Conventional wisdom says that the Jacksonville Jaguars shouldn’t bother playing this weekend against the mighty New England Patriots. After all, the Patriots employ the best head coach, maybe even the best of all time, along with possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady. Just look at all of those Super Bowl rings. Plus, let’s just add in the fact that the game will take place at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots haven’t lost a playoff game in several years (vs Baltimore 20 Jan 2013 for the curious people out there). The odds are definitely not in the Jaguars’ favor. Ah, but that’s why the game is played, right, because upsets can happen? Yes, why not have some fun and script a win for the Jaguars – a sort of a “how to” to beat the Patriots for this one AFC Championship game?
It all starts with the coin toss…
The Jaguars win the coin toss and then choose to receive the kickoff. Yes, put Blake Bortles and the offense on the field first, because deferring until the second half, the traditional, safe play for teams with great defenses, will not work against the Patriots. Giving the Patriots the ball first invites them to take the lead, and the Jaguars can’t risk starting their first drive down by seven.
First possession of the game: get the early lead
Blake Bortles uses play-action passes to move the ball against the much improved Patriots defense, a defense that is determined to take way the Jaguars best option: Leonard Fournette. For reference, please see the first drive against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round playoff game. Bortles threw three passes to wide open receivers. Take advantage of the expanded playbook and score points before the Patriots have time to adjust. Blake Bortles is mostly competent when playing with a lead. Asking him to overcome a double-digit deficit is folly.
Dominate the Patriots’ offensive line
Even by doing this, the Jaguars are still not assured of the win due to the fact that Tom Brady gets the ball out of his hand so fast to receivers that get open in a blink of an eye. Nothing frustrates defensive lineman more than almost getting to the quarterback, only to then watch the opposing receiver make the catch, and run for first down yardage (over and over). However, pushing the pocket in on Brady at least provides the opportunity for an inaccurate throw or two.
Add in a defensive score
Why not? The Jaguars need to score points in any (legal) way they can: pick-six, fumble recovery for six, etc.
Speaking of line domination, dominate the Patriots’ defensive line
Eventually, the Jaguars will have to do what they do best, which is run the football. An effective running game will keep the Bortles’ play-action pass viable. Without it, uhm, well, that game scenario calls for too many straight drop back passes from Mr. Bortles.
For the love of all defenses…
Please, please, please do not fall for the play-action pass play that always finds Rob Gronkowski (wide open) in the seam 20 yards down the field. Why defenses continue to fall for this fake is mind-blowing. Seriously, so the running back gains eight yards, so what? How does that compare to Gronk trampling down the smaller defensive backs trying to tackle him 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Fight the urge to defend the run on this fake. Just cover Gronk.
Jacksonville slows down Brady’s outlet passes to Dion Lewis, James White, etc.
Linebacker Telvin Smith probably won’t win the match up against Dion Lewis, but he should win a few battles and force a few “3 and outs”. Limiting the explosive plays / third down conversions from Dion Lewis is vital.
Finally, Blake Bortles makes the required throws
The game unfolds just as scripted above. The Jaguars take the early lead, hold Brady in check (mostly) by not letting him rip off “easy” throws to Gronk and Dion Lewis, and score a defensive touchdown – yet, the Patriots are still within striking distance. Blake Bortles now has the ball in his hands to either kill clock or push the game out of reach. Yep, he has to actually make the throws he did in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh the week before. In the end, it’s up to Blake Bortles, and he becomes a hero. Let that settle in for a moment…
Congratulations, Mr. Bortles.