Patriots

Haggerty: Ten thoughts from Bruins-Rangers

671736.jpg

Haggerty: Ten thoughts from Bruins-Rangers

BOSTON -- Here are five thoughts from the first period with the Bruins trailing the New York Rangers by a 2-0 score after the first 20 minutes at TD Garden.

1) Heavy first period that the Bruins werent shying away from, but still found themselves down a pair of goals after a power play score and a bad bounce off Zdeno Chara in front of the net. Important to see how the Bs are going to bounce back in the middle 20 minutes after not getting a couple of breaks.

2) Zdeno Chara having a tough time here tonight against the Rangers: three giveaways, a penalty that led to a Rangers goal and a puck that bounced off him and into the Boston net. If Chara has a tough night that usually means the Bs are going to struggle as well.

3)The more I think about it the more I love a Mike Knuble move for the Bruins with a big body in front and a constant motor running. He can also slide up and play in place of Nathan Horton if he struggles to come back from the concussion.

4)Another strong game for Ryan Callahan against the Bruins with a strong power play goal right in front of the net. Does anybody doubt that Callahan would be a Bruins killer in a potential playoff series between these two teams.

5) It appears Claude Julien has switched his forward lines back: David Krejci skating with Milan Lucic and Rich Peverley while Chris Kelly has slid back down to the third line. Didnt really spark much in the opening 20 minutes.

Here are five thoughts from the second period with the Bruins trailing the New York Rangers by a 2-0 score after the first 40 minutes at TD Garden.

1)Amazing how much energy and effort it takes for the Bruins to get even a simple offensive shot off through the tall New York defensemen and interior defense. Thats a team its virtually impossible to overcome a two-goal deficit when theyre playing on their game.

2)David Krejci has three shots on net, but is a 1-for-8 on face-offs tonight. A little bit of a mixed bag for the center, who is clearly skating hard and looking for his offense.

3)Rangers have blocked 12 shots to Bostons six tonight. Thats not a shock. Such an impressive part of New Yorks game protecting Henrik Lundqvist in front of the net. Then the Swedish All-Star goaltender is making the big saves as he did with noggin on a Zdeno Chara blast when it gets through them.

4)Not enough involvement for Brad Marchand, who seems to get lost in these games against the big, strong Rangers defense. No shots on net in 12 plus minutes and not enough bad brat behavior to frustrate the Blueshirts in the second period. He hit the side of the net after taking a perfect pass through traffic from Tyler Seguin in the middle of the period.

5)Shawn Thornton has attempted to challenge Brandon Prust a couple of times in this game, but Prust wants no part of it with a two-goal lead. Understandable actions from both parties there.

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

jaguars_steelers.jpg

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.

MORE - Bortles earning respect from teammates, Patriots

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

best_of_bst_podcast.jpg

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