New England Patriots

The Jaguars red zone offense should be taken at least a little bit seriously. They played surprisingly efficient football in the red area during the 2017 season. And the hope for the Patriots is that they simply keep them away from that part of the field.

The red zone is a topic worth discussing, despite the fact that the Jaguars employ Blake Bortles as their starting quarterback. Because the main problem most Patriots opponents have on offense is stalling out in the red zone. Trading field goals for touchdowns. If the Jaguars continue that trend, they’re toast.

But if their red zone numbers in the regular season are any indication, then maybe the Jags have a good chance to actually get the ball in the end zone in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Foxboro. The Jags led the league with 5.49 points per red zone appearance, while the Patriots finished third with 5.30, according to Football Outsiders. Jacksonville also scored more touchdowns per red zone appearance with .653 (second in the league), compared to the Patriots’ .609 (fourth). How about touchdown-to-field goal ratio? The Pats and Jags finished tied in that category at 1.30.

And as widely ridiculed Bortles is as a QB, his personal red zone numbers aren’t bad, either. He posted a 103.5 passer rating in the red zone in the regular season. It’s a good number on paper, but it’s actually the worst of the remaining four QBs in the playoffs. But he did rank fifth among the final eight playoff signal-callers in that category, better than Ben Roethlisberger (95.4) and Matt Ryan (89.2).

In the playoffs, he’s 2-for-4 for 15 yards and both completions went for touchdowns. Obviously a stupidly small sample size, but hey, two TDs on four attempts.

Jaguars Red Zone Offense: How Will They Score?

Leonard Fournette could lead an elite Jaguars red zone offense against the Patriots. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars dives into the end zone for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field on Jan. 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

As surprisingly good as the Jags’ red zone numbers are this season – particularly Bortles – they’ll need Leonard Fournette to help them in that area. He scored the second-most red zone rushing TDs (10) in the league (behind only the Rams’ Todd Gurley with 12). But that’s unlikely against the Patriots in Foxboro, especially considering they allowed the second-fewest rushing touchdowns in the league this season (6).

And of course, there are caveats to this whole thing. As efficient as the Jaguars were in the red zone, they weren’t nearly as efficient in general. They finished 13th in points per drive (1.9), while the Patriots finished first with 2.69. The Jags ranked 15th in TD per drive with .204 (the Pats also finished first in that category with .289). They also finished 13th and 15th in interceptions and fumbles per drive, respectively.

Strength of schedule could also come into the discussion here. But Football Outsiders also ranked the Jaguars ahead of the Patriots in terms of difficulty against opposing defenses. The Jags’ opposing defensive DVOA ranked 20th, compared to 29th for the Patriots offense.

Jaguars Red Zone Offense: What Does This All Mean?

So clearly, based on these numbers, Bortles won’t have much of a chance to complete long drives down the field to get into the red zone in the first place. The Patriots simply need to kick the ball deep and pin them back and force Bortles to work his way down the field, like they usually do.

But on the other hand, it only makes it more important for the Patriots to avoid turning the ball over. The last thing they want to do is give the Jaguars short fields. Because the Jags have already proven that if they can get within the 20-yard line, they have a better chance of hitting pay dirt than you may believe.

The Patriots may ultimately have to beat themselves in order to let the Jags keep pace, but they could have something of a challenge if they have to face the Jaguars red zone offense. It’s up to the Patriots to just keep them as far away as possible.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.