You might look at the final score of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 45-42 divisional-round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and think the New England Patriots’ defense faces a serious challenge in the AFC Championship Game.
You might also be led to believe the Patriots’ offense can steamroll through the Jaguars’ offense even easier than they dominated the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.
Despite the one-game sample size, you would be wrong on both counts.
The Jaguars’ defense was one of the best in the NFL this season, ranking second in total defense, second in points allowed, first in pass defense, 21st in run defense and first in defensive DVOA.
Meanwhile, their offense ranked sixth in total offense, fifth in points, 17th in passing, first in rushing and 16th in offensive DVOA.
You might be told the Jaguars are “tomato cans.” You might be told the Patriots have a cakewalk to Super Bowl LII. You might be told the Patriots are the first team in NFL history with three straight bye weeks. While these things were fair to say last week with the Titans on the docket, they don’t ring true about the Jaguars.
The Jaguars are good. Are they good enough to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in a raucous playoff environment with Blake Bortles at quarterback? Are they good enough to reach the Super Bowl with Doug Marrone at head coach and with Keelan Cole as their best receiver? We’ll see. But the Jaguars are “actually good” to quote Jacksonville superfan Uncle Chaps.
The strength of the Jaguars is in their cornerbacks, pass rush and running back.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might not even look Brandin Cooks’ or Chris Hogan’s way with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye at cornerback. Fortunately for the Patriots, Brady has proven, as recently as Saturday, he can get by throwing to tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Dion Lewis and James White and slot receiver Danny Amendola.
The Patriots’ offensive line has its work cut out for them against Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler Jr. New England very well could be down to its third right tackle with Marcus Cannon on injured reserve and LaAdrian Waddle nursing a knee injury. Cameron Fleming has been solid as a fill-in, but he has a tendency to let up sacks. It’s worth noting he didn’t let up a single pressure Saturday.
The Patriots’ run defense has been dominant in consecutive weeks against the New York Jets and Titans, but Leonard Fournette presents a unique challenge with his size and speed combination. James Harrison will come in handy. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive tackles Ricky Jean Francois, Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy have to continue to play at a high level.
Most of all, the Patriots need to make Blake Bortles play like Blake Bortles. Bortles has been described as “trash.” That’s clearly not fair at this point. The Jaguars went 10-6 and have won two playoff games. But the Patriots definitely can make Bortles look like trash. That will be on their pass rush, which showed up big against the Titans, and secondary.
The Patriots have an extremely talented defensive back corps. They might need to make some plays next Sunday.