Lloyd has earned Brady's confidence


Lloyd has earned Brady's confidence

FOXBORO -- It's taken a few weeks, but Brandon Lloyd and Tom Brady are starting to apply the chemistry they were brewing during training camp to game days.

That fact became clear in Sunday's game against Baltimore, when the pair connected on a perfectly timed back-shoulder reception in the first quarter. It's a play they'd failed to complete a few times in previous weeks.

Lloyd now leads all receivers in catches (22) and targets (33) through three games.

The man could be giddy with excitement over his apparent assimilation, but Lloyd kept any or all of that to himself, as Lloyd is wont to do.

"It is what it is as far as being covered and the execution of the routes, but I feel like we're making progress."

Brady said there's good reason for the connections to continue.

"I have a lot of confidence in Brandon," the quarterback said. "Hes certainly earned it, with his work ethic and his ability to come in here and really digest all the information that hes gotten and developing chemistry with the other receivers. Hes made a lot of big plays for us early in the year."

When asked to expand on the relationship, Brady was far from effusive. It seemed he didn't feel the midst of a two-game losing streak is a good time to shell out merit badges.

"I think that were still working at it. We have a long season ahead of us. Weve made some plays; weve missed some. Were 1-2, so our chemistry in terms of our offense and what were doing isnt very good in general. Were going to try to make some improvements this week and try to see if we can do a better job against a good defense. Theyll really challenge us in all areas with their pass rush, with the secondary and way that they cover, theyre up tight and they jam you and they want to be physical. Its not like there are a lot of easy yards out there."

Here's the rest of Lloyd's Q&A with reporters:

What do you feel is the key to better execution in the red zone?

BL: "Practice."

How close do you think you guys are to reaching your potential? Tom Brady and Deion Branch were saying that with just a few more points of execution, things will be clicking.

BL: "I don't know what the exact points are, but I just know that I need to do my part, you know, running the correct routes and making the plays when I get tapped to be productive in the red zone."

How would you describe the situation this team's in right now at 1-2?

BL: "I don't think I have an answer for that."

How big is this game coming up in Buffalo?

BL: "All the games are big. It's a divisional game, so it's important."

What's your reaction to the controversial conclusion of Monday night's Seattle-Green Bay game?

BL: "No reaction."

How good did it feel Sunday night to be in the flow of the offense? The wide receivers seemed to have a good night.

BL: "It seemed normal. All the stuff that we practiced we were able to go out and execute."

Can you feel the rhythm getting better and better with more game reps?

BL: "Yeah, it's about having success on Sunday's and again, continuing to practice as best we can to recreate those situations."

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?


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.


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


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.