AFC Conference Championship Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots

By Ha Kung Wong  Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots

Sunday, January 21, 2018 – 3:05 PM ET

Current Line – Patriots by 9

NOTE: Ryan Whitfield and I also broke this game down in this weeks podcast, so give it a listen!

Jaguars Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 25th

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 224.6 (17th)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 4th

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 141.4 (1st)

Points Per Game – 26.1 (5th)

I mentioned last week that for the Jaguars to have a shot against the Steelers, Blake Bortles couldn’t be the leading rusher like he was against the Bills in the Wild Card.  And it seems like the Jaguars thought the same, as they got Leonard Fournette going to the tune of 109 rush yards on 25 attempts, good for 4.4 yards per carry, and a whopping 3 TDs.  It’s not like this was a huge secret, as Fournette had 1,049 rushing yards this season, 2nd most by a rookie in franchise history and his 268 rush attempts are the most in franchise history.  Meanwhile, Bortles managed another efficient game with no INTs.  That’s two postseason games with 0 INTs, compared to the 5 INTs he had in the last 2 games of the regular season.  Not coincidentally, and most importantly, no INTs equals wins.

The Jags have been successful this season with the 5 highest time of possession of any team in the NFL (31:43), but surprisingly, against the Steelers, the Jags only had the ball for 28:50, losing the time of possession battle.  In fact, the Jaguars ran only 61 offensive plays compared to the Steelers’ 78 offensive plays.  It’s a testament to the Jaguars defense that they kept at a high level throughout the game at this pace.

Regardless of result, I don’t think the Jaguars should follow the same formula on time of possession against the Patriots.  Clearly, limiting turnovers and feeding Fournette makes a lot of sense against the Patriots, in light of their dominant fast scoring offense and they’re weakness on the ground, but keeping Brady off the field will also be important.  I know my co-host on the podcast, Ryan Whitfield, disagrees with this approach, but I just don’t want Bortles aggressively attacking the Pats secondary, as it’ll only take one INT to derail the Jags.  And if you look at how things played out between the Titans and the Patriots, the Titans were successful on offense and actually led in the 1st quarter, perhaps based in part on the fact that they won time of possession 8:42 to 6:18.  As for the last three quarters?  Unsurprisingly, the Pats won time of possession by at least 2 minutes per quarter, and in turn completely dominated on offense.

Jaguars Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 1st

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 169.9 (1st)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 26th

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 116.3 (21st)

Points Allowed Per Game – 16.8 (2nd)

The Jaguars not only have the best pass defense in the NFL, they’re also one of the most opportunistic having the second most takeaways in the league (33).  And all of this is because the Jaguars are incredibly strong at all positions with regard to pass defense, from pass rushing to coverage.  According to Pro Football Focus, Calais Campbell has churned out 81 pressures this season, which is the most among all 4-3 defensive ends through 17 games.

But they do have some gaps against the run, plus they’re only 15th against RB receptions.  And  Le’Veon Bell took advantage of that to the tune of 67 rush yards on 16 carries as well as 88 receiving yards on 9 receptions and 2 total TDs.  Arguably, most of the offense allowed by the Jags D was in the second half, which might be indicative of the lack of time of possession on offense and how that impacted defensive stamina.  But allowing this much offense on the ground is simply not a recipe for success, particularly against a Patriots offense that has so many different weapons on the ground, including stand out Dion Lewis, returning Rex Burkhead and solid role player (as well as previous Super Bowl hero) James White.  Perhaps they can contain Tom Brady if that’s all they have to worry about, but not if they allow the Pats to establish the run.

In addition, takeaways are going to be critical.  Let’s face it, 14 points against the Steelers came directly from defensive takeaways, and it’s not surprising that without those key takeaways, they wouldn’t have won the game.  If they can’t get the Pats to turn the ball over at least once, they’ll be hard pressed to keep up.

Patriots Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 1st

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 394.2 (1st)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 3rd

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 118.1 (10th)

Points Per Game – 28.6 (2nd)

Tom Brady, unsurprisingly, has had an amazing year.  He has averaged the 2nd most completions (24.1) for the most passing yards (286.1) and the 5th most passing TDs (2) per game of any QB this season.  And he’s just as good in the post season with almost identical stats over his 35 postseason appearances.

In addition to that, Rob Gronkowski is fully healthy and is one of the most formidable postseason weapons at any position, getting at least 1 TD in 6 postseason games straight (including in the Divisional Playoffs), and averaging over 10 targets through that span.  With Chris Hogan back, and postseason Danny Amendola making his mark, this 1st ranked passing attack is unlikely to be slowed.

As for the ground, as I mentioned, Dion Lewis has been a revelation…again.  Back in 2015, after being picked up by the Patriots, he played for the first time in 2 years in relief of a suspended LaGarrette Blount, and was amazing.  He eventually got a 2-year contract, but soon thereafter tore his ACL and ended up out for the rest of the season and most of 2016.  In 2017, Lewis was stuck behind new acquisitions Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, but after several injuries, Lewis was thrust back in the limelight and was amazing once again.  In the last 3 weeks of the regular season, he’s averaged 96.3 rush yards, a rushing TD, 25.7 receiving yards and .67 receiving TDs per game.  And he did it again in the Divisional Playoffs, putting up 62 rush yards on 15 carries and 79 receiving yards on 9 receptions against the 7th ranked Titans run defense.

But let’s be honest, the Pats are going to throw the ball.  But, regardless of weapons, they’ll find that challenging against the Jaguars top ranked pass defense.  But if they can establish Lewis, and a likely returning Rex Burkhead, the Pats should be able to stay ahead on down and distance, opening up passing lanes for Brady and company.

Patriots Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 21st

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 251.3 (30th)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 30th

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 114.8 (20th)

Points Allowed Per Game – 18.5 (5th)

After significant preseason hype, the Patriots defense sputtered out of the gate, but have turned the corner in recent weeks.  Plus, although they allowed the 3rd most passing yards and 13th most rushing yards per game they allowed the 5th LEAST amount of points to opponent offenses.  So, perhaps you can move the ball on the Pats, but they sure don’t allow a lot of scoring.  This “bend but don’t break” defense is just good enough to allow the Pats to trade FGs for TDs, which is always a bad thing for opponents.

And the Pats looked terrific against the Titans on pass rush, tallying 8 sacks and 10 QB hits.  Maybe part of that was due to Mariota playing on a strained calf, but give credit where credit is due, the pass defense hasn’t been terrific, but stepped up big when it counted.  I don’t see that slowing down against the Jaguars 25th ranked pass offense.

Prediction: I used to think that the only team that could beat the Patriots in the playoffs was the Steelers, in part due to a solid defense and having significant weapons on offense.  But after watching the Jaguars beat the Steelers, I now believe the Jaguars will be the most dangerous team left for the Patriots to face.  The problem is whether we see Wild Card Jags D or Divisional Playoffs Jags D show up in Foxboro, and whether turnover Bortles is behind center or not.  If the Jags play perfect defense, get at least one turnover, and establish Fournette, they certainly have a chance against the Pats.  But the more likely scenario is that the Patriots get their foot on the gas and Brady to Gronk happens again…and again…and again.

Patriots Win, but take the Jaguars with the Spread

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