The upstart Jacksonville Jaguars came agonizingly close to knocking off juggernaut New England Patriots in last season’s AFC Championship Game.
They’ll have revenge on their mind this Sunday when they welcome Tom Brady and Co. to TIAA Bank Field for a rematch.
Here are four things to know about the Jags ahead of this Week 2 matchup:
1. They still have arguably the NFL’s best defense
Jacksonville led the NFL in defensive DVOA last season and ranked second in scoring defense, yards allowed, sacks, interceptions and total takeaways. They’re ridiculously talented at all three levels, and 10 of last year’s 11 starters are back, with the only change being rookie Leon Jacobs replacing the retired Paul Posluszny at linebacker
Last season’s Pro Bowl rosters featured six Jaguars defenders: defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker Telvin Smith and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Campbell and Ramsey were first-team All-Pros.
Add to that mix pass rusher Dante Fowler, who sacked Tom Brady twice in the AFC Championship Game, and linebacker Myles Jack, who scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on an interception return Sunday in Jacksonville’s 20-15 Week 1 win over the New York Giants.
The Jags led the league with seven defensive touchdowns in 2017, scored another (a 50-yard fumble return by Smith) in their divisional-round upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers and could have had one more in the AFC title game had Jack not been ruled down after stripping Dion Lewis. This is a defense fully stocked with playmakers.
“I think everybody understands that they know this defense scores touchdowns,” Smith said after Sunday’s game, via ESPN.com. “We are almost an offense on defense.”
Fowler was suspended for Week 1 but will be active Sunday.
2. Leonard Fournette is banged up
The Jaguars’ star running back left Sunday’s game during the second quarter with a hamstring injury. It’s considered minor, according to head coach Doug Marrone, but Fournette’s status for this weekend’s contest remains unclear.
Fournette, who rushed for 1,040 yards as a rookie last season, is the focal point of Jacksonville’s offense. If he can’t go against the Patriots, expect T.J. Yeldon to get the start. Yeldon had 51 yards on 14 carries against the Giants.
3. The Jags’ offense lacks weapons
Fournette is Jacksonville’s only real stud on that side of the ball. Though quarterback Blake Bortles did show a lot of improvement over the course of last season, he’s still a game manager at best who’s more focused on lowering his interception total (a career-best 13 in 2017) than on throwing more touchdown passes.
With Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns signing elsewhere this spring and Marquise Lee suffering a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, Bortles’ receiving corps consists of second-year pros Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole and veteran Donte Moncrief, who somehow managed to command $9.6 million guaranteed for this season despite catching just 26 passes in 12 games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017.
At tight end, the Jaguars replaced the departed Marcedes Lewis with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who’s best known around these parts for his controversial goal-line fumble at MetLife Stadium last November.
Moncrief struggled Sunday in his Jaguars debut, catching just one pass on five targets for 14 yards, and Bortles averaged a mere 5.8 yards per pass attempt. Jacksonville managed one offensive touchdown and two field goals against the Giants and went 3-for-12 on third down.
4. Jalen Ramsey’s trash-talking world tour included multiple Patriots-related shots
Rob Gronkowski said he expects to hear a lot of questions this week about Ramsey, who told ESPN’s Mina Kimes the Patriots’ star tight end is “not as great as people think he is.”
Honestly, that’s pretty tame smack talk compared to the bombs Ramsey hurled at Josh Allen (“trash”), Joe Flacco (“sucks”), Danny Amendola (“terrible”) and the entire NHL, but it surely will motivate Gronkowski, who was knocked out of the AFC title game just before halftime with a concussion.
Ramsey, like many Jaguars fans, also believes the officials screwed his team out of a Super Bowl appearance, referencing Jack’s fumble recovery in his ESPN interview.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images