We are another day closer to the New England Patriots’ seventh consecutive AFC Championship game.
As both teams prepare for their inevitable clash on Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the keys to success against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Patriots’ defense had a record-setting game against the Tennessee Titans as they sacked quarterback Marcus Mariota a total of eight times. Putting pressure on quarterback Blake Bortles will be key this Sunday.
During the Jaguars’ Divisional game, Bortles was only hit four times with no recorded sacks. With time to go through his progressions down the field, Bortles was able to pick apart the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Bortles is 10-0, including his last two postseason wins when he has no turnovers in a game. But, when he throws at least one interception, the Jaguars have a record of 2-6. Winning the turnover battle in the secondary will play a huge part in determining this game.
Running back Leonard Fournette has had a solid rookie season, helping his team reach the AFC Championship by scoring three touchdowns against the Steelers. His biggest test will come against the methodical Patriots defense. While trying to limit Bortles and the passing game, the defense will have to also limit Fournette’s touches.
In 15 games played this season, including postseason, Fournette has a 5-1 record when running over 100 yards. This was evident in both wins against the Steelers this year. Putting up more than 100 yards and at least 1 touchdown could be the edge the Jaguars need against the Patriots. The Patriots will have to stack the box and cover the outside runs, which did hurt them at the beginning of the season.
Protecting quarterback Tom Brady against the Jaguars will be the offensive line’s biggest test. Brady is 7-4 when he throws for over 200 yards in AFC Championship games, so giving him time and space to throw will be crucial.
Finding mismatches on offense can be tricky, but if anyone, with preparation, can come up with a scheme to do so it is Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Coming in with one of the youngest defensive units, the Jaguars will do everything in their power to create turnovers in the secondary.
Cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are two of the best defensive backs in the league. They are expected to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. With the two best secondary players covering Gronkowski and Cooks, the running back core of Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead will play a big part in the offensive success.
Matched up against slower linebackers, the Patriots’ running backs will be able to find the most glaring holes in the middle of the field and exploit it for every inch. With Lewis’ shiftiness and uncanny ability to find holes out of nowhere and spring for 10-15 yards, White’s great outside runs and Burkhead’s smash mouth running style, the Jaguars defense will have its hands full.