3TFO: Patriots @ Jaguars, Week 16
The Jaguars will need more than just home-field advantage to take down the Patriots. Kiernan Hogan finds three matchups they must win.
3TFO: Patriots @ Jaguars, Week 16
With both their offense and defense ranking in the bottom three of our cumulative team rankings, it has been tough to find a silver lining in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2-12 season. The team has actually done a decent job taking care of the ball, with a +1 turnover differential. Jacksonville has simply struggled to move the ball — they are better than only Arizona in terms of both total yards and third down percentage (28.6). Their defense has been almost as inept, surrendering more than 27 points per contest.
After Sunday night’s disappointing loss at the hands of the 49ers, New England will look to rebound this week in Jacksonville. The Patriots lead the NFL in total yards, points and turnover differential, and should have no trouble beating up on the overmatched Jaguars.
Jaguars Passing Game vs. Patriots Secondary
QB Chad Henne provided a spark to the Jaguars’ anemic offense after replacing the injured Blaine Gabbert as the starter. He enjoyed a career game in his first start, nearly defeating a much stronger Houston team, and led Jacksonville to a victory the next week. Henne has not been nearly as effective in recent weeks, however, and currently has the worst completion percentage of any starting quarterback (51.9). One bright spot for the Jaguars’ offense is the development of second-year WR Cecil Shorts. Despite the complete lack of a running game and ineffective quarterback play, Shorts is on pace for a 1,000 yard season, and his outstanding 2.43 Yards per Route Run ranks fifth among qualifying wideouts.
Maligned for most of the past two seasons, the Patriots’ secondary had appeared to have turned a corner in recent weeks. The addition of CB Aqib Talib, coupled with Devin McCourty’s successful transition to safety, seemed to add stability to a unit that has seen a ridiculous amount of turnover over the past few seasons. New England’s struggles to defend the deep pass resurfaced last week, however, surrendering four touchdown passes of greater than 20 yards. McCourty has enjoyed a strong season (+17.9), but has been the only consistent player in the Patriots’ secondary, outside of rookie CB Alfonzo Dennard (75.9 QB Rating against). Unfortunately for Dennard, he injured his knee on Sunday night and did not return. The Patriots have uncharacteristically started to use Talib to track opposing top wide receivers in recent weeks, so he will likely be tasked with slowing down Shorts.
Patriots Run Game vs Jaguars Front Seven
Led by C Ryan Wendell (+20.6), the Patriots’ offensive line is currently our second-highest rated unit in terms of run blocking. New England’s backs have taken full advantage of the excellent blocking, to the tune of 136.7 yards per game. However, HB’s Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were both benched last week after losing fumbles. Ridley has been a workhorse for the Patriots in 2012, but has had issues with ball security in the past. It will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick continues to feed him the ball, or if he relies more heavily on Danny Woodhead as he did last week.
The Jaguars have been terrible in run defense this season, surrendering 148.1 yards per game, worst in the NFL. Jacksonville’s defensive linemen have been solid if unspectacular against the run, with the exception of defensive end Austen Lane (9.1 Run Stop Percentage, second best of all 4-3 DE’s). The team has also received a boost by giving more snaps to DT C.J. Mosley in run situations. The team’s biggest problems have come at the defense’s second level — MLB Paul Posluszny ranks near the bottom of all linebackers with a RSP of 7.2.
Jaguars Offensive Line vs. Patriots Defensive Line
Jacksonville’s offensive line is yet another area that needs to be upgraded in the offseason. As a unit, they are the fifth-worst in terms of our Pass Blocking Efficiency metric (75.1), and have been ineffective when run blocking as well. The line would rank even lower were it not for the strong play of LT Eugene Monroe (96.1 PBE, 11th among tackles). Monroe is also the only Jaguar lineman to grade positively as both a run and a pass blocker.
New England’s front seven is the strength of their defense, and their defensive line has done a nice job in 2012. Each of the team’s starting defensive linemen (DE’s Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and DT’s Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love) have graded positively for the season. Wilfork is the leader of this young defense, and he has recovered nicely from an uncharacteristic poor start to the year. His dominant display against Houston was one of the most impressive performances of his excellent career. Ninkovich has been very consistent this season, tallying nine sacks and an excellent 8.3 Run Stop Percentage (seventh among 4-3 DE’s), and he has shown a knack for making big plays in crucial situations. Jones was the leading contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year before an ankle injury forced him to miss time. He has had his snap count reduced in recent weeks as he tries to regain his early-season form in time for the team’s upcoming playoff run. Jones’ battle against Monroe, one of the league’s elite tackles, is one to watch.