When: 1 p.m. Sunday
TV, radio: CBS, 98.5 FM
When the Patriots run
There’s been a lot made of the Patriots’ fumbling issues after Stevan Ridley lost one (and had another overturned) and Shane Vereen also coughed the ball up in last week’s loss to the 49ers. Two lost fumbles in horrid weather conditions should not be reason to panic. A 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound, hard-charging, high-energy back, Ridley should bounce back with a big effort Sunday. He is a rhythm back who thrives on work and contact. He never seems tired and has good vision, speed, and power. Vereen (5-9, 205) is a bit quicker than Ridley and is an effective cutback runner. He is stronger than he looks but is by no means a bulldozer. Danny Woodhead (5-8, 200) is a slippery little dude who possesses excellent instincts, vision, and patience. He runs low, sifts through traffic, and can be hard to locate. Oh, and he’s the best blocker of the bunch. The offensive line has shown it can open holes and manhandle defenders. Guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell work hard from snap to whistle. The Jaguars have a solid linebacking corps led by tackling machine Paul Posluszny in the middle. The 6-2, 242-pounder is tremendous at reading plays, finds the ball in a flash, and never takes a play off. Outside linebackers Julian Stanford (he’s swift and strong) and Russell Allen (he’s big and aggressive) feed off Posluszny’s enthusiasm.
Rushing yards per game
New England offense: 136.7 (Eighth)
Jacksonville defense: 148.1 (32d)
When the Patriots pass
If Tom Brady is recovered from his shoulder injury (wink, wink), the Jaguars will struggle mightily. Jacksonville simply doesn’t have the resources to match up with Brady and all the weapons at his disposal. Brady’s presnap recognition skills are second to none. Once the ball is snapped, he goes through his progressions quickly, finds the mismatch, and delivers on-target passes. The Jaguars don’t generate much of a pass rush, but end Jason Babin must be respected — and blocked. Wes Welker continues to excel out of the slot, finding soft spots quickly, gathering Brady’s darts, and taking off upfield. Hard to believe he’s been dealing with a balky ankle for weeks. Brandon Lloyd is coming off his best performance as a Patriot. He excels at working the sideline, has excellent body control, and is the only true deep threat on the roster (sorry, Matthew Slater doesn’t count). Was Deion Branch (good quickness and hands) really gone for a month? Aaron Hernandez is a handful because of his quickness, speed, and versatility. He lines up everywhere, catches nearly everything thrown his way, and is a demon after the catch. Danny Woodhead is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield. The Jaguars will be without their leader in the secondary, safety Dwight Lowery. Chris Prosinski will start. Corners Mike Harris (he can play outside or defend the slot), Rashean Mathis (he’s physical), and Derek Cox (he’s big) are inconsistent.
Passing yards per game
New England offense: 295.7 (Third)
Jacksonville defense: 246.0 (24th)
When the Jaguars run
This attack has suffered greatly without the mobile little monster that is Maurice Jones-Drew, who has missed the last eight weeks with a sprained foot and likely won’t suit up again until Week 1 of 2013. How much is Jones-Drew missed? He’s still Jacksonville’s leading rusher (414 yards). Minus Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings would normally get the majority of the totes. But the powerful inside banger is out. He passed his most recent post-concussion test but has a shoulder injury. Montell Owens, who can push the pile, will get his third straight start. Keith Toston (he’s big but slow and has zero carries on the season) and Richard Murphy (he shows surprising pop) also are options. Fullback Greg Jones is a tremendous lead blocker. Center Brad Meester still is playing at a high level in his 13th season. He has tremendous lower-body strength and takes good angles. He has the unenviable task of swapping paint with mighty Vince Wilfork. New England’s gargantuan nose tackle seemingly gets better every week. He uses speed and power to tie up opponents (often two at a time) and disrupt blocking schemes. Rotating linemen Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick are big and strong and excel at run stuffing. High-energy linebacker Jerod Mayo has been making big plays all season.
Rushing yards per game
Jacksonville offense: 82.4 (30th)
New England defense: 106.4 (11th)Continued...