Patriots

Haggerty: 15 thoughts from Bruins-Maple Leafs

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Haggerty: 15 thoughts from Bruins-Maple Leafs

TORONTO Here are five thoughts from the first period with the Bruins and Maple Leafs tied at 1-1 after the first 20 minutes of play at the Air Canada Centre.

1)Great period from Jordan Caron following up on a good game against the New York Rangers last weekend. Caron had a strong shift midway through the first period when he found a cutting Johnny Boychuk on the backdoor for a scoring chance turned away by Jonas Gustavsson, and then cut through the middle of the slot for his own shot on the same shift. Caron followed that up by potting a goal on his next shift when he crashed the net looking for a Joe Corvo shot that took a wild bounce off the end boards, and pushed the puck past the Toronto goalie for the game-tying goal after Benoit Pouliot attempt at the rebound. Bruins could use more of that from their former first round pick.

2) Greg Zanon is now a minus-4 with the Bruins and has had some issues right in front of the Boston net after a promising first game. He unwittingly screened Tim Thomas on a Carl Gunnarsson shot that beat him to the glove-hand side for Torontos goal that period. Thomas needs to do a better job of fighting through those screens, and Zanon needs to get on the same page with his goaltender.

3)Bruins outshot the Maple Leafs by a 12-7 margin and had themselves a pretty solid period aside from the Gunnarsson goal. They talked about searching for that consistency prior to this one and now they need two periods as good or better than the first one.

4) Sounds like Mathieu Garon went down with injury for the Tampa Bay Lightning. If youre looking for a team that would put a claim in on 36-year-old Marty Turco and block the Bruins, its Steve Yzerman and the goaltending-starved Bolts still harboring playoff delusions.

5)Great work at the end of the first period with both David Krejci and Tyler Seguin outworking Dion Phaneuf for loose pucks that allowed Seguin to get one last shot off that hit the right post. The Bruins brought their hard hats tonight.

TORONTO Here are five thoughts from the second period with the Bruins leading the Maple Leafs by a 5-3 score after the first 40 minutes of play at the Air Canada Centre.

1)Dennis Seidenberg is quite possibly the nicest guy in the world. But hes also a beast. Colby Armstrong is bloody aware of that now after messing with him in the second period. Seidenberg finally lost it and started pounding on Armstrong before leaving the Leafs agitator dripping blood before the fight was all over. It did lead to a Leafs power play when Adam McQuaid was also called for roughing, but the point stands.

2)Two goals each for Tyler Seguin and Jordan Caron. The Bruins need the energy, pop and enthusiasm from their younger players while battling through this .500 mess that theyre in and both players have showed up in a big way today. Seguins numbers at the Air Canada Centre are getting scary when hes playing in front of his friends and family.

3)Three goals in two games for Jordan Caron and four shots on net in 9:10 of ice time along with a plus-3. Confidence is the key to any hockey player and hes feeling it right now.

4)Six hits for Lane MacDermid in 6:31 of ice time. Hes actually looked very good playing in that fourth line role on the wing. He doesnt bring the speed of Daniel Paille, obviously, but hes throwing his weight around.

5)Benoit Pouliot with two shifts and 1:43 of ice time in the second period. It looked like he has hit the pine as Lane MacDermid, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell all taking turns skating in his place on the third line.

TORONTO Here are five thoughts from the third period with the Bruins burning the Maple Leafs by a 5-4 score after 60 minutes of play at the Air Canada Centre.

1)No Benoit Pouliot on the bench in the third period. Perhaps he was hurt rather than disciplinary action. Didnt see what happened to him if hes indeed injured. Last thing the Bruins need is another injury to a winger.

2) No easy games for the Bruins for the rest of the season. Toronto showing some lift in the first period with a Mikhail Grabovski goal that beat Tim Thomas cleanly after a long stretch pass from Toronto end.

3) Tim Thomas glove hand and angles look pretty far off to the goaltending layman. Perhaps hes already showing signs of fatigue before they even really have to ride him hard this season.

4) Five blocked shots, four hits and four shots on net for Johnny Boychuk in a mans effort against the Maple Leafs. People that complain about his contract extension should watch Tuesdays game tape.

5)Tough game for Milan Lucic. A few too many giveaways, no shots on net and little involvement in the offensive zone. They cant all be gems, but Lucic just didnt have it going against the Leafs

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

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Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

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Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: Tom Brady injures right hand during practice

0:41 - Tom Brady injured his right hand during practice on Wednesday. Tom Curran, Albert Breer, Michael Holley, and Tom Giles discuss how this injury could impact Brady’s ability to throw against the Jaguars on Sunday.

6:06 - Isaiah Thomas has asked the Celtics to cancel his video tribute on Paul Pierce Night, and Pierce said that Thomas was trying to ‘punk’ Danny Ainge into a tribute video. Michael Holley, Kyle Draper, and Tom Giles debate if Isaiah Thomas or Paul Pierce is in the wrong.

11:19 - Albert Breer discusses how much credit Tom Coughlin deserves for the Jaguars great season and if Coughlin’s success against the Patriots and Bill Belichick will come into play on Sunday.

15:37 - Joe Haggerty joins BST from the TD Garden to break down the Bruins win over the Canadiens and Claude Julien’s return to Boston.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EPISODE