December 10, 2016

Patriots Roundtable, Tournament Edition

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There’s only 36 hours (or so) to go before New England fans see their undefeated Patriots take the field for the first playoff game in what could be the greatest season in NFL history.

Their opponent will be the 12-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, runners of the football, punchers of the mouth, thought to be the perfect adecdote to the Patriots’ perfect spread-em-out air show.

Even worse, they’re supposed to be able to use our own weather against us.

It’s NOT too late to make different plans for Saturday night.

Oh, hell, yes it is….the PD Kitchen Staff has already whipped up this weekend’s Buffet Table, and we are not letting perfectly good Shrimp Skewers go to waste.

Since we’re going ahead with the game, let’s call on the Roundtable gang for a volley of Pats patter.

The Jaguars were among the most outspoken teams when the Patriots were in the Spygate crosshairs. The head coach and a team leader were widely quoted. Do the Patriots have long memories this weekend?

Travis Graham: I’d be suprised if they didn’t. They’ve been pretty creative with much less material (get’cha popcorn?). Plus, I’m sure Brady has a personal axe to grind regarding J-Del’s spearing comments last year.

Bruce Allen: I’m not sure that stuff matters too much when they take the field, but I have feeling that having these things brought up again and put in front of them does do something for them. Whether it makes them focus with a little more intensity during their preparation during the week, or just put a chip on their shoulder, I’m not sure. It just doesn’t seem to me that these comments go unnoticed.

Tim Jordan: I seriously doubt Paul Spicer knows the rule the Patriots broke. Ditto for the advantage gained from it. Plus, he has a gap in his teeth that a Passat could drive through and I was raised never to take gap toothed blowhards seriously. I think the recent comments about the Patriots season will be employed more effectively. Spicer’s comments on the camera controversy just underscore that there is bad blood between both clubs. That’s a good thing for the fans. It usually means a nice post game celebration if they win. This game will be emotional because the loser’s season is over, the quotes will be entertaining material for after the game. A sidelight.

Is it up to David Garrard and the Jacksonville offense to beat the Patriots?

Travis: Only if the Pats decide to put eight in the box. Seriously, if the Pats want to shut down a RB, they will. The only time they weren’t able to stop a RB this season was when Jon Ogden was chaperoning the ball carrier. Addai had a pretty good game against them, but I think job #1 that day was to stop Manning and the receivers. I think the main reason why the Jags won’t score many points won’t be Garrard, but the wide receivers. They stink. The added depth and fresh legs that Merriweather and Wilson now bring to the Pats’ secondary (compared to where they were a month ago) will cause a frustrated Garrard to throw some desperation picks in the second half to ice it.

Scott Benson: I greatly respect what Garrard was able to do this year – only three picks in 325 throws. And Fred Taylor’s always been a good back when he’s been on the field. But the guy I fear on offense and special teams is Jones-Drew. We don’t need him to be pulling a Joe Washington this week. I don’t think they have any chance to beat the Patriots unless he has a big game.

Tim: Jacksonville wins this game with insane special teams play and turnovers on defense. That may not be likely, but it’s got a better chance than Garrard beating them, which is how you’d expect the Patriots to play them. The single most important thing the Patriots need to worry about is containing the stellar Jaguar running game. There is nothing impressive about this offense outside of it.

Bruce: They’re going to need to put up more than the 3 points they did two years ago when they came into Gillette in January. Leftwich was the starting QB that night, but Garrard did see some action for the Jags. The Jags didn’t have Jones-Drew yet, but the Patriots held Fred Taylor to 24 yards on 8 carries. Most of the players on offense are still pretty much the same as from that game. Garrard and Jones-Drew being the only real changes. They’ve shown that they’re a different team with Garrard, and he’ll need to have a big game to keep the Jags close.

The Jags defense is big and strong, but they fall decidedly towards the middle in most defensive categories. Will they be able to slow down the Pats?

Kevin Thomas: “Slow down” is a relative term. Statistically, as you note, they are a good, but not a top tier defense. I would say the Jags defense is probably in the same class as the Ravens, Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, Redskins and Eagles, and a bit below the Steelers and Colts, all teams the Patriots played this year, and who “slowed” the Pats down to the tune of 27, 38, 48, 38, 52, 31, 34 and 24 points against, respectively. I would think that the Patriots will be able to put up 30+ points on these guys. Is this year’s Jaguars defense as good as they were in ’06 or ’05? I don’t think they are, and the stats bear that out. The Patriots were able to move the ball pretty well against those arguably superior Jaguars defenses, and that was without the record-smashing offense they will have on Saturday.

Travis: I think that the Jags DBs aren’t as bad as advertised. The CBs are pretty solid, Knight is their leading tackler and the rookie Nelson has been making some big plays recently. The nickel back Terry Cousin has seen it all and is still productive at age 32. There is no glaring weak link in the secondary for the Pats to go after.  In the games this year when the Patriots offense struggled, the opposing team usually had a solid secondary; Baltimore had both of their starting CBs playing (for once), the Eagles had the CBs to stick with Moss and Stallworth, and Indy’s LBs are pretty much big nickel backs that can cover. I could see this unit being responsible for keeping the Pats under four touchdowns.

Scott: But Ben Roethlisberger had three interceptions against that secondary, one for a touchdown, and still threw for 340 yards and 29 points with no running game. They’ll have to stand on their head against Brady. I would only be slightly surprised to see the Patriots score 40 points in this game.

Tim: They are stout. Big. Physical.The perfect defense to spread out and exploit with 5 wides. The only pressure they generate is primarily from the line. A bad match up for Jacksonville.

Bruce: The Steelers didn’t have Willie Parker last week, and because of that the Jaguars were able to focus on the passing game of Pittsburgh, and Scott mentioned the result. Laurence Maroney should be able to keep the Jags defense a little more honest than the Steelers running backs were able to, and I don’t see Tom Brady having too much trouble find open receivers…as long as he can get the throws off.

What about the coaching matchup? The Jaguars are flying at their highest point of the Jack Del Rio era. They’ve won twelve games already, and including two emboldening wins in Pittsburgh over the last month. They’re clearly one of the four best teams in the AFC, and don’t forget, Del Rio’s Jags gave the Pats a few problems last December.

Kevin: I can’t help but get kind of a Pittsburgh Steelers-type vibe from the Del Rio Jaguars. It could be just the media hype, but don’t expect that they are planning on doing much more than lining up and relying on their “smashmouth” “physical” style to carry the day. I would much rather face that, which is a known commodity, than someone like Andy Reid coming in with nothing to lose and doing the completely unexpected: onside kicks, going for it on 4th down, throwing the ball all over the field, etc. Of course, if the Jaguars are able to come out in their base offense and run up 200-something yards on the ground, then the coaching (mis)matchup becomes kind of moot.

Bruce: Del Rio can motivate. I’m not sure how strong his X’s and O’s are. His teams come fired up to play, and play hard. Not always smart. The Jags are going to be aggressive on Saturday night, and I anticipate the Patriots coaches having some plays in mind to compensate for that style. The Patriots didn’t do a whole lot of crazy schemes this year, simply because the offense was so talented they scored enough points that the defense didn’t need to employ exotic schemes. Might be interesting to see if they break out anything new and shiny for this game.

Tim: That was a very entertaining game last year. Thinking back, it makes me pine for a healthy David Thomas this year. As far as the coaching matchup goes, it’s decidedly in the Patriots favor. That’s nothing new, but the real concern for Jacksonville (besides Jack Del Rio dressing up like Terminator again) is the way they play. They employ basic schemes that emphasize ball control and stopping the run. Teams like this don’t match-up well with any Belichick team, let alone this record setting 07 rendition.

There has been chatter this week coming from the Jax locker room talking alot about the close games the Patriots have played this year. The Giants, Eagles, and Ravens were trotted out as exhibits proving NE’s vulnerability. So, it’s worth thinking about – what did these teams do that the Jaguars can replicate to keep it close (none of them one so we can’t surmise a victory, right?)? The thing that stood out in those games was the way they approached it. They went all out and took risks throughout the game that you normally don’t see (the onside kick in the first quarter against Philly is a great example of this). Jacksonville can try this I guess, but they aren’t a great fit for it. They are disciplined, conservative team and I don’t think they’ll change that in their biggest game of the year.

Another thought would be to have them steal some ideas from the Jets gameplan, but there is no way they could execute it. Again, they just aren’t built for it.

Okay, let’s have your predictions, or any closing thoughts.

Travis: If John Henderson doesn’t play, the Pats may play more clock-control offense and let Maroney do his thing five yards at a time. On paper it won’t look like a blowout, but I see them clinching it in the third quarter with a final score of 27-10…ish.

Bruce: Despite the Jaguars newly-minted status as world beaters and media darlings, I’m not incredibly scared of them. Part of me thinks that they are being hyped as a possible Patriots-beater simply because they haven’t played them yet. The Patriots have played all the other top teams in the league with the exception of Jacksonville and Green Bay. I think the first half will the tight, but the Patriots open it up in the second half.

Scott: I’ve had the suspicion all week that this game will not be close, and that feeling is only strengthened by this AP story from a very confident Jaguars camp. I am, in a word, stunned at the stupidity, though I’m thriled to see it too. As Kevin notes, its Steelers-like, though they do stop short of guaranteeing a win. They should talk to Anthony Smith about what happens when you spend the week before the Patriots entertaining the press. Actually, it’s too late for that now. Patriots roll, 42-17, and the next time we hear from the Jaguars, they’ll be complaining about sideline communications systems and respect for the game.

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