1. Ok, let’s go with the Apollo 13 approach with the Jaguars: what do they have on the team that’s working right now?
RO: “Not much. They’re 31st in yards gained and yards allowed and have been outscored by a combined 111 points in their seven home games. But while just about everything is broke, a couple of players require watching. Receiver Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick last spring, had the usual rookie growing pains but has a team-high 51 catches. On defense, another rookie, cornerback Mike Harris has gone from sixth-round pick to starter and he’ll get the assignment of covering Wes Welker. He’s not a big guy but will blitz from the slot and is a good tackler. Also on defense, the Jaguars are last in sacks, which is why they claimed defensive end Jason Babin in late November. In three games, he has 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.”
2. Who is the one Jaguars player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
RO: “Receiver Cecil Shorts has 925 yards receiving and seven touchdowns – he’s a big-play threat (TDs of 80 and 59 yards this year) who can beat teams on a ‘9’ route as easy as well as he can on a skinny post. The former coaching staff buried him on the bench last year, unwilling to give him a chance and early this year, he wasn’t getting nearly the playing time of other receivers. But he flashed when given the chance and is now the team’s no-doubt No. 1. He could be in line for a fifth 100-yard game if New England does what it should do – lead big early, forcing the Jaguars to throw.”
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Jaguars’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
RO: “Only three teams have allowed more than the Jaguars’ 43 sacks. A primary point of exposure isn’t so much quarterback Chad Henne’s lack of mobility because he knows how to slide around the pocket and is tough enough to stand tall and throw before taking the hit. It’s the unblocked rusher. The Jaguars on their fourth left guard this year (rookie Austin Pasztor, who went from practice squad to starter last week) and ‘A’ gap blitzes and other things like stunts and safety blitzes have thrown this offensive line for a loop. The Patriots can pick pretty much what they want to do.”
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Jaguars’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
RO: “Receivers Andre Johnson (14-273), Reggie Wayne (8-96), Calvin Johnson (7-129), Brandon Marshall (12-144) and A.J. Green (6-117) have all had success against the Jaguars this year, but by far the biggest challenge is who covers New England tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? The Jaguars don’t have a linebacker on the roster that can do it with any effectiveness so that likely means plenty of dime personnel. The Jaguars’ defensive philosophy is to keep everything in front of them and make teams chip their way down the field. But New England will be another team to likely expose that.”
5. Finally, Jaguars win on Sunday if …
RO: “Wow, all kinds of punch lines apply, like the Patriots not showing up. But realistically, the Jaguars’ best hope is that New England has one of those four-turnover days where a dropped pass hits their hands for a defensive touchdown or the Patriots have the kind of fumbling day they did last week against San Francisco. Anything that gives the offense a short field and keeps the defense off the field. The Jaguars were 15.5-point underdogs at Green Bay (lost by nine) and Houston (lost by six) and the current 14.5-point spread is the largest in home franchise history.”