Patriots

Wilfork: 'We weren't ready to go'

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Wilfork: 'We weren't ready to go'

Focus on the bottom line if you'd like, but the Patriots will examine every millisecond of their 23-16 win over Jacksonville. Only one more game stands between New England and the playoffs; any weaknesses exposed now, after almost an entire season of work, are troubling. 
Vince Wilfork certainly isn't satisfied with the defense.
"I dont know if we were flat or what, but it showed that we werent ready to go right away," the nose tackle said Sunday evening. "When that happens we really have to buckle down and play football. I think sometimes we did, sometimes we didnt."
The Jaguars steamrolled New England's defense on their first series of the game. Quarterback Chad Henne completed all six of his pass attempts in the nine-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. 
Jacksonville's 202 total first quarter yards are a franchise record. The team went up 13-3 (it would have been 16-3 if not for a missed 43-yard field goal) in the second quarter before New England really began to claw its way back in. 
Per usual, there were a couple of gaudy gains. 
Henne found Jordan Shipley for a 36-yard gain as time ticked down on the first quarter. Henne put an exclamation on the end of the frame with a 53-yard connection with Montell Owens. The Patriots allowed seven plays of 17 or more yards, including two on third down and one on fourth down. 
But the defense did tamp down.
"They gave us a little different approach offensively," head coach Bill Belichick said. "We made some adjustments once we kind of saw what they were doing. I think our players and coaches, we all got a better look at it. They did a good job starting the game off with a little different style and they were able to get the advantage on us but I think eventually we settled down and handled it."
Jacksonville was forced to punt on four of its last five drives. 
The biggest Patriots stop came in the fourth quarter when their 23-16 lead was in jeopardy. The 'D' was staring down a third-and-1 play on its own 1-yard line. An offsides penalty on Jacksonville's Zach Potter made it third-and-5 on New England's 5. That's when rookie Dont'a Hightower sacked Henne back to the 11. On fourth-and-10, fellow rookie Chandler Jones got after Henne, bothering the QB's throwing arm enough to create an interception for safety Patrick Chung. 
The game ended with Chung's second interception, this time on a jump ball in the back of the Patriots end zone. 
It was a good enough effort in the end. And you can add a few asterisks, if you're inclined. Both linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were inactive due to injury. Cornerback Aqib Talib's bad hip pained him enough that he grabbed it after every play. The lack of secondary depth moved Devin McCourty back to corner and got Chung more snaps at safety. 
New England's defense saw a lot of rotation in general. 
Perhaps having Belichick dip into the bench earlier, and more often than usual made it difficult for the unit to get into a rhythm. Either way, inefficiencies against the NFL's 31st-ranked offense surfaced on Sunday. 
And the Patriots won't want to see it in the playoffs. 
"Im proud of the way that we responded, but at the same time at the end of the day, it wont be good enough," Wilfork said. 
"Plain and simple."

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