We've seen glimpses of what this team can do when they're clicking on all cylinders like they did for the first three quarters in the Buffalo game last week. Now the New England Patriots face an opponent not too many people outside of Florida would take seriously. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a better team than people give credit for and are likely a 7 or 8-win team this year and a year away from contending in their own division. With the opportunity to use the game as a measuring stick, I'd expect the Jaguars to bring their A Game on Sunday. Here's what the Patriots need to do in order to beat the Jaguars to move up to 3-0 on the season.
1. Stop TJ Yeldon and the Jaguars Running Game: If there is one thing that could equalize this game for the Jaguars, it's the running game. If Jacksonville is able to run the ball between the tackles, that shortens the game for them and keeps Tom Brady off the field. I have to imagine the Jaguars will also throw some misdirection plays to try to get Patriots players to over-pursue one look and be out of position for another. If the Patriots can stop the run and force long 3rd down situations, that allows them to put their pass rushing packages on the field and cause havoc for Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville offensive line. It's paramount that the defensive tackles do their job on the running plays.
2. Make Blake Bortles Hold Onto the Ball Longer than He Likes: The one thing about inexperienced quarterbacks is they don't know what to do when the first read isn't there. The Patriots need to take away his first read and his outlet receivers to make him hold onto the ball and give the pass rush a chance to get home. One player that needs to be limited is Allen Robinson, who can really wreck the game plan if he becomes a factor. Tight, physical coverage should allow for the Patriots to slow the release of the receivers and give the pass rush the extra half second it needs to get to Bortles. If Bortles is able to go through his reads and make decisions, good for him. If not, it's going to be a long day for the 2nd year quarterback from the University of Central Florida.
3. Isolate Dion Lewis and Rob Gronkowski in Single Coverage: Both players are strong mismatches that favor the Patriots in the passing game. Lewis should be good for 15-20 touches against the Jaguars as the primary running back for the Patriots and not many teams can cover Gronk anyway. The Patriots can force those mismatches by formation, especially since both players can line up anywhere in the formation and beat you in multiple ways. Lewis has 258 scrimmage yards, which is 5th best in the NFL and Gronk has over 200 yards receiving and 4 TD. Both players are key to keeping the offensive machine rolling, and I expect both to have a strong game with 100 yards and at least 1 TD for each.
4. Mix Up the Tempo and Formations in 12 Personnel: 12 Personnel is 1 RB and 2 TE, which is when the Patriots are the most dangerous on offense. Not only can the Patriots create mismatches, it's also a personnel grouping that's capable of running the ball against smaller defenses. Gronk and Lewis are obvious mismatches in this personnel grouping, plus couple that with one of the most potent horizontal threats in Julian Edelman and that's usually more than most secondaries can handle. Throw in a 6'6" Scott Chandler, who is another potent short yardage and red zone threat along with a 6'3" Dobson who brings a speed receiver outside the numbers and it's pick your poison for most defenses. Not only is the personnel difficult to deal with, so is the tempo. The multiplicity of this particular skill group allows for the Patriots to attack defenses with a very nasty No-Huddle and Quick Tempo similar to what College Spread Offenses run. It puts the defense on it's heels and knocks them over.
For a score prediction, I have the Patriots winning 34-21. I think the Jaguars will make this a game early and give the Patriots a run for their money in the 1st half, but the Patriots offense is borderline unstoppable and the man behind the controls is playing like a man possessed. The Patriots defense will force 2 turnovers, with the first changing the momentum of the game in the first half. I'm very confident the Patriots will be focusing on this game since the bye week comes up next week and there's no game to prepare for afterwards.