INSIDE SLANT: The Pats first gained respect for the Jacksonville Jaguars when the two teams scrimmaged against each other in the 2017 training camp at Gillette Stadium before a preseason game. The Pats learned that the Jaguars were a much improved team from their 3-13 mark in 2016. The two teams played a great AFC Championship game in which the Patriots came back from a 20-10 deficit to win 24-20. Tom Brady threw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to send the Pats to their eighth Super Bowl of the Brady/Belichick era. In the AFC Championship game, Blake Bortles played as well as one could ask him to play and the Jaguars still fell short. Jaguars DE Calais Campbell emphasized on a Wednesday conference call that the Jaguars must play 60 minutes to prevail Sunday. Campbell reminded the New England press core - no matter how many points behind Tom Brady is - he can always come back. Defensively, the Jaguars are top-notch and will be a big challenge for the Pats given their limitation at wide receiver.
"Defensively, all of the numbers kind of speak for themselves. They pretty much led the league in every category last year. They're all back and they're all good and they have a lot of depth. They had another return for a touchdown last week against the Giants. It's a very disruptive group. We've got to do a good job of taking care of the ball and try to create some positive plays," Bill Belichick said Wednesday.
SERIES HISTORY: 8th regular-season game, Patriots lead 7-0. The Patriots have won all seven of the regular season games between the clubs, including all three regular season matches played in Jacksonville. New England last played in Jacksonville on December 23, 2013 when the Pats prevailed 23-16. The Patriots have also beaten the Jaguars four times in the playoffs and lost once to the Jaguars in the playoffs. The Pats beat the Jaguars in the 1996 AFC Championship Game, the 2005 Wild Card Round, the 2007 Divisional Round and the 2017 AFC Championship Game. The Pats lost to the Jaguars in the 1998 AFC Wild Card Game.
NOTES, QUOTES: The last time these two teams met in the regular season was in September 27 2015 at Gillette Stadium when the Pats won 51-17. Tom Brady threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns to become the fourth NFL player to reach 400 career touchdown passes
Jacksonville Jaguars Executive Vice President of Player Personnel Tom Coughlin was the New York Giants wide receiver coach in 1990 when the Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Bill Belichick, the defensive coordinator on that team, also coached the defensive backs. The two coaches worked together to coordinate how to maximize the production of both units.
Pats Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio were college teammates with Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell at John Carroll University.
Tom Brady has great respect for the Jaguars defense. "It’s pretty tough. They were a great team last year and gave us everything we could handle into the championship game, and they’re at it again this year. They’ve got the same players, similar scheme – I mean, as good as any defense we’ll face all year. They’ve got an incredible rush, great linebackers, great secondary. It’s going to be very challenging, tough environment and we’ll see what we’re made of," Brady said.
The Pats have made 20 receivers transactions since the beginning of training camp. Brady must be frustrated but he has not complained. "You’re always faced with something. I think we all try to do a good job of just focusing on what our role is and what our job is and try to bring the best we can every day, regardless of who’s out there. So, those guys are working hard. Everyone wants production at every part of our skill position on offense. You know, the receiver position is very critical. I would say it’s not a very easy position to learn in our offense. There’s a lot of terminology. There’s a lot of high expectations to perform at a very high level. So, you know, it kind of is what it is and we’ll just make the most of it," Brady said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 300 - Owner Robert Kraft looks for his 300th win as owner of the team. Kraft would reach the milestone in his 25th season - the earliest an NFL owner will have reached the milestone. Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen reached the feat in 30 seasons while Al Davis accomplished the feat in 31 seasons
8 - the number of receivers the Pats have released since training camp began. The group includes Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Eric Decker, Chad Hansen, Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner.
3 - the number of teams that newly signed Pats WR Corey Coleman has been on since being drafted in the first round in 2016.
69 - the percentage of snaps that rookie linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley played in Sunday's win over the Texans. He played the highest number of snaps out of any defensive linemen or linebacker. Second, Dont'a Hightower played 68 percent of the snaps.
11- The number of players who played at defensive line and linebacker on Sunday. Bill Belichick is still mixing and matching combinations trying to find the best combinations up front - given that the Pats nickel (five defensive backs) has become their base defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL: Chris Hogan/Cordarrelle Patterson: Each had only catch Sunday against the Texans. The two receivers will need to play better if the Pats are to beat Jacksonville Sunday.
Bennie Fowler/Corey Coleman: the Pats two new receivers had a combined 52 catches last year. Des Bryant had 69 catches last year -- just saying.
Kenjon Barner: the running back the Pats signed could be an asset in the return game. Then again, if he fumbles he could be looking for work like WR Riley McCarron.
Trey Flowers: the fourth year defensive linemen has shown the ability to play on the interior and exterior of the defensive line.
Blake Bortles: The Pats are impressed with the mobility of Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, especially after his 41-yard run against the New York Giants last week.
" I think we've got to be ready for that and not fall asleep because he's a really good runner. He’s a big guy. I think coming off a week last week where we all talked about trying to contain Deshaun Watson, we just have to be prepared for a little bit of that also with Blake Bortles with his ability. If we open up a gap upfront, he'll take off and run and hurt us in that way, too," Devin McCourty said.
PlAYER SPOTLIGHT: C David Andrews. The Jaguars are excellent in the interior of the defensive line with Marcel Dareus and Malik Jackson. Andrews along with guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason will need to prevent pass rush up the middle against Tom Brady - which historically has been the most effective type of pressure against Brady.
GAME PLAN: The Pats must deal effectively with one of the most athletic linebacking cores in the NFL with Telvin Smith, Myles Jack and Leon Jacobs. CB Jalen Ramsey has been talking a lot of trash about Rob Gronkowski saying he struggles against corner back. The Pats will have to be creative because they don't have Danny "playoff Amendola who had seven catches in the AFC championship game for 84 yards. Brandin Cools also had 6 catches for 100 yards in the AFC Championship. He plays for the Los Angeles Rams now. The Pats will have to move Gronkowski around to get favorable matchups and hope that Phillip Dorsett can have another productive game. It's hard to expect much from Chris Hogan or Cordarrelle Patterson at this point.
Defensively, the challenge is a lot easier because the Jaguars offensive weapons are weak. The Jaguars lost WR Marqise Lee in training camp, which limited their hope for an improved passing game. The Patriots should have little trouble containing the Jaguars two leading receivers Donte Moncrief and Keelan Cole who combined for 68 catches a year ago. RB Leonard Fournette injured his hamstring in the Jaguars opening day win against the New York Giants. He didn't practice Wednesday and there is a decent chance he doesn't play. TJ Yeldon is a nice change of pace back, but if Fournette does not play the Pats should stop the run with tackles Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown.
QUOTES ON GAME: Rob Gronkowski, who prefers to be matched up with linebackers as opposed to corners, responded to Jalen Ramsey's criticism that he struggles against cornerbacks in humorous fashion.
"I like going versus D-lineman, not in the blocking game, but when they drop in the passing game," Gronkowski said Wednesday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: LT Trent Brown v. DE Calais Campbell (Brown, who played well in the season opener, will need to have a strong game to limit Campbell - a strong pass rusher. Brown can take a big step towards validating the Pats decision to move on from Nate Solder who is now with the New York Giants),
TE Rob Gronkowski v. CB Jalen Ramsey (the two will somehow face each other. It will be put or shut up time for Ramsey who has said that Gronkowski is not that good and Gronkowski can show Ramsey that he is the best pass catcher in the football. This matchup is probably the most exciting individual matchup of the weekend).
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