Jacksonville Jaguars fans worldwide will tell you that their team was one contentious decision from playing in the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Whilst it’s difficult to argue with their frustration, the tale of the tape from the game shows that whilst the Jaguars have a right to feel hard-done-by following the game in Foxborough, the Jaguars ended up beating themselves when it counted. Those in Duval County will be hoping for a different result when the Patriots make their way to Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon.
Jacksonville Jaguars Look for Revenge in Quest for AFC Supremacy
Much like their 2017 season, the Jaguars face an early test against an AFC favourite – having travelled to Heinz Field in week five to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, with the dramatic style of their victory in that game, in which Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, acting as a supreme confidence boost going into their eventual second meeting in Pittsburgh during the divisional round of last years playoffs. This year, the Jaguars will be hoping for a similar outcome in their week two matchup against the New England Patriots.
Following a hard-fought win against the New York Giants last weekend, victory against a dynasty like the Patriots is the exact kind of momentum that the Jacksonville Jaguars want to build if they are to be recognised as the team to beat in the AFC throughout the rest of 2018. Not only would a win this Sunday give the Jaguars even more confidence internally for the rest of the campaign, but it would also assert Doug Marrone’s team as a genuine force in the landscape of the NFL for every other team in the league.
With a game against the world-champion Eagles in London slated for just six weeks time, Jacksonville will be hoping to approach that game with the possibility of going 2-0 against the two franchises which contended for Super Bowl LII.
Whilst the media attention prior to Sunday’s game has been focused on the so called ‘war of words’ between All-Pros Jalen Ramsey and Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, the most intriguing storyline heading into week two is the availability of Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette. The former LSU star’s importance to Nathaniel Hackett’s offense was magnified by his absence in the second half of last week’s game – the Jaguars punted on each of their seven second half possessions. Fournette has not practised in any team activities this week but did tell local media that he has been running since the issue with his hamstring arose last Sunday. The Jaguars have today elevated running back Brandon Wilds from the practice squad in the eventuality that Fournette is unavailable, however Brent Martineau claims that this move doesn’t necessarily mean that the Jaguars will be without their lead tailback on Sunday.
Whilst the Jaguars would prefer to have their main threat on offense available, the game would not be a foregone conclusion if #27 doesn’t take the field. The Jaguars were ten minutes away from achieving the unthinkable in January, and could shatter the mystique that surrounds Brady and the Patriots with a statement win on Sunday. To do that, Doug Marrone will need to see his team follow three vital steps.
Hit Hard, Early and Often
When you look at most of the big games New England have lost during the Brady/Belichick era, the key for the victorious team has been getting consistent pressure in the face of number twelve. If Brady is unable to settle into a rhythm throughout the game then the Patriots’ chances of winning goes down drastically. It is notoriously difficult to disrupt Brady’s game given his lightening-fast release time, but defensive coordinator Todd Wash will scheme a variety of different blitzes for ‘Sacksonville’ to try and create pressure.
Historically, most teams that are able to hit Brady find success with interior pressure, which likely means that Calais Campbell will play a lot of Sunday’s game on the inside of the line allowing talented speed rushers Yannick Ngakoue and the returning Dante Fowler to go one-on-one with tackles on the outside.
If Jacksonville can register pressure early, then Wash will be able to draw a variety of exotic-looking blitz packages to keep New England guessing. Given the speed of the Jaguars’ linebackers and slot corners, any one of them can sit at the line of scrimmage and drop back into coverage without losing a step. Look for Tyler Patmon and/or DJ Hayden to have as big an impact as star duo Ramsey and A.J Bouye if the Jaguars are able to stifle the opposing offense.
Stay Aggressive on Offense
This will be admittedly harder if Fournette doesn’t feature, but the Jaguars must dictate the pace of the game this Sunday. During the second half in the AFC title game, the Jaguars had three consecutive drives which ended in a punt – all of them starting with a run from the shotgun.
The same is true in any game of football, but if you don’t make adjustments when playing New England it won’t take long for them to figure you out (those three runs went for two, one and negative one yards respectively). Hackett cannot make those same mistakes, he has to show that he trusts in Blake Bortles to win games for his team and stop calling conservative plays if Jacksonville has the lead.
Despite the loss of Marquise Lee and the potential absence of Fournette, there are enough weapons available to ensure that the Jaguars offense doesn’t revert back to playing within itself in order to minimise mistakes like the latter stages of last wee. It would be suicidal if Jacksonville fell into the same trap of predictable play-calling against a team the calibre of New England.
Blake Has to “Do What he Gotta Do”
Case-in-point with the sentiment above, Blake Bortles has to play to the capacity he’s shown in flashes throughout his career for the Jags to establish themselves as title contenders. Whilst his game against the Giants wasn’t reflecting of his December 2017 standard (in which he had the best month of any QB in the entire league – seriously), he also didn’t throw the game into jeopardy when it mattered.
Jalen Ramsey said himself in a GQ interview during the off-season that he felt “in crunch time moments, like last year’s playoff game… as an organization, we should have trusted him more to keep throwing it.“, showing that within the building there’s a belief that Bortles can help the Jaguars realise their title aspirations, but it is going to have to be proven on the field if Blake is to stop being such an easy target for league fans and sections of the media.
Even if Bortles spends most of the game targeting big-bodied tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and utlising his running backs in the passing game, a victory against the reigning AFC champions and a turnover-less game for Blake would go a long way to proving to the NFL why Dave Caldwell paid his quarterback this past summer. It would not be surprising to see those two things go hand in hand.