Scouting Report: What you have to know about Jaguars-Patriots

September 26, 2015 - 7:47 am
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[caption id="attachment_98055" align="alignright" width="400"]As was the case last week against the Bills, expect the Patriots to feature heavy doses of Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis Sunday against the Jags. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) As was the case last week against the Bills, expect the Patriots to feature heavy doses of Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis Sunday against the Jags. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)[/caption] Here's what you have to know when it comes to Sunday's Jaguars-Patriots contest at Gillette Stadium: WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL Despite the fact that LeGarrette Blount is now (presumably) back to full strength after missing Week 1 because of his suspension, there's simply no reason at this point on the schedule to turn away from the likes of Dion Lewis, who has run the ball masterfully over the course of the first two games of the season. Lewis has 32 touches (22 carries, 10 catches) through the first two weeks of the season, and while part of those inflated numbers are because of Blount's early ban, he's really run well to start the year, with 22 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. (The five yards per carry is sixth among all backs with at least 20 carries.) Buoyed by a stout young front, the Jags have held up well on the ground over the first two weeks -- they're third in the league in run defense, having yielded an average of 73.5 yards per game. Part of that is due to the fact that the Dolphins only rushed for 42 yards as a team last week in their loss to Jacksonville, but it's also because the Jags are a decent run defense. Ultimately, the numbers and matchup suggest a game plan closer to last week -- while Tom Brady and the Patriots won throw it quite as often, it'd be a surprise to see New England run the ball more than 25-30 times as a team on Sunday against Jacksonville. WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL As we said last week, the formula for New England here is simple: Gronkowski, Edelman, Lewis. Repeat as needed. With Brady on an early pace to rival his 2007 numbers, the trio again account for the bulk of the passing yards last week against the Bills, as Brady and the Patriots tossed it all over the lot. (The trio account for 24 of Brady's 38 completed passes.) Looking forward, expect the Jags to play more than a little zone for a few reasons, including the fact that they have some heath questions in their secondary, and that might be an easier way to minimize some personnel mismatches. Regardless, Jacksonville still doesn't have an answer for Gronkowski -- other than maybe linebacker Telvin Smith, who has stepped his game up this year and is playing well in coverage -- which means it should be another big afternoon for the tight end. (If it happens, a Gronk-Sergio Brown matchup will certainly bear watching.) Edelman and Lewis will likely continue to benefit if added attention is paid to the tight end. One surprise last week was the work of young receiver Aaron Dobson, who had the best game since his rookie year, finishing with seven catches on eight targets for 87 yards. While he wasn't much for yards after the catch, his sudden dependability could means he's on his way to becoming an addition asset in the passing game. That's not to suggest that he could be the deep threat the Patriots initially anticipated when they drafted him, but only to say that he took a solid step on the road to respectability last week against the Bills. WHEN THE JAGUARS RUN THE BALL Because of injury -- Denard Robinson is doubtful after suffering a sprained MCL earlier this month and Toby Gerhart is probable -- rookie T.J. Yeldon (121 yards through two games, 3.3 yards per carry) will very likely get the majority of touches on the ground come Sunday. Overall, the Jaguars are middle of the pack when it comes to moving the chains on the ground (17th at 109.5 rushing yards per game). Bortles is also probably one of the top 5 mobile quarterbacks the Patriots will face this season -- he was fourth among all QBs in rushing yards last season with 419, and has 53 yards on six carries this season. On the other side of the ball, it's easy to look at the run-defense numbers for the Patriots and be a little jittery: after all, through two games, New England has allowed an average of 147 rushing yards per game, 28th in the league. But the numbers have to be put in some sort of context: the Patriots were in nickel most of the night in the opener against the Steelers, and the Bills got the bulk of their rushing yards last weekend in the second half while the Patriots were in nickel and dime and daring them to run it while holding on to a big lead. Given the state of the Jacksonville running game, this could very well be the week where the pendulum starts to swing in the other direction. WHEN THE JAGUARS PASS THE BALL This is perhaps the most competitive area for the Jaguars on the afternoon, as Blake Bortles is coming off the best afternoon of his career (18-for-33 for 273 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a surprising with over the Dolphins) and big receiver Allen Robinson, who continues to come into his own. Last week against the Dolphins, the 6-foot-3, 209-pounder out of Penn State caught six passes for a career-best 155 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins. He remains the Jags' primary deep threat option. Allen Hurns is also starting to round into form as a nice short and intermediate threat -- the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has nine catches on 11 targets for 128 yards in the first two weeks. Weldon (six catches for 29 yards) is also a possibility out of the backfield. On the other side of the ball, the first two weeks suggest that Malcolm Butler will likely see a heavy dose of Robinson this week, with other matches coming together through the game. Given his occasional struggles last week against the Bills, it'll be interesting to see how much run Bradley Fletcher gets against the Jaguars. SPECIAL TEAMS The Patriots figure to have an edge here on Sunday, as kicker Stephen Gostkowski (4-4 on field goals attempts and a league-best 8-8 on extra points), punter Ryan Allen (49 yards per punt, eighth in the league) and returners Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola continue to be tops in their field. (Amendola's 10 yard average when it comes to punt returns is ninth in the league.) One thing to watch for Sunday -- between their high level of scoring and the ridiculous amount of touchbacks, the Patriots have had just one opportunity to return a kick through two games, and that was tackle/tight end Mike Williams. On the other side of the ball, coverage will be a big point of emphasis for New England, as Jacksonville has an explosive pair of returners in Rashad Greene (13.0 yards per punt return, fourth in the league) and Corey Grant (28.7 yards per kick return, fifth in the league). Kicker Jason Myers is just 4-for-7 on field-goal attempts, while punter Bryan Anger has a 45.7 average, 21st in the league. THE PATRIOTS ARE IN TROUBLE IF ... Jacksonville can find a way to get Robinson involved early on a handful of deep shots down the field. Per Pro Football Focus, Bortles leads the league with 17 attempts of 20 or more yards downfield, and his size and speed might make for a difficult cover for Butler. There's also the question on special teams -- if Grant or Greene can break one early and get some momentum, that could also help swing things in their favor. And if they can find a way to have Smith and a handful of defenders try and slow down Gronkowski. THE JAGUARS ARE IN TROUBLE IF ... the Patriots get rolling early and find a way to make the Jags a one-dimensional team. As previously stated, the Jacksonville running game is a little dicey to begin with, but if New England can build a double-digit lead and force the Jags to try and throw constantly to try and get back into the game, it'll make an already difficult challenge ever more imposing for a young Jacksonville team. BY THE NUMBERS (tie) 466/456 -- Tom Brady passed for 466 yards in the victory against the Bills last week -- the second-highest passing output of his career (517 vs. Dolphins in the 2011 season opener). Bortles has passed for a total of 456 yards in the first two games of the season. 32 -- Per STATS, the Jaguars have scored 32 points over their first two games, and all but three points have been scored during the first half. Jacksonville remains one of just two AFC teams (also Cleveland) that have not scored a single point during the third quarter this season. UNDER-THE-RADAR PERFORMER: Jared Odrick was a first-round pick of the Dolphins who washed out in a brief career with Miami, but has appeared to regain some life with the Jaguars. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound defensive end did a good job last week against the Dolphins causing disruption and making life occasionally difficult for the Miami offensive line. On the season, he has one sack, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. If he can get cranked up for this one, he's capable of bringing some heat off the edge for Jacksonville. QUOTE OF NOTE: "Emotions were flying high that day. [But] I've got nothing but respect for Sergio. He's a great player. We've just got to go out there and worry about the Jaguars as a whole." -- Gronkowski on the looming rematch with Brown. The two have a lengthy history together, including a showdown last year where the tight end deposited Brown into a camera well on a block following a game between the Patriots and Colts where Brown was yapping the whole game. 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