ReFo: Patriots @ Jaguars, Week 16
Ah, the beauty of the NFL. No one gave the 2-12 Jaguars a chance against the 10-4 Patriots, but they dominated for much of the game and had a golden chance to take it to overtime in the dying seconds. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker deserves a ton of credit for stifling New England’s offense, and it was only Jacksonville’s offensive ineptitude that allowed the visiting team to stay in the game. It felt like only a matter of time before Tom Brady found his rhythm, and he made the Jags pay for their missed opportunities.
Despite the win this was a performance that will have Patriots fans concerned heading into the playoffs. Their defense gave up a number of big plays to an offense that isn’t exactly known for them, and Brady was under constant pressure when he dropped back to pass. Improvement is certainly needed if New England wants to go places in the postseason.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Hoom Outshines Hernandez
With Rob Gronkowski out the Patriots rotated their tight ends against the Jags. Aaron Hernandez (-2.6) failed to step up in his 56 snaps, while Michael Hoomanawanui (+3.8) took full advantage of his 49. Hernandez typically excels as a receiver, but he was especially poor in that department against the Jags. He was targeted four times overall and made just one catch for 13 yards and a drop. In contrast, Hoomanawanui caught both of his targets for 46 yards.
Although he stayed in to block on only nine pass plays, the Patriots’ coaching staff deliberately went to Hoomanawanui on one series to help in pass protection. He acquitted himself as well as he could, allowing no pressure in those plays. Hernandez, meanwhile, stayed in to block just once. The two men’s fortunes also differed in the run game, where Hoomanawanui thrived. He got the better of whichever defensive end he came up against, as well as showing an ability to get to the second level. There weren’t any highlight blocks, but he consistently sealed Jaguar defenders away from the play in the ground game. If not for the tackle for a loss he conceded to Jeremy Mincey with 6:48 to play in the second quarter it would have been a rare perfect game for Hoom. Unlike his teammate, Hernandez made only negative contributions in the run game. Watch how he gets stood up by George Selvie with two minutes to play in the fourth quarter on a crucial fourth down.
The Patriots have committed to playing Vince Wilfork (-3.2) on every down, but you’ve got to think he would benefit from having a few more snaps to recover. He played 74 of 80 snaps against the Jags and struggled in most of them. It was an undisciplined game for Wilfork who had two penalties, one offsides and another unnecessary roughness. He also managed just two hurries in 52 pass rushes, giving him a -1.1 grade. It didn’t matter whether he was facing Uche Nwaneri or Steve Vallos, he still couldn’t collapse the pocket. The first hurry came against the starting Nwaneri as Wilfork was able to bull-rush him into Chad Henne. The second was a better disruption as he made a nice move inside Vallos to pressure the quarterback.
Overall, Wilfork was average in run defense, but Patriots’ fans have come to expect more. The Jaguars didn’t run a whole lot, but they were reasonably successful when they did. Wilfork’s battle with Brad Mister was a good one with each man winning their fair share of contests. The main positive for Wilfork was the tackle for short gain he had in the second quarter with 11 and a half minutes to play. Still, he was moved on a number of other occasions, leaving him with a negative (-0.4) grade.
Relying on the Rookie Ends
Chandler Jones (-1.8) and Justin Francis (-2.0) played a combined 95 snaps against Jacksonville, but couldn’t get much going. Rookies are often inconsistent, and so they proved facing an average offensive line. Jones was actually solid as a pass rusher, recording a hit and two hurries in 33 rushes. Interestingly, all three of those pressures came on the Jags’ final drive, as he cranked it up when it really mattered. It was Jones’ poor run defense that caused the poor grade. He was sealed away from a few inside runs and missed a tackle in the third quarter.
Undrafted free agent Justin Francis also played a number of snaps, sometimes on the outside and other times inside in the nickel. He struggled both as a pass rusher and in run defense. Francis had a hit and two hurries in 36 pass rushers, but both of his hurries came after Henne had plenty of time in the pocket. His inside move on Guy Whimper which led to his QB hit was his main contribution. In run defense he did do a good job on one play where he forced a Mercedes Lewis hold, but on the whole the Jaguars’ tight end got the better of him.
Jaguars – Three Performances of Note
Next Man Up at Running Back
The Jaguars seem to be a factory for running backs these days, as even without Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashard Jennings they seem to be getting decent productivity from the position. Starter Montel Owens (+2.1) shredded the Patriots in the passing game, as well as performing admirably on the ground. In total he was targeted four times, catching all four passes for 77 yards. He showed a good burst on catches out of the backfield, and made Steve Gregory miss on one particular reception. As a runner he had 42 yards on 10 carries and added another forced missed tackle.
His backup Richard Murphy (+0.9) also contributed in limited snaps. Murphy didn’t do much as much in the passing game, but he did make plays as a runner. He actually performed better than Owens as a runner, despite the poor stat line. He had just 29 yards on 10 carries but he forced a pair of missed tackles and had 33 yards after contact.
Pushing the Pocket
All four Jaguar starters graded positively as pass rushers against the Patriots. New England’s line isn’t what it once was, but that’s still impressive nonetheless. It all starts with Jeremy Mincey (+1.9) who makes plays no matter the situation he finds himself in. He had a sack, two hits and two pressures in 31 rushes against a good duo of tackles in Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. His new counterpart Jason Babin got after Brady himself, registering three hits and a hurry.
Inside, CJ Mosley, Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton made Brady really uncomfortable with pressure up the middle. Mosley was the least productive, but he had a really impressive sack in his 25 rushes. Alualu wasn’t in any mood to be blocked either, as he generated a sack and two hurries on 36 rushes. Finally, although not a starter Terrance Knighton actually rushes the quarterback more than Mosley. He clearly wasn’t willing to let his teammates have all the fun as he generated a sack and three hurries.
Smith Stumbles In First Game Back
We’re not used to seeing Daryl Smith (-1.2) grade negatively, but then again this Week 16 game was his first of the season. After suffering a groin injury early in camp he was placed on the designated to return IR list before finally being activated from it last week. Smith looked like a man easing himself back in, as he was often a step slow in coverage. Overall, he allowed all three targets to be complete for 35 yards. Smith gave up a first down to Hernandez on a slant-out and missed a tackle on Hoomanawanui on a quick out. He did show a glimpse of his trademark pass rushing ability as he laid a big lick on Brady just after the QB threw on one of his nine rushes. Finally, in run defense there was slightly more good than bad. When his defensive line kept him clean he made plays, making a pair of unblocked tackles after short gains. Smith also had another stop when he beat pro-bowler Logan Mankins to make a tackle with seven minutes to play in the second quarter. Hopefully this is just a step on Smith’s road to recovery and he’ll come back next year the player he once was.
– Every Patriot defensive lineman had at least one pressure
– Both teams’ defensive players combined for 49 solo tackles and missed six
– Wes Welker continues to make his targets count; he caught all but one against the Jags
It’s hard to look past Michael Hoomanawanui for his dominant blocking.
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