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Jacksonville Jaguars v. New England Patriots: THE Key Matchup!

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Brad Meester, the key to everything

Center Brad Meester v. Nose Tackle Vince Wilfork

There's a saying in football that the game is won or lost in the trenches.  Unfortunately for me, I don't have years of experience playing on offensive or defensive lines to give me the skill set required to explain how exactly the Jaguars can "win", so we're going to explore a particularly important trench fight and maybe learn a little bit about playing on the line.  

The most important match up in Saturdays game is the duel between Jaguars Center Brad Meester and Patriots Nose Tackle Vince Wilfork.  This is a critical battle because between these two men exists the Jaguars running game and the Patriots ability to pressure David Garrard.  Between these two men, quite frankly exists each teams best shot at winning.  For the Jaguars, establishing a consistent running attack begins with the initial engagement of Meester with the Patriots Wilfork.  

The Patriots, as we all know, utilize a 3-4 defense, which utilizes a nose tackle that lines up directly over the. center, rather than the 4-3 where the Defensive Tackles line up on both sides of the center.   The Nose Tackle's responsibilities are specific and difficult:

A 3-4 nose tackle has to stay square to the line, get underneath the center's pads, anchor and hold his ground. His primary responsibility is to control the "A" gaps, the two openings between the center and guards, and not get pushed back into his linebackers. If a running play comes through one of those gaps, he must make the tackle or control what is called the "jump-through"--the guard or center who is trying to get out to the linebackers.

The A gaps on both sides of Meester are exactly where the Jaguars love to run.  56% of their runs pass along either the immediate left or the immediate right of Meester.  You can attribute 10 touchdowns and 47 first downs to the "up the gut" runs, and they are the key to the Jaguars offense.

Let's compare what Scouts think of the two:

Brad Meester:

Meester is a seven-year veteran out of Northern Iowa that was drafted by the Jaguars in the second round of the 2000 draft. He has adequate size and is a good athlete. He is very experienced and does a good job of leading the offensive line with his line calls and leadership skills. He is a very sound player technically and has a lot of awareness. He is a good knee bender and has short area quickness, agility and body control. He can make the reach block as well as the pull to either side after the snap and does a good job of getting in front of the play. He is not the most powerful drive blocker but ends up sliding out to the second level to seal off the linebacker. As a pass blocker he can slide and shuffle in order to mirror off the short set. He is able to react to counter moves and does a good job of staying patient and not over reaching or lunging at blocks. He has strong hands and does a good job of steering pass rushers by the pocket. He is a good settling influence on a quality young offensive line.

Vince Wilfork:

Wilfork is coming off his third season and has put up solid numbers every season. He is a huge and powerful nose tackle with good athleticism in a limited area. He is next to impossible to get movement off the line off scrimmage even with a double team. He has great strength and power to push the pocket as a pass rusher or to penetrate the line and be disruptive versus the run. Wilfork is very inconsistent to separate with jolt and hand use when defending the run but shows active hands as a pass rusher. He is a tough and competitive athlete that is used primarily as a two down player but can get tired at times and lose his technique and effort late in games. He reads blocking schemes well and is excellent to press back and squeeze holes to limit running lanes. Wilfork has been a durable player throughout his career but was banged up some in 2006 and missed some time. He is a great fit for Bill Belichick's 3-4 defensive scheme and should be a mainstay in New England for years to come.

What we're going to have to see is if Brad can singlehandedly contain Wilfork, which allows our guards to penetrate to the linebackers.  In attacking the 3-4, it's critical to get quick engagement on the linebackers, especially when they're of the older variety.  New England's linebackers, despite their obvious quality, have birthdays as old as 1969, and can be worn out.  No better way to do so than to have big offensive linemen slamming into them all day.  But, if we're double teaming Wilfork, it hurts our ability to negate the Patriots defense, as with two linemen on Wilfork can leave a linebacker free to bust the play, an outcome we'd like to prevent.  The Jaguars like to use two tight ends in a majority of their sets, having Meester meet Wilfork one on one gives us the most freedom to set blocks on the remainder, hopefully leaving a nice fat cutback lane for Fred Taylor, or just enough coverage for Maurice Jones-Drew so that he can get around the edge and make a big play.  The Patriots allow on average 4.7 yards per running play.  The Jaguars will win the game game if the can make that average 5.7.   It all starts in the trenches, and I believe it all begins with Brad Meester covering Vince Wilfork one on one.  If we are forced to double Wilfork, the holes grow smaller, the chance of an unblocked rusher on a pass play increases, and the likelihood of defeat grows exponentially.

On Saturday we're going to have a lot of things to watch.  Pundits, commentary, rapid fire camera angles, the whole CBS top end show, and yes, I'm asking you to watch just one more thing.  When the ball is snapped to David Garrard, instead of watching David hand off or throw, leave your eyes on the center, particularly early in the first quarter.  If you see one on one, you can confidently say to yourself; "The Jags are in this, and they're gonna win".

-Chris

Also, I want to remind you that during the game I will be hosting the WORLD FAMOUS LIVE BLOG EVENT SPECTACULAR!