Jazzed up for the Jags
Likeable foes playing with confidence, but Pats will be ready
Can the Jaguars upset the Patriots?
Naturally, that is the main theme in this weeks Patriots mailbag, which filled up Sunday night after it was determined that fifth-seeded Jacksonville would be traveling to New England.
The Jaguars are playing with an abundance of confidence right now, but I question whether that will be enough to knock off the Patriots. Their running game is impressive, and one thing you have to respect about it is that they make no secrets of their intentions. Theyll line up with a lead fullback and two tight ends and challenge a defense to stop it. The Jaguars had 522 rushing attempts on the season, second most in the NFL behind only Tennessee (543).
The Patriots are generally solid at taking away what an opponent does best, so look for that to be the game within Saturday nights game the Jaguars running game against the Patriots gap-filling defense.
As for some leftover business, there was a question last week about why the Patriots dont flip-flop their corners. After some investigation, it essentially comes down to that the risks outweigh the rewards. When you change one persons role, it impacts the other 10 players, especially those in the secondary. Essentially, you have to realign your defense. Also, an offense can easily counter by motioning a receiver, or bunching their receivers, to take advantage of that defensive approach, so overall, there are too many scenarios in which the offense can dictate. Yet another factor is comfort. Over the course of a season, corners get used to being on one side, which plays into anticipation and fundamental footwork.
Let's move on to the questions. ...
I think the Jags are honestly the most legit team to possibly beat the Pats. I guess you could call them a sleeper. Do you think this is true?
A: I see this Jaguars team as very likeable. While every team is different, this one sort of reminds me of the 2001 Patriots in that you need to watch them closely to appreciate what they're doing. They don't have bona-fide stars, but they play hard, they play together, they limit mistakes and they're tough. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the league's most exciting players who should probably be talked about more. I think he's overshadowed by playing in a smaller media market. That being said, I will be very surprised if the Jaguars come into Gillette Stadium and win. The weather looks like it won't be a factor and I think the Patriots' offense, specifically in the passing game, can exploit the Jaguars' defensive weaknesses. The Jaguars basically play a 4-3, rush four, and drop seven into zone coverage. I saw the Patriots carve up a Redskins team that played the same way earlier in the season. My main question is whether the Jaguars can control the game when they have the ball through the running game. I think the Patriots will answer the challenge.
When did the Pats become a finesse team? All I read about is the "physical nature" of the Jaguars and how this means "trouble" for the Pats. Was Philly not a slugfest? Or Baltimore? Or the Giants? It's hysterical that simply because the Pats choose to utilize their ridiculous talent at QB/WR that somehow guys like Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Rodney Harrison, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, and even Tom Brady have "forgotten" how to not only take a punch, but deliver a knockout blow if necessary. I for one love the idea that the Jags will strut out onto Gillette field thinking they are the "big bad bullies". There is nothing more disheartening than throwing your best punch and getting hit back harder. Repeatedly. Pats 38, Jags 10. Your thoughts?
A: Great point here, Dan. I couldn't have said it better, or with more bite. To define the Patriots as a finesse team is off the mark. They play tough and physical as well. As left guard Logan Mankins has said, there is nothing finesse about the way the linemen clear out blockers up front in the passing game. The only thing I would contest is that the Jaguars are coming into Gillette thinking they are the big, bad bullies. I just don't see it. I was in their locker room Saturday night in Pittsburgh and I was impressed with what I saw, starting with the quarterback, David Garrard. He has really emerged as a classy leader, on and off the field this season. Overall, I think the Jaguars have a quiet confidence and a maturity level that I haven't noticed from them in past years. The only thing they believe is that they will come into Gillette and scrap for 60 minutes. I still think the Patriots win by 14.
What would be the best defensive scheme to stop the Jags' run?
A: I don't expect the Patriots to stray from the base 3-4. I think they will be stressing fundamentals in tackling, gap control, and discipline out of that alignment. The Jaguars work hard to establish the run, so a lot is going to fall on the front seven defenders in this game. I would also expect safety Rodney Harrison to drop down into the box as an eighth defender a good portion of the game.
Hi Mike. Jacksonville looks like a worthy opponent for the Pats this week. I like the way you break down the Pats offensive positional groupings. Now I'm wondering about the defensive alignments. Do you see the Pats going to a 4-3 or possibly moving Adalius Thomas back inside to shore up the run defense? I know they mix things up quite a bit on defense, but do you have a sense of how often they're in the 3-4 vs. 4-3 or nickel and dime packages?
A: It varies by the game, Ben, but the majority of the time they're in the 3-4. I think they'll stay there this week because a big part of this game will be about controlling the line of scrimmage. I feel the 3-4 is the Patriots' best alignment against the run, as they play most synchronized out of that set, and that is crucial when attempting to fill all the running lanes up front. Like most teams, they'll go nickel/dime in obvious passing situations, which is usually on third and 5/longer. They played a nickel look entirely against the Colts on Nov. 4, with safety Rodney Harrison dropping into a linebacker-like role. At times they've mixed in 4-3 on early downs, but I'd estimate 75 percent of the time this season they've been in the 3-4.
Wondering if you ever do a breakdown of who is on the defensive line when the Patriots go to the 4-3. I know sometimes they shift a linebacker in. Does Jarvis Green come in at the other end and Seymour and Warren shift inside or do they mix it up?
MEI, San Francisco
A: When the Patriots have gone 4-3, it's usually Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork inside at tackle, with Ty Warren and Jarvis Green at end. At linebacker, Tedy Bruschi/Junior Seau man the middle, while Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas play on the outside.
Didn't one of the Jaguar players spear Brady on a tackle last year and didn't Jack Del Rio say something about wishing his player had really injured Brady? Do you think the Pats will recall that going into this game?
A: Linebacker Clint Ingram drove his helmet into Brady's back as Brady was diving head first on a quarterback scramble. The NFL ruled the hit to be legal. It looked like a spear, but since Brady was still diving and wasn't lying on the ground, the NFL ruled it was not. There was a Brady scramble earlier in the game when some defenders pulled up when it looked like Brady was going to slide, but instead he kept going and gained more yardage. Del Rio was quoted on the Jaguars' official web site as saying "they should've speared him then." Since spearing is illegal, Del Rio was spoken to by a top league executive but he was not fined. I don't think the Patriots need any motivation for this game, so I don't expect these comments to be an issue.
Not really for your mail bag but I wanted you to see this: http://www.jaguars.com/News/powerrankings.aspx (Patriots listed with an asterisk next to them in power rankings on the Jags' web site). The Jags site pulled the link from their main page but this is the direct link. Now why do you think they pulled the link?
A: They probably pulled it because they didn't want to feed anything in the form of motivation to the Patriots. In the end, my assumption is that the writer did that without the knowledge of the Jaguars' coaching staff, or the team's owner. It reflects poorly on the Jaguars organization.
It was very interesting to see the 'hangover effect' Patriot opponents had the week after the game. I keep hearing what a tough team the Jaguars are and it makes me wonder. Do you know what the 'week after' record is for their opponents?
Jesse St. Laurent, Burlington
A: Patriots opponents are 5-11 after facing the Patriots this season, which is updated after the Giants beat the Buccaneers in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs this pas weekend. Jaguars opponents were 8-7 this season the following week. Here is the breakdown:
Chiefs (vs. Bengals)
Colts (at Panthers)
Buccaneers (vs. Cardinals)
Chargers (vs. Baltimore)
Bills (at Redskins)
Colts (at Ravens)
Panthers (vs. Seahawks)
Steelers (vs. Rams)
Titans (vs. Colts)
Falcons (vs. Panthers)
Broncos (at Colts)
Texans (vs. Titans)
Saints (vs. Rams)
Titans (at Broncos)
Raiders (vs. Chargers)
Who was the one voter that did not go for Brady as the NFL Most Valuable Player?
A: Frank Cooney, who founded Sports Xchange and has been analyzing football since the 1960s, cast his vote for Brett Favre. His rationale was that Favre did more with less. I personally would have voted for Brady, but at the same time, I respect where Cooney is coming from.
What are the chances of Pats picking up the option on Donte Stallworth? He might not have Randy Moss's or Wes Welker's stats but I think he has preformed pretty well I hope they decide to keep him.
Steve Fissel, York, Pa.
A: I'd say highly unlikely. Last week, I estimated Stallworth's return to the team at 25 percent. I think it comes down to whether the sides would be willing to hammer out a new deal. Stallworth is due $8 million in option bonuses and his 2008 salary cap charge is scheduled to be $6.5 million. I just don't see the Patriots paying that kind of dough based on the production. I could, however, envision a scenario in which the team approaches Stallworth about a different type of contract, trying to sell him on the benefits of playing with Tom Brady.
Tom Brady threw 50 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. As is the case with every QB in the NFL, more than a few of those interceptions off of tipped balls, or off the hands of the intended receivers. Is there any way that you can determine how many were "clean" interceptions, and how many were tipped?
A: Since there were only eight interceptions, I can almost recall all of them off hand. I think only two were tipped/deflected. Against the Ravens on Dec. 3, a pass to Wes Welker was tipped and intercepted by safety Ed Reed. And Dec. 23 against the Dolphins, Brady was firing to Randy Moss in traffic and the ball was tipped and picked off.
At the beginning of the Pats/Giants game, there was a camera shot of Brady, Moss and Stallworth on the bench, with Stallworth seemingly giving Moss and Brady some substance out of his hand that they inhaled, like a smelling salts sort of thing. Can you shed light on this? Is this allowed?
Paul Spina, Bridgewater
A: Received quite a few questions on this. The players were sniffing ammonia. That has apparently been part of the game for decades. I was unaware of it but it caught my eye while watching the broadcast, as the NFL Network broadcast locked in on Brady and Moss sniffing out of a cup held by receiver Donte' Stallworth.
There is not much of a debate that this is the best Pats offense ever to be on the field. But where do you think the current defense ranks? Going on observations only, I would say the Pats defense from the 3rd Super Bowl (win against Philly) was the best. They seemed to hit harder, be better against the run particularly in short yardage situations and much better in the red zone. But I can't explain it from a personnel perspective -- some core guys remain but are older like Vrabel, Bruschi, Harrison -- but you have younger guys too like Seymour, Warren, Wilfork, Asante Samuel, James Sanders, Thomas etc. Was the mix of Ty Law, Ted Washington, Bobby Hamilton, and Willie McGinest in their prime better than their counterparts today? What is your take?
Matthew McLaughlin, Andover
A: Interesting question -- the 2004 defense against the 2007 defense -- so let's compare the two based on some key stats:
2004 defense -- 260
2007 defense -- 274
2004 defense -- 36
2007 defense -- 31
Third down defense:
2004 defense -- 38.8 percent
2007 defense -- 33.7 percent
Red zone efficiency:
2004 defense -- 41 trips; 24 touchdowns (58.5 percent)
2007 defense -- 49 trips; 20 touchdowns (40.8 percent)
All in all, it's a close call. That 2004 defense was decimated by injuries in the secondary. The 2007 defense has had more continuity in that regard. Since the numbers don't decisively lead me one way or the other, I'm going to go with the '04 defense. I think there was a little more depth there in the front seven.
Do you know why the Patriots constantly change their punt returners? Some games they use 3-4 different guys. Why not stick with Welker for every punt, or even Kevin Faulk. One guy could really get good at it and give them more field position than they are getting.
A: The Patriots finished the season with Wes Welker (25 returns), Troy Brown (6), Chad Jackson (2) and Kevin Faulk (9 fair catches) all having been back to field punts. Brown's appearance was for one game. Same with Jackson. So it really comes down to Welker and Faulk splitting the full-time duties. Welker is usually on when there is a return possibility. Faulk usually comes on when it's an inside the 10 situation, as he has excellent hands.
I assume that former Jaguar Kyle Brady will be able to help us prepare for Saturday with regard to the way the Jaguars play and approach things. Or do you think things change so much year to year or in the playoffs that there will be no edge?
A: I think that would have minimal impact. I could see the coaching staff asking his thoughts on a few players, but not much else.
Mike, love the site, especially as a West Coast Pats fan who is subjected to Chargers games in my local market. Your site keeps me in the loop on my favorite sports team and I check it several times a day. I had a general football question for you. I've never been clear what exactly entails the QB picking out the "mike" on the opposing defense. Could you explain what this means and how the "mike" can change from play to play or series to series? How many different defensive players can be the "mike" in a game?
A: The mike is the middle linebacker of the defense. When a QB points out the mike, he is essentially communicating to the offensive line where the middle point of the defense is located, so the linemen can correctly identify which defenders they are responsible for. Because defenses shift so freely, the mike can be at various points of the field at any time, changing the blocking angle and/or responsibilities for linemen in the blocking game.
Hi Mike, First time e-mailer here. My question concerns next season. I don't know if anyone has really looked at the schedule for next year, but I would honestly ask the question who is the next team to beat this incarnation of the Pats -- 87-111 is the combined record of the teams that we have to face next year. The best of those teams are the Colts, Chargers, and Steelers, all of which we handled this year. I hate to look ahead like this but the opportunity to do a 16-0 again seems like it may at the very least be a possibility and maybe another record-setting season? What are your thoughts?
Don Shane, Clearwater, Fla.
A: While the schedule looks favorable on the surface, I subscribe to the theory that so much changes from year to year that it's too difficult to accurately project the actual strength of that schedule. This year, for example, six of the 12 playoff teams did not qualify for the postseason in 2006. The Jets are a good example. They were 10-6 in 2006, but dipped to 4-12 this season. What looked like a difficult team early on turned out to be otherwise.
Am I the only Eugene Wilson fan in Patriot Nation? I know he's had a few problems but he's young and been injured, and DBs are hard to come by.
Patrick Harrington, Fredonia, NY
A: Wilson has been supplanted by James Sanders as a starter, and isn't even the team's fifth defensive back in nickel situations, as Randall Gay has filled that role. It's only when the Patriots go to six defensive backs that Wilson comes onto the field. The last two seasons have been a downward spiral for a player who looked to be ascending during his first three seasons, and part of that is health. He is a free agent after the season and my sense is that he's interested in a fresh start.
With a strong possibility that Wilson and Samuel will not be coming back next year, do you see the Pats moving Brandon Meriweather permanently to corner? This would leave Harrison (if he returns) and Sanders at safety and Ellis Hobbs and Meriweather at corner. Does Gay get a shot and factor into the equation? Do they re-sign him for depth purposes?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: I see Meriweather's future more at safety. He looks more comfortable there. While there might be some position flexibility that he offers, it appears to me that he's much more comfortable at safety, and I expect the team to keep him there.
Question about Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels turning down interviews this past week: What do you think the main reason for the refusal? Was it because he recognizes that this year is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and wants to dedicate all focus to the playoffs? Or does it have something to do with the way the Eric Mangini situation worked out (e.g. he is more open to advice from Bill Belichick about open positions)?
A: From afar, I think McDaniels probably solicited Belichick's advice, mainly asking Belichick if he felt he was ready to be a head coach. My hunch is that Belichick told him no, but that he's not that far away. I think McDaniels trusts Belichick, and figured that if he wasn't going to take the job, why waste the time? Some might argue that it would be worth the experience, but I look at McDaniels and see someone who is confident enough in his abilities that he figures the chance will come again.
Hi Mike, watching ESPN or NFL network it just seems that every press conference held by every NFL team is a love fest for their next opponent. Granted, TV only shows snippets of each conference but isn't it irritating to a press guy like you to hear the same punch-lines every week?
A: It does get frustrating at times. But I understand why. I think we, as media members, can be quite contradictory at times. We want players to speak their true feelings. Then when they do, those feelings often get skewered or overblown, blown up in a headline. So, to be honest, I would probably do the same thing if I was a player or coach. Because of this, I have been trying to work harder to understand the game and make judgments based on what I see, because I realize what I hear most often isn't an accurate picture of reality.