The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t have to wait long for the chance to erase the bad taste left from the disappointment in the AFC Championship Game.
Jacksonville get another shot at the New England Patriots on Sunday, and although the stakes are much lower this time, the Jaguars’ ambition remains unchanged as they set their sights on revenge.
There may be no team better equipped in the conference to keep the Patriots from reaching a third straight Super Bowl, with Jacksonville’s dominant defence possessing the tried-and-tested blueprint for slowing down New England.
Between their deep and talented defensive line, athletic linebackers and lockdown secondary, the Jaguars have all the tools to make Tom Brady’s life difficult, as they did for much of the AFC title game before New England fought back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The marquee match-up that has drawn headlines this week has been Rob Gronkowski versus Jalen Ramsey, with both widely considered the top players at their positions.
Ramsey, who is one of the most outspoken personalities in the league, took a shot at Gronkowski in the offseason when he said the tight end isn’t “as great as people think he is” because of his lower success rate when lined up outside, compared to his eye-catching numbers in the slot.
While Ramsey’s trash talking makes for a fun narrative, it’s unlikely he and Gronkowski will be lined up against one other much on Sunday – at least not in a way where the All-Pro cornerback will shadow Brady’s top target.
Since entering the league in 2016, Ramsey has been used almost exclusively on the outside, where he’s drawn man coverage against wide receivers. Unless the Jaguars deviate from their usual approach, Ramsey will only see Gronkowski when New England choose to split him out wide.
In the AFC Championship Game, Gronkowski and Ramsey were matched-up on just two snaps, with Brady throwing elsewhere on both occasions. Gronkowski also exited that contest with a concussion before half-time, finishing with just one catch, as Brady led a comeback without his best receiver.
It’s more likely Jacksonville use safety Tashaun Gipson on Gronkowski once again, which would leave Ramsey and fellow cornerback A.J. Bouye on wideouts Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarelle Patterson.
The Patriots will also have their hands full limiting Jacksonville’s pass rush, but the offensive line’s performance against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Houston Texans’ defensive line in Week 1 was encouraging.
Brady was sacked just twice in the opener, while the Jaguars got to him three times in January.
A bigger concern for New England may be how their running backs match-up with Jacksonville’s linebackers in the passing game.
With Julian Edelman suspended, Brady is expected to heavily lean on Rex Burkhead and James White, as he did in Week 1 when the Patriots gained 71 yards on throws to running backs.
With Myles Jack and Telvin Smith, however, the Jaguars are much more capable than Houston to muck up New England’s attack.
On the other side of the ball, the pressure will fall on Blake Bortles, whether Jacksonville like it or not.
In the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars were extremely conservative with their quarterback in the second half, which took the wind out of the offence’s sails and allowed the Patriots to key in on the running game.
Leonard Fournette could be a game-time decision and regardless of the running back’s availability, Bortles will likely have to make plays to beat New England.
Jacksonville will hope their defence can do most of the heavy lifting to keep them out of that position, but ultimately, if the Jaguars want to be serious Super Bowl contenders, they’ll need to put some trust in Bortles.
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