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Patriots vs Jaguars: Trick to beating Jacksonville is to keep their run defense on the field

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We asked our Jaguars website five questions ahead of Sunday’s game.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

As the New England Patriots prepare to face the Jacksonville Jaguars for the AFC Championship Game, we spoke with Ryan Day of BigCatCountry.com to get the inside scoop on the other team.

1. How did the 49ers and Steelers have success moving the ball against the Jaguars defense?

The 49ers moved the ball through quick passes and a quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo who made quick reads all game. Garoppolo is a very good quarterback who makes smart decisions quickly. He’s going to help the 49ers for a long time coming. The 49ers also have the personnel to keep the Jaguars in their base 4-3 defense almost all game -- leaving Paul Posluszny on the field longer than the Jaguars would like. I don’t think the Patriots have that same scheme or personnel combination so it’ll be interesting to see how they do on Sunday.

(Editor’s note and please read in the Arrested Development Ron Howard narrator’s voice: They do. The Patriots and 49ers were the only two teams in the NFL to use a fullback on 30% or more snaps in 2017 and no team used more two-back sets than New England.)

As far as the Steelers, half of those touchdowns were flukes where the Jaguars defenders were in perfect coverage. The Antonio Brown touchdowns where A.J. Bouye was right there are two great examples. Telvin Smith even got a hand on the one to Le’Veon Bell shortly after halftime. The game was not as close as the score would indicate, but it did show the Jaguars’ penchant for giving up big, explosive plays.

2. Jacksonville has the runaway best pass defense in the NFL, but they rank pretty poorly against the run relative to the rest of the league (26th in DVOA). Is there any explanation for their questionable run defense?

Part of that is the fact that Marcell Dareus didn’t join the team until midway through the season. Since he’s been on the team, the Jaguars have averaged under 100 yards per game by opponents on the ground.

But another part is when you build your defense on its pass defense and put really athletic players at linebacker, something has gotta give. We clamped down on the pass and played bend-but-don’t-break on the run. I think the plan worked pretty well, don’t you?

3. There are four defensive linemen with eight or more sacks on the Jaguars. Telvin Smith and Myles Jack are perfect athletic linebackers for the modern NFL. There are two All Pros at cornerback.

The biggest personnel “weakness” appear to be at safety with Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. Have they been tasked with covering tight ends this year, or how do you expect the Jaguars to cover Rob Gronkowski?

The Jaguars have been notoriously bad at covering tight ends in years past, but this year with the athletes you just listed they’ve been pretty good at neutralizing them. Jimmy Graham didn’t get a single catch and only two targets. Antonio Gates had one catch and two targets. Vance McDonald had 10 catches last week, but zero scores. The Jaguars will either throw everything they have at you if you’re a threat to score, or they’ll just let you get yards and clamp down in the red zone.

As far as Rob Gronkowski though, the dude is a unicorn. He’s the best tight end in the league and, honestly, scares me more than Tom Brady. I know conventional wisdom would say put an athletic linebacker like Telvin or Myles on him, but I think you put Ramsey, our best defender, on Gronkowski, your best receiver, and let them duke it out.

4. In two games against the Steelers, Leonard Fournette has 290 rushing yards on 53 carries for 5.47 yards per carry. He averaged 3.51 YPC against all other teams this year.

How did Fournette take over those Steelers games, and why was he limited against all other opponents?

He took over because the Steelers are one of the worst run defenses in the league. They gave up 4.4 yards per carry this year, which is sixth-worst in the NFL. Teams just didn’t run as many times against them because they always found themselves down and needed to pass. With the Jaguars, we were up either right away (like last week) or building a big lead after halftime (like Week 5).

5. The Jaguars wide receiver corps are greatly limited due to injuries, so who is left standing and what are their respective strengths?

Well, first you’ve got Allen Hurns who has been on and off the active roster due to injury. He isn’t getting great production (one reception, 12 yards against the Steelers last week) but he’s a solid route runner who commands coverage.

Dede Westbrook is a threat with any route, but especially over the middle. His ability on the sideline is great, he has great balance on back-shoulder throws, and his speed is good if the Jaguars are 30-35 yards out of the end zone and he’s asked to run a vert route to the end zone.

Keelan Cole is a balanced receiver. He’s exactly who you’d love to have as your No. 4 or No. 5 guy but who has been forced into top-three duty thanks to injury.

Marqise Lee is the gadget guy. He’ll be running end-arounds, faking them too, running shallow crosses, and picking up as many yards after the catch as he can.

The tight ends are Marcedes Lewis (an excellent downfield blocker) and James O’Shaughnessy (safe receiver out of the flat).