New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 10 Keys to Game for New England
The New England Patriots are in for a much less exciting game Sunday than their previous two, but nonetheless to have a chance at a first-round bye in the playoffs, they cannot look past the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars may be one of the worst teams in football this year, but with Chad Henne now in at quarterback, the Jaguars have a player familiar with the Patriots that has had some success against them. The Patriots need to shut him and his weapons down to prevent any further damage from being done to their playoff resume.
Here are 10 keys for them to follow Sunday afternoon in Florida to make sure that happens.
No. 1: Stop MJD
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
With Maurice Jones-Drew listed as questionable (foot) and it looking like there is a chance he will indeed play this weekend, he will be priority one for the Patriots to shut down if he does indeed play.
The New England run defense has been solid for the most part all year long, but they have had their share of lapses. A talented runner like Jones-Drew should have no problem having success similar to Frank Gore's 83-yard output last Sunday if New England does not gear up for him.
Bill Belichick is surely getting his defense ready to face an effective Jones-Drew in Jacksonville this Sunday.
No. 2: Respect the Jacksonville WRs
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Cecil Shorts III may not have the name recognition of Justin Blackmon or Laurent Robinson, but he has been playing well of late and is on track for a 1,000-yard season quietly. The Patriots are already hobbled and thin at cornerback, so if they are not careful they will be exposed by Shorts and his fellow wideouts.
The Patriots do not have a secondary who can afford to look past anyone, so Shorts and the rest of this emerging trio is certainly not the opponent for them to start doing so with.
No. 3: Get Jones on Track
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
The Patriot pass rush has had its moments this season, but it needs to get back on track after a slow week against San Francisco. Mainly, the Patriots need to see more out of Chandler Jones. He was replaced in the lineup for part of Sunday's game vs. the 49ers, whether that is because he is unable to play through his ankle injury is unknown.
Regardless, he needs to get the job done better when he is on the field. He has not had a sack since October and in a low-key game like this Sunday's, it would be a good time for him to regain some confidence and tack a sack or two onto his rookie total.
No. 4: Give Henne Multiple Looks
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Chad Henne has a history of having some success against the New England Patriots from his time as a Miami Dolphin. Henne tossed for a career-high 416 yards in last year's season opener against the Patriots before ending his season on injured reserve just three weeks later.
His familiarity and past success will no doubt have Bill Belichick thinking about ways to mix things up and not let Henne get into a place where he is playing pitch and catch with his young receivers, gaining confidence.
After their poor showing against San Francisco, something tells me the New England secondary would love to manage a few takeaways and get the bad taste out of their mouths.
No. 5: Pound the Rock with Ridley
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Stevan Ridley is in the midst of the Patriots' best season for a running back since Corey Dillon in 2004. However, his output has been notably down lately and he has now fumbled in consecutive games.
The Patriots need to give him a game with 20-plus carries to see if he can get back on track and look like the competent player he has been most of the season. Another reason to give him all those carries is to simply see if he can get back to securing the ball.
If he fumbles once again as their featured back this week, Brandon Bolden or Shane Vereen may have to shoulder the load as the team heads into the playoffs. As good as he looks sometimes, the team can just not afford to have him continuing to put the ball on the ground.
No. 6: Look out for Jason Babin
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Patriot fans may have been looking for the team to claim defensive end Jason Babin when he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles in November, but now they will have to see him chasing Tom Brady around the field.
Babin is a proven pass rusher in the league, coming off consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, so he can by no means be written off, no matter how bad Jacksonville may be as a team. Brady is good at sensing the rush, but the offensive line needs to do their best to make sure Brady never needs to be aware of Babin.
No. 7: Get Welker Hot Again
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Wes Welker may be in the midst of another 100-catch, Pro Bowl-caliber season, but he is not playing as well as of late. He has not hit 60 yards in either of the past two weeks and continues to have trouble catching the ball.
The Patriots need to take advantage of playing the league's 31st-ranked defense Sunday and make it a point to fire on all cylinders one last time before perhaps resting some players against Miami in Week 17. Welker could be primed for another 10-plus catches and 100-yard game Sunday, which would put him in a great state of mind heading into the postseason.
No. 8: Keep Lloyd Going Too
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Brandon Lloyd has been a disappointment a lot of year one in New England... but not the past two weeks. Lloyd is getting hot at just the right point in the season. In the past two games, against perhaps the two best defenses the Patriots have played, Lloyd exploded for 17 catches for 279 yards and a score.
During the Patriots' furious comeback effort against the 49ers, it was largely Lloyd who was getting them back in the game. He is also beginning to hit on longer plays than he has most of the year, catching a ball for 37 and 53 yards in the past two games.
In the absence of Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, Lloyd has hit another gear. The Patriots' need to consciously make sure he remains in the good place he is in as they move forward.
No. 9: Take It Easy with Rob Gronkowski
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Rob Gronkowski broke his arm last month against the Indianapolis Colts and has not played since. He was questionable for Sunday night's matchup with the 49ers before being declared inactive. If he is indeed that close to being ready to go, the Patriots should still be cautious.
It would be good for them to have one game with their entire playoff offense before they may rest players in Week 17, but only if Gronkowski is truly at 100 percent. If there is any uncertainty for Sunday's game against the Jaguars, they should just sit him down and let the offense continue as it has for the past month one last time.
The Patriots have little chance of a bye, so there is nothing to lose by being overly safe with Gronkowski.
No. 10: Clean Up Special Teams
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots' special teams units have been mostly solid all season long but had key lapses in Sunday night's loss to San Francisco. Had they not allowed a lengthy return late to LaMichael James, they may have eventually had the ball with a chance to take the lead, but their kickoff coverage let them down.
The Jaguars have not been able to get anything going on kickoff or punt returns at all in 2012, so the Patriots need to make sure they are not the ones that let them swing in the other direction.