Ok, so the "in" thing to do this week is to predict a Jacksonville win over New England. The reasons are really two-fold. One, a number of people have come to hate New England so predicting them to lose is a popular choice. Two, if you pick Jacksonville to win and they do, then you look like a genius of sorts. If they lose, no one remembers, and they really never bother you about making a stupid pick.
Sounds good to me!
Actually, since it looked like Jacksonville was going to make the playoffs I've wanted them to get matched up with New England as early as possible. The only thing I wish I could change is that it would be the Sunday game instead of the Saturday one. That way the Patriots would know exactly who they were playing if they won, and there might have been the added aspect of them looking ahead a bit. Alas, Commissioner Goodell didn't ask for my input so it's Jax at New England on Saturday night. Now onto some questions and stats!
Jacksonville Went 0-2 Against The Colts This Season So How Can They Beat The Patriots?
Good question! To start, let me say that I think it's different when you're playing a division rival than when you're playing an opponent for the first time in a season. Jacksonville and Indy know what to expect from each other. New England and Jacksonville haven't faced teams quite like each other this season, so it's a different feel for both of them. It's true that in their first meeting the Jags were destroyed by Indy. In Jacksonville no less. However, that game saw Quinn Gray stepping in for an injured David Garrard, and subsequently throwing two interceptions. Without Garrard in the lineup the Colts were able to stack the box and concentrate on shutting down Taylor and Jones-Drew. The second Jags/Colts matchup was much closer, and showed that the Jags are capable of hanging with the elite NFL teams. However, we're talking about them beating one. So just how are they going to do it?
With their returns and running game.
Everyone knows about how dangerous Jones-Drew can be on kickoff returns. Most of us saw it first-hand on that 96 yard return against Pittsburgh last weekend. However, one player that has been overlooked a bit is Dennis Northcutt. He's never been an outstanding receiver, but this year he's been a decent punt returner for the Jaguars. Jacksonville is going to have to make the most out of every possession, and if Northcutt can set them up with good field position, then they increase their chances of pulling off the win. Besides, if Jones-Drew is returning a lot of kicks, then that probably means that New England is scoring. And Jacksonville can't survive a shootout with the Patriots. The only problem is that New England does a pretty good job at covering punts and kicks, so hopefully the Jags have worked some wrinkles into their return game. Though, they've only had 14 punts returned them this entire season(lowest in the NFL), and that bit of inexperience could lend itself to some mistakes.
The other tool that Jacksonville will use to beat New England is their rushing attack. We've seen what a good rushing game combined with a good defense can do against the Patriots. The Colts and Ravens both have good defenses, both rushed for 100+ yards against the Patriots and both almost beat New England. Philly and the Giants also almost defeated New England, but that was more because of defense and quarterback play. The thing is, none of those four teams have a running back tandem like Taylor and Jones-Drew. Addai and Keith are pretty good, but not quite on the same level as the Jags' backfield duo. Taylor grinds it out on first and second downs, but also still has the speed to go the distance like he did against Carolina. Jones-Drew moves the chains on third down, but can also churn out yards on first and second down and is a threat take it to the house whenever he has the ball. He's also a great receiver out of the backfield, and can wreak havoc when covered by a linebacker. New England's rush defense is pretty strong, but I still think that Jacksonville can get Jones-Drew matched up one-on-one at times with their linebackers and that he can exploit that match-up. Jacksonville's strong rushing attack should also limit New England's scoring opportunities, though they do have an explosive offense that can score from anywhere on the field.
Yes, Jacksonville does have a good defense, but they have to do more than just defend New England well. The Jaguars have to control the game. They can control field position with their returns, and control the clock/tempo with their run game. Both of those are crucial if they want to win, and I believe that they'll utilize both to knock off the Patriots.