The Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots will open their preseason on Thursday night by facing each other at 7:30pm EST.
To get us ready for Week 1, we’ve got Rich Hill from PatsPulpit.com here to fill us in on what we can expect from the matchup and what the perspective on this Jaguars team is outside of Jacksonville.
1. From what you've seen and heard around Foxborough this week, what is your honest opinion of how Blake Bortles will play in 2017? How do you think the media in New England see him?
I know it’s important to take what former Patriots exec Mike Lombardi says with a grain of salt, but I also get the sense that his statements and evaluations of players around the league aren’t too far from what the Patriots are thinking in house. They think Bortles is inaccurate and doesn’t protect the football and that his statistical output is inflated because his team always falls behind and has to throw to catch up. That’s not to say that he can’t get better, but I think that’s how the Patriots view Bortles as a player. Add in the talent in the offense (the Patriots have expressed praise for all the individual skill players) and the Patriots don’t think Bortles has an excuse for his poor output.
I think the expectation for Bortles is not too different from what teams have seen from the likes of Mark Sanchez or Ryan Fitzpatrick over the years in the AFC East — an inaccurate player that doesn’t protect the football. He’s not a player that keeps the Patriots defense awake.
2. Are there any liabilities in the Patriots secondary that you think that Bortles and the Jaguars passing game will try and exploit?
Patriots fans are excited to see how Stephon Gilmore plays in the secondary because he’s still a projection at this point; no one knows what his flaws will be in the Patriots defense. Of the players that we do know, there are a few concerns.
First: Malcolm Butler is a great cornerback that does a great job of defending the comeback route, but he remains vulnerable to stop-and-go routes due to his aggression (see 1:45 in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBqTroElwsc). Butler wants to jump the route so if the Jaguars can get him away from safety support, there’s a potential home run for the taking.
Second: The Patriots don’t have a slot corner locked in. In 2016, Logan Ryan moved into the slot and Eric Rowe stepped in as the boundary defender. With Ryan signing in Tennessee, Rowe is currently penciled in as the slot defender in 2017, but no one is sure how he’ll perform.
Third: Strong safety Patrick Chung was outstanding in 2014-15, but took a big step backwards in 2016. He’s asked to cover the tight ends and he’s either a dominant force or a total sieve. There’s no inbetween and his performance will be one to watch.
3. Who are some interesting Patriots bubble guys that fans are rooting for that we can watch in the second half?
RBs Dion Lewis and D.J. Foster. I think Lewis is a locked, but everyone else thinks he might be on the trading block. Lewis was electric in 2015 before tearing his ACL and was not himself when he returned midway through 2016. He’s looking like his old self by all accounts and it will be important to see how he plays in live action. Foster didn’t really play in 2016, but he stood out in the preseason enough to earn a red-shirt year on the Patriots active roster.
WRs Devin Lucien and Austin Carr. Lucien was a late-round pick in 2016 and Carr was an undrafted free agent this year. There aren’t many spaces available with the Patriots receivers, but Lucien has been turning heads all camp and Carr is considered a great slot receiver option.
DT Adam Butler. Butler was another undrafted free agent that has been standing out in one-on-one passing drills during camp. The Patriots have been looking for a pass rushing defensive tackle for years (Dominique Easley, Anthony Johnson), so if he can translate his practice play to the field then he might win a roster spot.
LB Harvey Langi. Langi doesn’t really have a position since he’s lined up at both LB and EDGE, but that’s what makes him so intriguing. He’s been receiving first team snaps so it will be interesting if he wins a spot.
CB Kenny Moore. Moore has been extremely disruptive with multiple pass break-ups every practice. It seems like he could be the next solid defensive back that the Patriots found on the scrap heap.
There honestly might be just one or two roster spots available for all these players, so it will be a tight competition in New England.
4. Are there any weak links on the Patriots offensive line that our mediocre pass rush can try and take advantage of?
LT Nate Solder has been sidelined a bit so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he didn’t play. If that’s the case, then his back-up Cameron Fleming could be in over his head. Other than Fleming, the Patriots have rookies Tony Garcia and Conor McDermott and former Lions RT LaAdrian Waddle. The blind side will certainly be a place to watch, as will the center position as David Andrews has historically struggled against stronger bull rushers in the interior. Malik Jackson could have a field day.
5. What does a "win" mean to you on Thursday? I'm not just talking score, but what will you want to see the Patriots do well against the Jaguars?
First off, if everyone remains healthy that will be a big win. Other than that, all the wins are about the fit of new players. The Patriots lost three of their top edge rushers, so how will Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, and Deatrich Wise perform? Can David Harris step up at linebacker and will Stephon Gilmore star at cornerback? Will Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Brandin Cooks, and Dwayne Allen fit seamlessly into the offense? These are all the new names that are expected to take on big roles in 2017, so any indication of an easy adjustment would be the win we’re looking for.
It would also be a bonus to see Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung form a secondary that could rival the Seahawks or Broncos.