Patriots

Collinsworth: 'Mr. Kraft, take the lead'

191543.jpg

Collinsworth: 'Mr. Kraft, take the lead'

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

Cris Collinsworth, the leading Chicken Little in terms of prognosticating labor peace, sounded a clarion call Tuesday for Patriots' owner Robert Kraft to grab the reins in negotiations with the players. Using Kraft's Saturday remarks at Gillette Stadium as a springboard, Collinsworth -- an analyst on NBC's Sunday Night Football -- wrote a blog entry entitled "Robert Kraft: We Need You!"The fact that Kraft signaled concern for the aggravation level of fans is what caught Collinsworths's attention. The former Bengals great wrote, "Now is when we need rational men like Robert Kraft to step forward. Mr. Kraft was a fan long before he became an owner. He is a terrific family man who can see the same view of this process that we are all watching. Please Mr. Kraft take the lead. There are other owners who will be pushing various agendas, but as a player, I would trust Robert Kraft to make a fair deal. I really would. So far Mr. Kraft has not been willing to take the lead, probably because the Hawks always get the most attention. But Kraft is liked and respected by almost everyone in the NFL. He is tough but fair. The players would listen to him. Tom Brady could be the point man. Lawyers be gone. There is a deal to be made, and the time is now. Please Mr. Kraft, take the lead."This isn't exactly a novel concept. Mike Vrabel espoused Kraft, Jerry Richardson and Jerry Jones summiting with a few key players and kicking the lawyers out of the room to get things done. Hasn't happened. But Collinsworth is right; Kraft is not interested in seeing the players left bleeding on the ground. He's not of a mind to "break" them. And I can give you one anecdote why not. Last month, when a breakaway group of players began insisting it be involved in the labor wrangling, Vrabel said that the members of the NFLPA executive committee and its director, DeMaurice Smith, had things under control. Only thing was, the NFLPA had decertified. So Vrabel's articulating that seemed a costly faux pas. I saw Kraft that day at Gillette Stadium and asked -- in essence --if Vrabel's statement would be used as a sword by owners. Kraft waved his hand dismissively, returning to his oft-stated belief that rancor and litigation isn't going to get it done nor will chasing moths like the statement Vrabel made. Kraft does need to take a more forward role. The problem is, while the players may want to see that happen, there are so many agendas among the owners, it may be just too damn hard for them to send out one lone voice to speak for all of them.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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