Patriots vs. Jaguars: How Jacksonville Can Upset the AFC's Best Team

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

Cecil Shorts will have to put up some points if the Jaguars are going to win.
Cecil Shorts will have to put up some points if the Jaguars are going to win.USA TODAY Sports

There would be no bigger upset in the NFL this year than if the Jacksonville Jaguars could find a way to topple the New England Patriots.

The game is a mismatch on every possible level.

The Patriots are the highest-scoring offense in football.

The Jaguars are second-lowest scoring offense.

The Patriots lead the league in six different categories of offense and defense.

The Jaguars are 30th or worse in 11.

The Patriots' lowest point total of the season was 18 points. The Jaguars have scored more than 18 points just five times in 2012.

The Patriots have Tom Brady. The Jaguars have Chad Henne. Other than the fact that they are both American males who attended the University of Michigan and are gainfully employed at the game of football, there aren't many similarities between the two quarterbacks.

With the Patriots already installed as two-touchdown favorites, is there anything Jacksonville can do to stay in this game?

Pressure Brady

The Arizona Cardinals managed to upset the Patritos in New England, thanks to a stout defense. Granted, the Cardinals have one of the best defensive squads in football and the Jaguars don't, but they still offer a blue print for how to frustrate Brady.

The Cardinals sacked Brady four times that day and didn't give him time to throw. It's easier to talk about pressuring Brady than to actually accomplish it (just ask the Titans), but there's no scenario in which the Jaguars win without ringing up big sack totals.

This likely means going blitz heavy.

On one hand, blitzing Brady is death. He's smart enough to see it coming and burn the defense with long plays. In this case, however, he's likely to torch the Jaguars anyway.

The best chance for a dramatic upset rests with a high-variance strategy. If the Jaguars play the Pats straight up, they'll lose by 40. Pulling insane blitzes and novel rushes may not work, but it's impossible to argue a more conventional tactic will produce better results.

It's better to go down swinging.

Control the Clock

In a 12- to 15-possession game, the Jaguars have no chance at keeping pace with New England. The Pats will score if given the ball often enough.

Jacksonville has to shorten the game and try to outscore the Patriots over eight possessions instead of 16. They fewer possessions each team gets, the closer the final score.

The problem for Jacksonville is that they don't sustain drives well. Their offense is overdependent on big plays from Cecil Shorts, as they've had trouble stringing together down series.

The solution is risky.

They have to be unusually aggressive on fourth down. Jacksonville should not put from any point on the field if they have less than five yards to gain.

The result of this strategy could be a historic beat down, but that's already on the table. If the Jaguars do nothing out of the ordinary, they could lose by 45 points.

By continually playing four-down football, the Jaguars will unnerve the Patriots defense and potentially string out drives. Playing field-position football with the Patriots is a losing proposition. Brady and Wes Welker don't care if they start from the 15 or the 45. They are going to score anyway.

Protect the Football

The Patriots' defense is extraordinarily opportunistic. As the Colts and Texans discovered, it's not hard to move the ball on New England.

It is very hard to hang on to the ball.

This goes along with controlling the clock. The Jaguars can afford short plays if they are willing to use all four downs to sustain drives. Jacksonville has managed to avoid turnovers, but not punts all year.

While taking big risks on defense and fourth down are key, Jacksonville doesn't have to go wild on offense. Slow and steady wins the race, and it keeps the Patriots' defense from ball hawking.

Obviously, unusual things will have to happen for the Jaguars to win. They'll likely need some "non-predictive events" like special teams or defensive scores. A bad call or two would likely help as well.

The problem with almost random events like that is that teams can't plan to make them happen. Mike Mularkey can't make "return an interception for a touchdown" part of the game plan.

What he can do is take risks to try to pull off the upset. His team can't compete straight up.

If the Jaguars get enough breaks and take enough chances and play their best game of the year, maybe, just maybe they'll be able to score an upset for the ages.

It's Christmas, after all. It's the season for miracles.


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