should focus on spreading out the Jaguars with three and four-receiver sets. They did most of their damage against Jacksonville testing the depth of their cornerbacks behind Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
The Jaguars lost slot cornerback Aaron Colvin (who played 78% of the snaps in the AFC Championship game) and replaced him with D.J. Hayden–a first-round draft pick in 2013. Hayden had a great first game in the slot against Denver washout Cody Latimer but should have a tougher test this week with the Patriots shuffling Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Rob Gronkowski and probably even Cordarrelle Patterson in the slot at some point.
The Patriots could use tight ends Rob Gronkowski and second-year tight end Jacob Hollister in tight and then splitting them out to the slot and/or outside to try to get favorable match-ups and keep the defensive ends (who line up wide to begin with) from chipping Gronkowski coming off the line-of-scrimmage.
The Jaguars are likely confident that Bouye, Ramsey, and Hayden can handle Dorsett, Hogan and Patterson (and Corey Coleman if he is active). New England has to focus on getting the ball to running backs and tight ends in the passing game and force Myles Jack and Telvin Smith to play another perfect game tackling in the middle of the field.
Why even run the ball?
The Patriots have some questions at running back with first-round draft pick Sony Michel still banged-up, Jeremy Hill lost for the season with a knee injury, and Rex Burkhead needing to be managed after missing a practice due to a concussion this week. They added Kenjon Barner for depth but he is not expected to be an impactful player on Sunday.
The lack of healthy running backs should not be an issue as the Patriots should be throwing the ball most of the time to slow the pass rush and wear down the rushers. New England is not going to “ground and pound” the Jaguars–they are too stout up front and Jack and Smith are simply too fast.
The best game plan is for the Patriots to spread the field horizontally and allow Brady to identify man-coverage match-ups pre-snap (or if the Jaguars are in their cover-3 look) and find the match-up he likes best. Don’t discount Brady taking a few shots deep on Bouye and Ramsey after he drew pass interference calls on both last year.