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Sunday NFL Thoughts: How the Jaguars will defend Rob Gronkowski; Devin McCourty reacts to Tom Brady’s injury

Also, the Patriots are well experienced against bigger running backs.

Tennessee Titans Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

1. New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty took the lead with addressing the status of quarterback Tom Brady and his hand. This is the best answer you’ll see all week and there’s no need to look any further.

Q: Can you say how Tom Brady looked at practice today?

McCourty: Tom looks excellent every day. One of the best-looking people I’ve ever met.

Q: Did he look like his hand was bothering him at all?

McCourty: When you look at Tom’s [face] it’s hard to look at anything else. So, I really only saw his face.

There you have it. Brady is fine and McCourty called him...wait a minute, one of the best looking people? Not the best looking? Folks, I think McCourty still has Jimmy Garoppolo on his mind, I’ll be right back after I write 1,000 words about that.

Brady’s hand is definitely hurt. It’s been hurt for the second half of the season as he’s been flexing it after almost every contact. The Patriots are just making sure he doesn’t make it worse before the game.

2. The Patriots are definitely aware of the size and power of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, who stands at 6’0, 240 pounds. He’s a big running back that is capable of pushing the pile and dragging defenders down the field.

Fortunately for New England, they have plenty of experience against backs like Fournette.

Over the past three seasons, there are just 5 running backs that weigh 240 or more pounds that have received 15 or more carries (I’m not including fullbacks). One is Joey Iosefa (245 pounds), who spent the 2015 season with the Patriots. Another is LeGarrette Blount (250 pounds), who spent both the 2015 and 2016 seasons with New England. The defense certainly will have benefit from playing against them both in practice.

On the other sideline, the Patriots faced Bills running back Mike Tolbert in week 16 (250 pounds; 3 carries for -3 yards) and Titans running back Derrick Henry in the divisional round (247 pounds; 12 carries for 28 yards) this season.

The other players is Fournette. And that’s the full list. The Patriots will be as well-prepared as a team possibly can be against a bruiser like Fournette.

3. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is not going to be covering Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Jacksonville is going to deploy the same defense that got them to the playoffs and to the conference title game. That means Gronkowski will likely match up with a linebacker like Telvin Smith or Myles Jack and a safety like Barry Church or Tashaun Gipson (who is dealing with a foot injury) or even cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey or A.J. Bouye if Gronkowski flexes to the sideline.

When asked about the defensive strategy against the Patriots tight end, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said:

“Hope they don’t throw him [Gronkowski] the football. Hope he drops it. There is no secret formula. I’d like to watch the game where someone has been able to do it. He is going to make his plays and you hope those plays don’t end up killing you.”

If there’s a weakness to the Jaguars defense, it’s their coverage of tight ends. They rank 1st in DVOA against the top receiver, and 8th and 11th against the rest of the receivers; they rank 20th against tight ends and 15th against running backs.

Gronkowski is far and away the best tight end in the NFL. If he has an All Pro day against the Jaguars, New England should be able to put up a large number of points and put the game away.

4. A first grade class from Bolles School sent Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone a playbook on how to defeat the Patriots.

“This [guide] has the answers to maybe what I’m looking for in how we can stop the Patriots,” Marrone said.

Marrone also said, “I find it hard to believe that so many people have an opinion on how to beat the New England Patriots and no really has done that.”

If we’re being honest here, this first grade class probably has a better idea of how to stop Gronkowski than any team that runs a Zone Blitz defense (looking at you, Steelers and Titans), so the Jaguars would be better off reading the book than looking at film from last week.

5. If I’m Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash, I’m playing the following match-ups:

  • Jalen Ramsey on Brandin Cooks
  • A.J. Bouye on Chris Hogan
  • Aaron Colvin on Danny Amendola
  • Myles Jack and Barry Church on Rob Gronkowski
  • Tashaun Gipson as the deep safety
  • Telvin Smith on Dion Lewis

This allows the Jaguars to play a defensive front four of Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, and either Marcell Dareus or Dante Fowler depending on the situation. This is the ideal personnel to both pressure Tom Brady in the pocket, defend against the run, and also have strong match-ups across the board in coverage.

Amendola versus Colvin is the only match-up that might be in the Patriots favor and that’s something the Jaguars would have to live with.

6. If I’m going to play chess against myself here, if I’m Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, I’m going to ask Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola to split snaps and use Dwayne Allen and James Develin to fill the extra spot on the field. Because if the Patriots go with heavy personnel, the Jaguars typically counter by putting Paul Posluszny on the field, who can be exploited in pass coverage.

This should open up the play action pass for the Patriots due to the aggression of the Jaguars linebackers and I would expect Gronkowski to be the recipient of a few big chunk gainers up the seam with this personnel.