Patriots

Eagles are desperate and dangerous

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Eagles are desperate and dangerous

FOXBORO - There's no getting around the fix the Philadelphia Eagles have put themselves in. The paper champions of August are 4-6. Another loss and this season that began under the Dream Team banner will quite likely be trending toward nightmare.

On Wednesday, four days before the Eagles will take on the Patriots in Philly, Eagles head coach Andy Reid stiff-armed talk that asked about his team's desperation level.

"It seems like every week in the National Football League is a do-or-die game," said Reid. "Thats kind of how you approach it I think from a coaching standpoint.

But to be 4-6 after all the expectations?

"You know what? I dont get into all that. I just get into I think as coaches youre problems solvers," he explained. "You get in and you try to figure it out and make sure you put the guys in the right position and coach your guys up thats kind of what you do. Theres no time to look back or look forward you get so entrenched in the moment and making sure you get that right."

In this particular moment, the Eagles are coming off a huge NFC East win over the Giants. But all that did was, essentially, extend their season. The Cowboys lead the division at 6-4. The Giants, tied record-wise with the Cowboys, aren't even a Wild Card team currently. The 7-3 Lions and Bears hold those. So the Eagles have to win their division. Too much ground to make up in the Wild Card race.

They are desperate. And, as Sunday's win showed, they are dangerous even with Michael Vick nursing broken ribs and the newly reconditioned Vince Young directing the offense.

In some ways, it's appropriate Young now has to try and cover the checks his mouth wrote when he somewhat innocently used the term "Dream Team" to describe the collection of talent Philly amassed.

Reid wanted no part of the long-since stale Dream Team talk on Wednesday.

"I dont worry about all that. I dont worry about that stuff," he said. "Ask somebody else on these questions. Im a very simple guy, so I dont get into all the whole philosophies and things and all that stuff."

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, signed as a big-ticket free agent after finally leaving the Raiders, gave his take on the nickname.

"I didnt think anything of it when I first heard it," he explained. "I just thought it was Vince talking about how he felt and how he was excited and how it was like a dream come true, something like that. You learn very quickly how things can get spun. I mean I think we all got a lesson in that after that statement he made. Then it turned into us just being cocky and us being over-confident and saying way too much, etc, etc which we were never doing. No one ever took it like that when he said it. It was just something like that hes always looked forward too or hes happy to be in this situation."

No Eagle is happy to be in the situation they now find themselves. They must know kick the lid off the coffin and climb out.

"We knew from the start that things dont happen overnight," said Asomugha. "We knew that expectations were going to be great and it was going to be assumed that we would be undefeated, but we knew there was going to be some work to be done. Everybody was ne, everybody was learning, and coaches included. We just needed to be real with ourselves and I think it becomes a bigger issue when you think about what the expectations have been and rightfully so.

"We try to keep it in perspective between what those expectations have been and what the reality of the situation is," Asomugha added. "When you bring a team together you have to build them. The team has to build and there has to be chemistry and they have to gel before things start to happen. You think you are going to play like what people would call an all-star team or something like that and you should just win every game, but not everybody got to be on the same page.

"You see teams over the years win many games and even Super Bowls without the most talented players, but those type of teams have been in the same types of systems for four or five years. Theres been a growth period that has finally clicked for them. So, thats pretty much what weve been hoping for and experiencing that moment for when it just clicks, which has happened in several games this year. It just has to happen for the entire game and we got to make it happen every game."

This week, it's the Patriots the Eagles have to step over if they want to keep their season alive. And then they have to do it again and again and again. They have to make it happen, as Asomugha said, every game.

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