Patriots

Curran: 10K hit on Woodhead dirty, violent?

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Curran: 10K hit on Woodhead dirty, violent?

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
The hit that left Danny Woodhead looking like Tommy Hearns circa 1985 (if you're not sure what I'm referring to, click the link -- you'll thank me) earned Bucs safety Devin Holland a 10,000 fine. Sounds about right to me. Violent as the hit was, scary as the immediate after-effects on Woodhead appeared to be, the Patriots running back was reaching to make a tackle on a punt returner when Holland leveled him. Holland didn't deserve the 20,000 wallet-hit that more often gets doled out by the NFL for what it perceives as gratuitous hits to the head. Holland was doing his job picking off a would-be tackler. That Woodhead's little head wound up in the firing line is simple geometry (physics?). Had Holland passed up that hit, gone for a glancing attempt at a block and watched Woodhead make the tackle, the rookie free agent from McNeese State may have been losing the chance at drawing an NFL salary this year, so the 10,000 investment was worth it. Holland was docked 5,000 for a hit in the Bucs preseason opener as well, so he's got a hot streak going. Woodhead maintained after the game that he was "fine." He sat at his locker speaking with family on his cell phone. I've seen concussed players in locker rooms after games. That is not what they do. Still, the fact Woodhead had his brain and skull jumbled so radically that he lost his equilibrium after the hit gave pause. Further,a concussion suffered by Woodhead in the regular-season finale against Miami last January and the understanding we now have that players suffering concussions are susceptible to getting them more easily on subsequent hits draws more concern It will be interesting to see if the Patriots go ahead and put Woodhead on the field Saturday night against Detroit. He returned to practice this week. The Holland hit - and the one by Bucs linebacker Mason Foster earlier in the game that drew a 20,000 fine - are the kind that draw extra scrutiny these days. They are spectacular collisions that are quickly dissected in Zapruder-like fashion to determine whether a defender made contact with a defenseless player's helmet. I didn't think either hit was wrong. Woodhead wasn't defenseless; he was trying to make a tackle. For Holland to make a block that didn't contact Woodhead above the chest, he would either have to roll at Woodhead's knees or magically shrink himself to a height of 4-foot-3. And in the chaos of a punt return, blockers are running full speed looking to hit anything in a different color shirt. There was no "intent to injure." Holland didn't line Woodhead up. As for Foster's hit on Ochocinco, I'm with Ocho: just football. If you can't break up the pass, you have to ensure the receiver is separated from the ball. Again, these defenders don't have a protractor handy to figure the angle that will avoid head contact. The unfortunate by-product of the NFL's vigilance on helmet-to-helmet hits is that observers -- fans and the media -- spend inordinate time trying to determine where hits ultimately land and forget the irony that A) the defenders are paid to deliver hits that ultimately cost them money and B) offensive players sign up for these risks when they enter the league.

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?

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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