Jaguars at New England
Playing one of the weakest schedules in the league, the Jaguars have only beaten two teams that finished 2005 with winning records, Seattle at home and at Pittsburgh in overtime. Both of those victories were in September. Their gaudy record (12-4) is mostly the result of beating up on teams in the NFL basement.
But they tend to play up to the skill of their opposition, hanging with the Colts and losing by only a score in each of their games. Jacksonville doesn't play well from behind, particularly with Leftwich as QB. The difficult games that they've won have usually allowed them to protect two and three score leads in the second quarter.
Their trio of running backs usually set up a balanced attack and often catch the ball in the flats for outside runs. They have an appetite for uppercuts, often going deep for TD attempts early in the game to play the clock.
The Jags' starting QB, Byron Leftwich, was injured in November. Since then, his backup, David Garrard has won 5 for 6, running downhill over folding teams late in the season. Leftwich is all arm. He sticks to the pocket and likes to go deep. He tends to throw into coverage, something Denver exploited for two interceptions. Garrard is a less experienced veteran, but his scrappy, mobile play has lead his struggling offense to three come-from-behind wins.
Despite every indication that Leftwich will start for the first time in six weeks, the situation has forced the Pats to prepare game plans for each QB. If Leftwich struggles against the Pats' D, expect to see #9 replace #7 behind center.
#27 vs #82
Ellis Hobbs III, the rookie corner back out of Iowa State, has been getting better and better since subbing in the secondary since the injury to Rodney Harrison in the Pittsburgh game. He and Asante Samuel have been leveraging the radically improved play at the line of scrimmage by the Pats linebacker corps. By stopping the run on first and second down situations, opponents in the second half of the season have been throwing into traps in the secondary. He may often line up against the Jag's best receiver, veteran Jimmy Smith.
There's a reason the Patriots have won three Super Bowls by just three points each. Once a game is underway, Belichick doesn't focus on the scoreboard, but looks to the game clock. When playing with a lead, the best defense is time. In the second half, the offense isn't oriented toward making scores as much as it is toward wearing the opponent--and clock--down in a methodical manner.
Belichick breaks the remaining game time into scoring opportunities. A 30 yard drive that ends in a punt and uses short passing and running can be more important for victory than a quickly-strike field goal or touchdown drive.
In 1997, the Patriots beat the Jags on the way to their Super Bowl loss to Green Bay. Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri were in that game.
The Jaguars handed the Patriots their last playoff loss, winning 25-10 in January 1999.
Since then, the Patriots have won their last nine playoff games. A victory by the Pats tonight will set the record for straight playoff wins at 10.
The Patriots need pick up at least 70 yards on the ground against the Jaguar's potent run defense.
Ellis Hobbs "the third" needs to square off well against the Jags and pull down one or more interceptions.
Look for conservative drives on offense in the second quarter that give the Pats' defense an important advantage as the Jags will need to narrow their playcalling and pass into coverage. The result: Adam Vinatieri will need to kick 3+ field goals.
Posted January 7, 2006.