On Sunday, the New England Patriots will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in a rematch of the 2017 AFC Championship Game. In anticipation of this matchup, the staff of FPC Patriots sat down to discuss the team’s ability to find the end zone, despite some uncertainty at the offensive skill positions.
Question of the Week:
With the Patriots’ depth at running back and wide receiver in question, how concerned are you about the ability of Tom Brady and the offense to neutralize the potent defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars?
Mike D’Abate, FPC Patriots Managing Editor (@mdabateFPC)
Neutralizing a defense as strong as that of the Jacksonville Jaguars is not an easy task for anyone, including Tom Brady. Jacksonville led the NFL in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) last season, They ranked second in scoring defense, yards allowed, sacks, interceptions and total takeaways. Last, but certainly not least, they also led the league with seven defensive touchdowns in 2017. This is a defense fully stocked with playmakers.
With uncertainty at the running back and receiver positions, a lot will be on the shoulders of Tom Brady. Luckily for the Pats, number 12 is almost always up for the challenge. On Sunday, he will be. Rob Gronkowski is a familiar and reliable target. However, the Pats will need others to step up and make a few plays down the field. If the Patriots hope to be successful in this game, they will need big performances from Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan. Jacksonville’s linebackers are extremely quick and are capable of taking away the Patriots short-passing game success. If the Jaguars cornerbacks give Dorsett some room, this could be a favorable matchup for the Pats, primarily on third down. Ultimately, look for the Patriots to go ‘no-huddle’ in hopes of catching the Jags on their heels. If the Pats can keep them from finding a rhythm, they could move the ball effectively. I like the Patriots in this game, 17-10.
David Albiani, FPC Patriots Staff Writer (@david_albiani)
I would say there has to be concern for anyone that has seen both units. Aside from Gronkowski, there is no one on this offense that instills fear in the defense and demands a double team. Another issue is that the Patriots really lack a true between the tackles runner. Burkhead is banged up and not really that guy, and White is a passing back. The x-factor is Sony Michel, who showed great vision at Georgia. Despite all those concerns though, one would expect the Patriots, because of Brady and McDaniels, to be alright. They may not score 40 points, but I still think 21-24 is within the realm of possibility.
Ethan Roy, FPC Patriots’ Staff Writer (@ethan_roy1)
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There is not a player in this league better at neutralizing talented defenses than Tom Brady. He is as close to matchup-proof as there is, so it would be foolish for me to feel overly concerned, despite the difficult matchup and depth issues. In the 24-20 defeat of Jacksonville in last season’s AFC Championship, Brady completed 26 of 38 passes for 290 yards and two scores. Of the 22 Patriot first downs in that game, 16 came through the air. However, the three leading receivers from that game (Cooks, Amendola, Lewis) are no longer on the team, and the Patriots only managed 46 rushing yards. On any given Sunday that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski take the field, I will not be concerned with the offense, but Gronkowski will need to improve upon his one-catch output from the AFC Championship, and one of the running backs, whoever it may be, will need to take some pressure off Brady and the pass game. New England 27, Jacksonville 17.
Hal Bent, FPC Patriots’ Staff Writer (@halbent01)
The concern with the wide receiver and running back depth is a legitimate concern for New England on offense on Sunday against Jacksonville. Six punts and a fumble (yes, Myles Jack was not down–New England got lucky with the quick whistle) last year in the AFC Championship Game was not a stellar performance. The Jaguars are potentially even better on defense with Marcell Dareus having a full offseason in the system.
The Patriots made the mistake of trying to establish the run–particularly on first down throughout much of the first half against the Jaguars last year. To negate the power of the front four and speed New England is best off spreading the Jaguars out with three wide receivers and Gronkowski in tight with White coming out of the backfield. Remember, Gronkowski’s injury slowed this offense in the second half. Using this formation with two-tight ends including second-year tight end Jacob Hollister should be as effective.
The depth with receivers (Hollister, Allen, White, Burkhead) is fine. The lack of healthy running backs should not be an issue as the Patriots should be throwing the ball 50 times to wear out the pass rush and allow Brady to identify man-coverage matchups pre-snap and find the match-up he likes.
Luke O’Brien, FPC Patriots’ Staff Writer (@lukeobrien21)
A: Looking at who the Patriots have available, I should be pretty concerned. Burkhead, Edelman and Hill, are out. Michel and the two new Receivers in Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler are all unknowns. The only reliable targets Brady has are White, Gronkowski, Hogan, Dorsett and maybe Patterson. Against the might of the Jaguars Defence, it looks like a difficult proposition.
If you were to go by the names on the pieces of paper or a computer screen, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Patriots didn’t stand a chance. The Jaguars defensive backfield are highly vaunted, but the addition of Telvin Smith and Myles Jack as mobile, sideline to sideline linebackers, adds an extra dimension to their pass defence.
I have been slow so far to say that that I am concerned, but in a way I am, but it is more of a sub-conscious unease than a concern, (if there is such a thing). I have seen Brady, Belichick and McDaniels have a cast of nobodies and win games before. This current group is better than that. The Patriots still have Gronk, and in White and Hogan they have two excellent secondary targets. Dorsett meanwhile, had a great game against Houston and Patterson adds a level of intrigue.
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