Whenever the New England Patriots face a stout defense in the playoffs it usually brings back memories of the two New York Giants teams that beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI, respectively.
As the Patriots prepare to face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, that comparison is sure to pop up, as the Jags feature a physical defense that can rush the passer and cover on the outside.
But while that might conjure up images of Michael Strahan harassing Tom Brady, former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark has a different team in mind when he thinks of the 2017 Jaguars — the 2015 Denver Broncos that suffocated the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game en route to a Super Bowl title.
Clark made the comparison Monday on ESPN’s “First Take” and it, surprisingly, doesn’t have anything to do with Blake Bortles having the same skill set as an aging Peyton Manning.
“So when you look at the Jacksonville Jaguars defense and the roster they built through the draft, through free agency,” Clark said. “They are the perfect team defensively. You can rush four. You can play man-to-man on all the guys in the backend. A.J. Bouye is an All-Pro, obviously Jalen Ramsey, Barry Church. Myles Jack is an extremely athletic linebacker. But they have one thing that other teams don’t.
“Aqib Talib years ago, man-to-man on Rob Gronkowski did an excellent job. No. 20 (Ramsey) the guy that, you know, talks big, says, ‘Hey, we going to the Super Bowl and we gonna win that you know what.’ If Rob Gronkowski splits out, are you scared to put No. 20 on Rob Gronkowski? Not at all. Do you think you can still rush the passer with Dante Fowler, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell? Absolutely. ”
Clark’s comparison isn’t that far off.
The Broncos’ defense that carried Manning to that Super Bowl was led by a vicious pass rush of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Jackson and Derek Wolfe, while also having Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and T.J. Ward in the secondary.
Denver sacked Brady four times and picked him off twice at Sports Authority Field in a 20-18 win. Gronkowski, however, grabbed eight passes for 144 yards and a touchdown that day, so it’s hard to say that Talib and Co. were all that effective at neutralizing the talented tight end.
The Jags certainly have the personnel to make Brady’s day difficult, and they’ll need to hit early and often to have any hope of backing up Ramsey’s guarantee.