The NFL season is only entering its second week of action, but it will already see one of the most anticipated matchups of the year on Sunday: the New England Patriots will travel to Florida to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. Just like the 2017 title game, the meeting again projects to be a closely contested one that could come down to the wire.
In order to gain a better understanding of the Patriots’ upcoming opponent and what to expect on Sunday, we spoke to Ryan O’Bleness – a staff writer for our sister page Big Cat Country. Here’s what he had to say about Jacksonville.
1. Who is the one player Patriots fans probably don’t know much about right now but that could play a big role on Sunday?
Well, a player who I believe may be in for an extended role on Sunday is somebody that some Patriots fans may actually remember from the AFC Championship: running back Corey Grant. This is especially true if Leonard Fournette is unable to go on Sunday. Grant was not used often in Week 1 following Fournette’s hamstring injury, however, recent comments from head coach Doug Marrone seem to point toward Grant getting more reps this week. Grant was a factor in the first half of the AFC Championship game, and if offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett can find creative ways to get the ball in his hands, it should help the Jaguars offensively.
2. What do you think are some of the lessons the Jaguars drew from the AFC Championship Game? And how will they try to apply them?
One thing that I hope the Jaguars learned from that game is that conservative play-calling with a lead isn’t enough against a team of New England’s caliber. If Jacksonville finds itself in that scenario on Sunday, I really hope the coaching staff is able to come up with more creative sequences and that the players — namely Blake Bortles — are able to execute in those situations.
Another lesson, or mindset really, that the Jaguars took from that game is not to dwell on the past. Marrone preached all offseason and training camp long that the team should not be looking at the past, but rather at the present. With such a talented team, the Jaguars have huge goals in 2018. The team has seemed to buy into this mindset, and the collective focus has looked strong by all accounts. We will really see what the Jaguars are made out of when the Patriots come into Duval.
3. The Jaguars’ defense is among the best in the NFL. Does it have any weaknesses the Patriots could try to exploit?
No, not one. Just kidding, but this defense is absolutely incredible, and looks poised to be just as good or even better as the 2017 squad. If I were the Patriots, I would look at what the San Francisco 49ers were able to do against the Jags last year. Kyle Shanahan drew up a nice scheme that allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to find wide open players, such as full backs and tight ends, in the flat and pick up big yardage after the catch. Challenging players like Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye one-on-one is not ideal for any team, so dinking and dunking downfield may be in New England’s best interest — though Myles Jack has now moved over to middle linebacker and is pretty strong in pass coverage (he can cover just about anybody). Telvin Smith is no slouch, either.
A couple of worries on defense heading into the season were how nickel cornerback D.J. Hayden would do replacing Aaron Colvin, and how seventh-round rookie Leon Jacobs would perform at strong-side linebacker. Hayden played really well in Week 1 according to Pro Football Focus, and Jacobs was only the field for 11 snaps, so it’s hard to judge him at this point.
4. Which areas of Jacksonville’s offense do you think New England will try to attack defensively?
The Jaguars want to run the ball down your throat. If Fournette plays, he’s going to be in for a heavy workload. So the Pats will need to create penetration in the trenches and shut down the ground attack. New England’s best bet is to take away the rushing game and make Blake Bortles beat them. Bortles played well in the AFC Championship game, and he is capable of doing so again. However, Bortles’ arch enemy has always been consistency. Jacksonville likes to run a lot of 11 personnel with three receiver route combinations, one tight end and one running back. So, if New England is able to get pressure on Bortles, force him into some poor decisions and disrupt the timing of the wide receivers’ routes, things will go very well for the Pats.
5. How confident are Jaguars fans and writers in the team’s coaching staff, especially when it comes to going against Bill Belichick and company?
Personally, I am a big fan of Doug Marrone and his staff, and that feeling seems to be shared amongst the majority of Jags fans. This fanbase suffered through the Gus Bradley era where there never really seemed to be much accountability or an emphasis on winning. Marrone, and vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin brought discipline and a winning attitude back to Jacksonville, and the team bought in and responded strongly.
In terms of going against Belichick, I think that most of the Jacksonville faithful agrees that Belichick is one of the best coaches of all-time, and, as a football coach, he is well-respected. I don’t believe anybody will claim that Marrone is in the same stratosphere as Belichick overall, but I do believe that Marrone is very familiar with Belichick’s tendencies and can surely formulate a game plan to beat him. Fan confidence is not an issue with this staff.
Bonus for fun: do you think Myles Jack was down?
Not a chance in the world. ;) (Hate to admit this, but I do understand how the referees could make that call in live action, though).