Throw out what you think you know about the Jaguars, Patriots fans. Because the Pats are not going to easily win this AFC Championship. Not a chance. The Jaguars just walked into the Steelers house, punched them in the mouth, and walked away with a win. Granted, that may be because the Steelers gave Jacksonville all the bulletin board material they could ever want, but that’s a topic for another day.
— Rob Hodge (@RobHodge) January 14, 2018
The Jaguars are young, athletic, and play like a group that is too young to realize they’re supposed to lose to teams like the Steelers and Patriots. Each time the Steelers pulled off some crazy play on 4th and forever to score the Jags didn’t even flinch. They regrouped, went back out there and fought to the end. Even though they didn’t live up to the defensive standards they set for themselves in 2017 they got the win.
Not too surprisingly, there is an expectation that the Jags will lose the AFC Championship because, well, they’ve never been a formidable opponent for NE. They haven’t won at New England since…ever. The last time they beat the Patriots was at home in 1999. Overall the Pats are 10-1 all time agains the Jags, and 7-0 in the Brady era.
But, as the saying goes, defense wins championships. And this Jacksonville defense can rebound from their lackluster performance against Pittsburgh and match up well against the Pats. I guarantee this is something Belichick will hammer home this week because…
Jacksonville’s Defense Is Damn Good
If the Patriots lose in the AFC Championship it won’t be because Tom Coughlin is involved with the Jags. Instead, it will be because of Jacksonville’s defense. And a dash of Bortles.
BORTLES is slinging it right now (aka he had two completions on one drive) pic.twitter.com/Jhc1FulofG
— Mark DiGiammarino (@DiGi44) January 14, 2018
While watching the divisional game I noticed this Jacksonville defense looks like past AFC units that beat the Pats in the playoffs. Teams like the 2009 & 2012 Ravens. The 2010 Jets. The 2015 Broncos. Teams that can get to the QB fast and lock down elite offensive weaponz. Just look at the comparison between this year’s Jacksonville defense and those other teams:
- The Jags are the only team to earn a #2 defensive ranking. The 2009 & 2012 Ravens were both #3 defenses. That’s not ideal for the Pats, as those #3 units both beat the Patriots by a combined final score of 72-26
- Jacksonville allowed just 2,718 total passing yards in the regular season (1st in 2017). The other units above allowed an average of 3,214 total passing yards in the regular season
- JAX recorded 21 interceptions in 2017, which is second only to the 2009 Ravens (22). And that Ravens team held the Pats to 13 points in the 2012 AFC Championship. Woof
- Only 23.1% of drives against the ’17 Jags resulted in a score. Comparatively, the average amongst the teams referenced above was 26.3%
As you can see, this Jacksonville defense is no joke. But the Pats are not doomed. As they proved in their Super Bowl win against the Seahawks, even legendary defenses can be beat.
The Jaguars Are Not Perfect
For as good as this defense can be, there are holes, which you can bet Brady and company will find. If you have nightmares of Jalen Ramsey picking off Brady just remind yourself:
- The Jaguars gave up 1,860 yards on the ground in 2017, which is 419 yards higher than the average of those other units (1,441)
- In fact, the Jags gave up 4.3 yards per rushing attempt this year, which was good enough to be right ahead of the Saints for a ranking of 26th in the league. Calling Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White! Get your running shoes on
- Since the Jags are young, they are also prone to penalties. They were penalized to the tune of 1,050 yards in 2017 (4th most in the league). That is the most out of the defenses mentioned above, with the 2013 Ravens coming in a close second (1,032). Be on the lookout for a lot of hard counts by Brady.
Strength vs. Strength
No one can deny this is a historic run by the Patriots. 2017 will be their 7th straight AFC Championship appearance, which is just stupid. Throughout that run their calling card has been their offense, which runs through Tom Brady’s arm. This year was no different, as Brady threw for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and maintained a 102.8 QB rating. Not bad.
Yes, the Pats are the best team in the league when it comes to changing their identity week to week. They could very well run their corral of running backs ragged and try to take over the line of scrimmage against Jacksonville. But if I had to guess, and I do, I say they go strength vs. strength. I firmly believe they’ll go after the Jaguars secondary and backers. For as much as I love me some Dion Lewis and James White up the middle, I bet we see a lot of screens and wheel routes. Pepper in some deep shots at Hogan and Cooks with some classic Gronk shenanigans and we can call it a day.
As long as Brady plays smart, misses his throws low and doesn’t throw more than 1 interception, I think the ageless wonder gets another win under his belt and paves the way for the Pats to attend Super Bowl 52. It just won’t be easy.