Strengths collide as Kansas City Chiefs meet Jacksonville Jaguars

Jay Asser 6/10/2018
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Something will have to give when the Kansas City Chiefs’ hyper-efficient offence tangles with the Jacksonville Jaguars’ tenacious defence on Sunday.

The match-up pits two units that have been utterly dominant this season, with the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs attack getting their toughest test yet against a team that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game.

Kansas City lead the league in scoring with an average of 36.3 points, while ranking eighth in total yards with 410.3 and fifth in first downs with 24. Jacksonville, on the other hand, are the top of the league in several defensive categories: scoring with 14.0, total yards with 259.3, pass yards with 164.3 and first downs with 14.5.

The Chiefs have weapons all over the field, but the Jaguars have the means to neutralise Mahomes’ favourite targets. Tight end Travis Kelce is expected to go head-to-head with safety Tashaun Gipson, who helped limit Rob Gronkowski to two catches for 15 yards in Week 2, while wide receiver Tyreek Hill should have his hands full getting open against All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

True to form, Ramsey has trash-talked Hill in the lead-up, saying the speedster is more of a return specialist than a wideout, based on his Pro Bowl appearance as the former. Hill responded by saying he hopes Ramsey plays press coverage against him.

Ramsey’s size and ability to press at the line could be utilised on Sunday, but the Jaguars have actually allowed the fourth-lowest passer rating in the league (86.5) when playing off-ball coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whatever happens between the teams, the pecking order at the top of the AFC will become a little clearer.

Here are more talking points from Week 5.

RAM-ROD

Speaking of slowing down potent offences, the Seattle Seahawks have their work cut out against a Los Angeles Rams attack that has been as good, if not better, than the Chiefs this season.

Seattle’s task was always going to be monumental, but the level of difficulty will be even more severe now that star safety Earl Thomas is recovering from a broken leg suffered last week.

With Thomas no longer around to patrol the field, Jared Goff could once again have a field day as he leads all quarterback with 23 completions of at least 20 yards.

The one thing the Seahawks have working in their favour is that they’re at home, where the crowd noise could help throw off the Rams’ rhythm. However, the comforts of home did nothing for them in the Week 15 encounter last year, when they were steamrolled 42-7.

REBOUND BOWL

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Before the start of the season, this week’s match-up between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles looked like a potential preview for the NFC Championship Game.

Sunday’s meeting still features two of the most talented rosters in the league, but both sides have had their struggles through the first four weeks and are coming off losses.

For Minnesota, a defence that was expected to be stingy has instead leaked points, while the Eagles have their own litany of issues, including a stalled-out offence.

It’s a little too early to panic over either team, but both need to show something on Sunday if this billing has chance for a rematch in January.

PUNTERS NEED NOT APPLY

Defence should be at a premium when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons collide on Sunday.

Neither Pittsburgh nor Atlanta have been able to coax any kind of consistency from their defences this season, with the Steelers looking incapable without linebacker Ryan Shazier, and the Falcons decimated by injuries to their own key players.

As a result, the units led by Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan have been under pressure to put points on the board, but the offences haven’t managed to negate their team’s current one-dimensional nature.

It would be a surprise if their meeting is anything less than a shootout, with offensive stars on both sides expected to feast in a game that should feature few punts.

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New England Patriots finding their groove after another convincing win over Indianapolis Colts

Jay Asser 5/10/2018
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Slowly but surely, the New England Patriots are working their way back to where they want to be.

The early-season struggles that plagued New England haven’t vanished, but after they claimed another double-digit victory with their 38-24 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, those issues are appearing further and further in the rear-view mirror.

It’s no coincidence the Patriots looked like themselves again on the day they got Julian Edelman back on the field. The wide receiver played his first regular season game since 2016 after an ACL tear kept him shelved all of last year and a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs took him out of the lineup the past four weeks.

Aside from a critical drop on a play that would resulted in significant yardage, the connection between Tom Brady and Edelman looked like it hadn’t missed a beat as the trusty wideout hauled in seven passes for 57 yards.

Brady and Edelman repeatedly burned the Colts in the middle of the field as the latter methodically found the soft spots in the zone defence.

With Edelman garnering attention, Rob Gronkowski did damage up the seams on six receptions for 75 yards, while James White served as an effective safety valve out of the backfield, snagging 10 catches for 77 yards a score.

As a standalone talent, Edelman doesn’t fit the bill as a weapon who opens up the rest of the attack, but in this Patriots’ offence, he’s an instrumental puzzle piece that affords Brady comfort and allows everyone else to do what they do well.

GORDON CHANNELS MOSS

You didn’t even have to squint to see the resemblance in what Josh Gordon did on his touchdown grab and what Randy Moss used to do when he and Brady were scorching opponents years ago.

In the fourth quarter, Brady showed extreme trust in his new receiver when he lofted a ball into double coverage, only for Gordon to repay his faith by splitting two defenders and coming down with the grab for the 34-yard score.

After targeting him just three times up to that point – resulting in one 16-yard hookup – Brady finally took the leap and let Gordon make a play in traffic. That’s the type of stuff Brady and Moss did so well back in the day, when the Patriots quarterback would heave passes into double and triple coverage and allow his star receiver to go get it.

Gordon is still a ways off from reaching those heights – he saw just 20 snaps on Thursday after playing 18 in his debut last week – but it’s not farfetched to imagine more home run plays coming if Brady gives him the opportunity.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

It says something, both in the Patriots’ favour and to the Colts’ detriment, that New England left plays on the field and still almost put up 50 points.

The aforementioned drop by Edelman, along with deflections off the hands of Gronkowski and Chris Hogan which resulted in Brady’s two interceptions, kept the Patriots from what could have been a flawless offensive showing. After seeing his receivers let him down at times through the first four weeks, Brady didn’t fully escape the frustration on Thursday.

Brady did see his receivers create more separation to get open, but part of that was due to Indianapolis’ leaky zone coverage. Against an elite defence, New England will still have to prove they can shake tight man coverage. Not only will the Patriots have to play better teams in the weeks ahead, they’ll also face healthier sides as Indianapolis were without several key players, including T.Y. Hilton.

Still, New England are very much trending in the right direction, and with the playoffs still a long way off, they have more than enough time to hit their peak.

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Tom Brady makes history with his 500th career touchdown pass in New England Patriots' win

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Tom Brady made history by tossing his 500th career touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the New England Patriots‘ 38-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The 41-year-old is only the third quarterback in NFL history to reach the mark, and he made it with a 34-yard throw to Josh Gordon in the end zone.

The 2018 Super Bowl runners-up got off to a strong start and had opened up a 21-point lead by halftime, but then saw a significant portion diminish with a touchdown pass by Colts’ Andrew Luck.

Indianapolis closed the gap to 14 and came within seven in the fourth before Brady’s historic hurl saw New England pull away again.

The Patriots quarterback said: “I think all these things like that, milestones, there are so many people that contribute, all the people that have really worked hard.

“A quarterback doesn’t throw to himself.”

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