UNIFORM WATCH: Teal tops and white trousers for Sunday.
You asked. We listened.— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) September 12, 2018
We're wearing teal jerseys and white pants this Sunday against the Patriots. pic.twitter.com/2TxHvu9hGF
Sure, there will be 46 men with Patriots decals running out of the tunnel, but this is far from the best Patriots roster that we’ve seen despite having Tom Brady at the helm. While their depth might actually be better than last year, the loss of key contributors Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, and Malcolm Butler this offseason makes this Patriots team a very different one than what we’ve seen of late.
On offense, James White was a menace catching passes out of the backfield against the Texans (4 catches, 38 yards, 1 TD) and will likely be featured this week with Jeremy Hill landing on IR last week, Rex Burkhead missing practice time recovering from a concussion, and Sony Michel yet to make his NFL debut. The Patriots have a solid offensive line, but with the speed and violence of the Jaguars defensive line, expect Josh McDaniels to mainly call quick-hitting slants, screens, and dump offs to the running back. In the true passing game, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett shouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, but Rob Gronkowski poses an obvious threat.
Defensively, this team honestly looked better on film in week one than they did for most of last season under Matt Patricia. Trey Flowers is ascending into a premier defensive end in this league and Malcolm Brown in his contract year will be a handful for Andrew Norwell and AJ Cann this week. The linebacking unit got a huge boost in the return of their defensive captain Dont’a Hightower, who missed half the 2017 season with a pectoral injury, and rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley has looked incredibly impressive and is already pushing Elandon Roberts for first team snaps. In the secondary, Stephon Gilmore is playing like the player they paid him to be after snagging an impressive interception last week, but Eric Rowe could be the weak link and should be exploited in the passing game by Nathaniel Hackett.
And then there’s Brady. The Brady that is 5-0 in his career against the Jaguars. The Brady that has made the Jaguars the only NFL team he has never lost to in his 19-year career. The Brady that looked a jawing Jalen Ramsey in the eye during warm ups of the AFC Championship game last year and smiled, as if he knew he would rip out his soul late in the fourth quarter. Sure, this year’s Pats roster may not be the strongest he’s ever had to work with, but he’s still the sumptuous signal caller that has this team’s number as if he’s next in line at the Publix deli waiting to devour a chicken finger sub.
For more information on the Patriots, check out Ryan O’Bleness’ crossover piece with Bernd Buchmasser of Pats Pulpit.
Home. Field. Advantage.
The Jaguars have won their last six consecutive home games, which is the third longest streak in franchise history. The Bank will be rocking this weekend in what many local media are calling the biggest regular season game in franchise history, and one player who has really fed off the energy since we’ve gone Full Duval is Blake Bortles.
In his last three regular season home games (all wins), @Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has thrown for 903 yards (301/game), 7 TDs and 0 INTs for passer rating of 128.6.— Tad Dickman (@TDickman89) September 12, 2018
Bortles posted a passer rating of 115+ in each of those victories.
Sunday: ⛵️ vs. pic.twitter.com/XVhz9w57ha
The Jags are going to need the best of Blake this week to have a chance and can’t afford to get conservative like the second half of the AFC Championship game last year. The sting of losing that game despite harboring the lead for almost the entire contest is a sour taste that has lingered in these players’ mouths all offseason, and the only remedy for removing it is winning this game. The Jaguars have said all the right things in the media this week with their “just another game” company line, but make no mistake about it, it’s not just the next game on the schedule. It’s the game. Tony Romo will be here. 80% of the country will have this game on their TVs. This is their moment to catapult from obscurity to notoriety.
Quite frankly, it’s less about what another win would mean in a long sixteen game season, and more about setting themselves up with a positive mentality for a playoff run. Imagine if the Jaguars lose again to the Pats this week at home and then have to make the sojourn up to Foxboro for another playoff game in January? The team runs the risk of becoming psychologically dilapidated, and losing this game could give the Patriots an unbreakable aura of invincibility for the next battle, whether or not the Jaguars players want to admit it or not.
Finally, we have Fournette watch. I expect Fournette to actually be active, but not used much during the game. In fact, if Fournette is in the game, I expect it to be with mostly two running back sets that are schemed to get the ball in Corey Grant’s hands. The play calling and personnel groupings changed drastically last week after Fournette’s injury, and I actually made a case with an article earlier this week that Grant’s utilization was hampered by Fournette’s absence.
Tashaun Gipson vs. Rob Gronkowski
Sure, Jalen Ramsey will likely slide inside to cover Gronk when he lines up in the slot, but Todd Wash isn’t going to shift him inside if Gronkowski lines up on the line of scrimmage, which will be most of the time. Last year, Gipson was severely limited with a foot injury which prohibited him from having his best game, but with a clean bill of health this year, it would not surprise me if he is the one lined up on Gronk in most man coverage packages and Barry Church is asked to drop back and play deep.
Cam Robinson vs. Trey Flowers
Cam Robinson ended up with one of the top ten pass blocking grades of NFL offensive tackles from PFF last week, and hopefully this momentum can carry into this week going up against talented edger rusher Trey Flowers. Robinson’s ability to neutralize Flowers in individual match ups will be important as it will free up Norwell to help Brandon Linder take on mammoth run stuffer Danny Shelton on early downs and help create a crease for the running game.
Corey Grant vs. Patriots Linebackers
What the Patriots linebackers have in experience, they lack in overall speed. We saw as much last year when Grant was gashing the Patriots in the first half before they mysteriously decided to move away from what was working. Hackett won’t make the same mistake twice, and I fully expect Grant to get at least ten touches this week with specialized niche packages.
Yannick Ngakoue vs. Trent Brown
Ngakoue was a monster last week despite not showing up on the stat sheet, but I fully expect that to change this week against Trent Brown. Ngakoue is an absolute nightmare matchup for the 6’8” 380 pound tackle who largely struggles with speed moves and can get sluggish in his pass sets. Conversely, Ngakoue may have a tough time setting the edge in the run game against Brown this week due to his 150 pound differential, so don’t be surprised if Yannick and Calais Campbell flip on early downs where Wash is reading run.
Myles Jack vs. NFL Officials
We all know that Clete Blakeman and his crew absolutely extinguished the Jaguars Super Bowl hopes, not only with the “Myles Jack wasn’t down” quick whistle, but the phantom pass interference on AJ Bouye in the first half, etc. My understanding is the NFL has already acknowledged the missed calls that prevented this franchise from making its first championship appearance in franchise history, so it will be interesting to see if there is any directive from the league to let some “close” plays go. I hate to gripe about officiating (my father was a FIFA/Major League Soccer referee for 20 years), but this was egregious incompetence at the hands of Blakeman and his crew.
If there was ever a time to beat the Patriots...
The time is now.
Sure, there is a long season ahead of us with fourteen more games, but if not now, then when? Expect a lot of field goals in this one, and I’m visualizing a two minute drill situation for Bortles where he does just enough with his legs to get the Jaguars in field goal range for a game winning Lambo kick.
Jaguars 16 Patriots 13