Patriots

Jurrell Casey could be handful for Patriots up the middle

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Jurrell Casey could be handful for Patriots up the middle

FOXBORO -- It's a tale as old as time: Pressure Tom Brady up the middle and you'll have a chance.

How much of a chance the Titans actually have against the Patriots in the Divisional Round is debatable. Vegas has them as 13.5-point underdogs. But if pressuring Brady from the interior is the key, Mike Mularkey's defense has one of the best in the game to help them accomplish that feat in Jurrell Casey.

The 6-foot-1, 305-pounder is the prototype for the modern-day interior rusher. One Patriots player compared him to Rams star Aaron Donald, who is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Like Donald, Casey isn't built like a mac truck but his combination of power and quickness make him a handful for opponents.

According to Pro Football Focus, Casey is the NFL's best 3-4 defensive end against the run and among the league's most efficient interior pass-rushers. He finished the season -- his third consecutive Pro Bowl year -- with six sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 32 hurries. 

"He’s a great player," Bill Belichick said this week. "He does a good job, very active, strong in the running game. He’s not a real long guy, but he plays with great leverage. He’s got very good quickness. He’s a disruptive player. He’s quick enough to get up field and get the edge. He’s explosive and powerful enough to knock guys back, so he can win with his quickness, win with his strength, win with his power.

"He’s a smart player, very instinctive, reads screens and misdirection plays, things like that, well. He’s a hard guy to fool. He diagnoses plays well . . . He plays hard, gets a lot of plays in pursuit, chases things down, but he hustles from the backside. He’s not really out of any play. You’ve got to block him all the way through the play."

Casey will find himself on the offensive left more often than not, meaning Joe Thuney and Nate Solder will have their work cut out for them. As the Titans like to run games and stunts with their fronts, it will be a critical for the Patriots offensive line to communicate as Tennessee varies its looks. If Dante Scarnecchia's unit can get those plays blocked, if it can allow Brady room to step up and into the pocket in order to extend plays, then the Patriots should be fine against Tennessee's middling pass defense.

If not? Things could get a little hairy.

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#FridayBag: Don't worry, you can keep your hands to yourself

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#FridayBag: Don't worry, you can keep your hands to yourself

FOXBORO - Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

MG: Hopefully that’s not needed, Casey, but I will pass it on. 

MG: BIG GAME! Sure. Why the hell not?

MG: Allie, this is a question that’s I’ve been pondering for years, or at least months . . . ok, for about 3 minutes. Tarzan has either a) been duping us all this time and actually has a job, drives an BMW and has a colonial with 2 1/2 baths or b) he’s a baby face who never hit puberty. 

MG: Mikey! Here’s a quite from Todd Wash, Jags DC, when asked about Ramsey possibly covering Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski Sunday: “I think the last thing you can do is to go into a game like this and you try and reinvent the wheel . . . Jalen is a good corner and he plays against wide receivers . . . "

So either he’s telling the truth or he doesn’t want to reveal a wrinkle. My opinion: Why waste Ramsey outside the entire game? Brady’s at his best attacking inside the numbers and even more to the point, inside the hashes. At the very least, I’d deploy Ramsey on Gronk in the red area and make Tommy boy look elsewhere.

MG: Yeah, tough injury. Jon Jones has been terrific on special teams for two years, a likely heir apparent to Matt Slater as that guy who ends up being in the Pro Bowl every year. Love almost every bit of what he brings. Would say Jonathan Bademosi will be active this week and move into that role. 

MG: Sizzle, for sure. We’ve done a lot of X’s and O’s on this one and one area where the Jags have been especially vulnerable is under the linebackers. That means running backs, that means shorter crossing patterns and that means combo platters designed to force these LBs to make a decision. Telvin Smith was targeted 13 times last weekend (according to Pro Football Focus) and surrendered 12 catches. A healthy Brady feasts on this.

MG: Goose making his #FridayBag debut. Welcome. Best matchup is Matt Patricia and his big brains versus Blake Bortles. If that kid thinks he’s going to be looking at the same thing very often, I got a bridge to sell him. Worst matchup is T.J. Yeldon on the linebackers. We’ve spent a ton of time talking about Leonard Fournette and what he brings if he’s healthy but Yeldon is both strong, shifty and can catch. With a skittish QB, Yeldon could be heavily involved.



PP: JP, checking in from the District! I'd say the chances are minimal. I would do it. You might do it. Go out on top and all that. But you and I haven't been saying for years that we're planing to work into our mid-40s. And we don't have post-retirement business plans that kind of hinge on our ability to work into our mid-40s. We also aren't about to be named MVP...of anything. We'll see, but I would be very surprised if this ends up being Brady's last season.



PP: Good question, Michael. Also a scary one for Patriots fans, I'd think. If the unexpected happens and Brady can't take the field, I think you'd have some packages in place for Chris Hogan or Jacob Hollister just in case something happened to Brian Hoyer. Hogan is arguably one of the most versatile athletes on the team, and he threw a pass (left-handed) at MetLife last year. Hollister was a walk-on quarterback at the University of Nevada. When he transferred to Arizona Western Community College, he made the transition to tight end.



PP: To me, all of these questions are related, so let's smash them all together. I do believe the Patriots will show plenty of "21" and "12" personnel in this game. That means either a) two receivers, two backs and one tight end, or b) two receivers, one back and two tight ends. In that scenario, the receivers would be -- in my opinion -- some combination of Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. I'd use the Cooks-Amendola combination most frequently unless it seems like Hogan has completely shaken the rust from his long regular-season absence. The reason it would be a good idea to use theses heavier formations -- as opposed to "11" personnel with three wideouts -- is that it attacks the Jaguars with their weaker coverage people on the field. If the Patriots deploy, say, James Develin, Dion Lewis and Rob Gronkowski in the same look, Jacksonville would likely have to respond by putting run-stuffing linebacker Paul Posluszny on the field. If the Patriots can manipulate the coverage to get any non-Develin weapon on Posluszny, that's a mismatch they can exploit. We go into further detail on how the Patriots can exploit the Jaguars' base defense -- which has struggled in coverage this season -- here

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