By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
After reviewing the All-22 coaches film from Patriots-Jaguars, two main problems plagued the Pats in Week 2. On offense, they missed the limited opportunities they had to score more points. And on defense, the same problems that doomed them at the end of 2017 resurfaced.
That’s not to say that these problems can’t be fixed. Also, the Jaguars basically admitted that they treated this game like it was the Super Bowl. The Patriots, on the other hand, seemed to be treating it like an experimental phase at times. It would be over-the-top to declare that this is what the Patriots will be moving forward.
Still, there were some glaring issues in the game that need to be corrected. Here’s what we took away from our film review that the team will no doubt be working on in the coming weeks.
Missed Opportunities In Red Zone
Overall, the Jaguars defense had the Patriots offense under control. It started with the pressure up front. And besides a stunt here and there, the Jags’ pass rushers didn’t do anything too exotic. They simply beat their guys up front, especially on the edge. Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue were menaces.
The pressure ended up severely affecting Tom Brady’s timing and decision-making. Their coverage was strong, especially in man-to-man, but it wasn’t perfect. New England’s first drive looked promising, driving 39 yards to the Jacksonville 36 in just over three minutes. But it came crashing down on 3rd-and-6, when Ngakoue burst through cleanly on a stunt to rush Brady’s errant throw off his back foot. Brady could’ve hit Chris Hogan with a cleaner throw, but he also had Cordarrelle Patterson wide open over the middle:
One of the Patriots’ biggest missed opportunities came in the second quarter, when the Patriots had themselves a 16-play, 83-yard, eight-minute drive to nowhere. This was the drive where the Patriots started to get into a rhythm, and that was mainly because the Jaguars started playing zone with big cushions on whoever was split out wide. Brady picked them apart with in-cuts and curl routes to Phillip Dorsett and James White. But it was in the red zone where the Jaguars tightened up.
The Patriots did get a field goal out of the drive, but the touchdown was there to be had. That was no more evident than on a completion to Dorsett, who had to corral a Brady throw that was behind him. That extra second gave Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith enough time to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars had already sped Brady up to this point. If Brady hits Dorsett in stride, he has a good chance to get in the end zone:
On the play before that, Brady forced a ball to Dorsett when he had James Develin open in the flat and White near the first-down marker. Those weren’t guaranteed first downs, either. But it was a sequence that showed how the Jaguars’ ferocious defensive front forced Brady to think and throw faster than he wanted to.
It didn’t get much easier in the second half. Although the pressure wasn’t as consistent as it was in the first half, Brady didn’t appear comfortable with the tiny windows that the Jaguars were giving him. Even if it looked like he had space to throw, Jacksonville is as good as any defense at closing quickly and minimizing the damage, if not breaking up the pass entirely.
That hesitation showed up on Brady’s third-down scramble, which did result in a first down. But it’s obviously not ideal for Brady to have to run for the line. Still, Brady didn’t have to. Dorsett had separation over the middle and White was open at the sticks.
Arguably the most disappointing missed opportunity came early in the fourth quarter, just after the Patriots had intercepted Blake Bortles to set up Brady at the Jacksonville 25-yard line. On a first-down incompletion to White, Brady had Gronkowski and Hogan open to the right. Gronkowski would’ve had only rookie safety Ronnie Harrison to beat in order to get a first down with a chance for the end zone. Instead, Brady targeted White, who had both linebackers all over him.
Two plays later, Fowler strip-sacked Brady to give the ball right back to the Jaguars.
Jacksonville certainly did an excellent job up front, and they mixed up their coverages with the linebackers and safeties. Gronkowski didn’t get open often; safety Tashaun Gipson did a great job blanketing him 1-on-1, despite standing at only 5-foot-11. Even Gipson was surprised Brady still didn’t try to give Gronk a chance to go up and get the ball in those spots. And on the rare occasions where Gronk did get open, Brady didn’t throw him the ball.
Missed opportunities don’t tell the entire story of the Patriots offense in this game. But they whiffed on a few key chances in the red zone that could have had the game much tighter in the end.
Same Old Problems On Defense
The Jaguars already knew how to attack the Patriots defense back in the AFC Championship Game. This time, they did it for a full 60 minutes. The utter lack of pressure and poor edge control on the Patriots’ defensive line, especially after losing Trey Flowers to a concussion, was the main reason why Blake Bortles was able to play out of his mind. This is what happens when this defense goes up against a quarterback who’s slinging it effectively out of a clean pocket.
But the problems went beyond the first level. The Patriots’ linebackers and safeties still lack the side-to-side speed to consistently keep up with running backs and tight ends in space. Rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley may have it, but the Jaguars smartly didn’t target him when he was on the field. They exploited Kyle Van Noy instead, and Patrick Chung also had trouble keeping pace with tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins and James O’Shaughnessy.
The Jaguars’ first two touchdown drives can be chalked up to the receivers just playing their best football. Keelan Cole made a spectacular one-handed catch with Eric Rowe draped over him, but then burned Rowe soon after for a score. Before that, Donte Moncrief reeled in a perfect Bortles throw with Stephon Gilmore stuck to him in the end zone.
The second half opened things up more for the receivers in the short-to-intermediate areas. It’s clear that the Patriots defense as a whole is still a work in progress when it comes to defending bunch formations and crossing routes. They completely lost Moncrief over the middle when they started with him to the left and trips on the right. Nobody followed Moncrief, leaving only safety Nate Ebner (!) in the area to tackle him. The play resulted in a penalty on the Jags’ Andrew Norwell, but it was still emblematic of the Patriots’ coverage issues that Jacksonville exploited all afternoon.
The Jaguars’ route-running burned the Patriots one final, backbreaking time on Dede Westbrook’s 61-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put Jacksonville up 31-13. Slot corner Jonathan Jones lost Westbrook right off the snap, and it didn’t get any easier when a blocker pushed Gilmore back into him. Jones couldn’t slash his way through the traffic, leaving Westbrook with no one close to him. It marred an otherwise decent second game for Jones.
These problems should be fixable for the Patriots defense. Hopefully Flowers doesn’t have to miss much time, which will obviously make the edge defense much better than how it looked for the majority of the game. The secondary also showed good communication against the Texans, so their issues against the Jaguars have a chance to be corrected.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing they can do to change their linebackers’ lack of side-to-side speed (especially compared to Jacksonville). And it’s on Eric Rowe to simply play better 1-on-1 than he did, because there’s no clear No. 2 corner option besides him. After a strong Week 1, the Patriots defense looked closer to the group we saw in the Super Bowl. It remains a work in progress to truly improve upon the end of last season.
— Chung got picked by Westbrook in the end zone on Seferian-Jenkins’ touchdown late in the second quarter, which kept momentum and control of the game on the Jaguars’ side. It should have been offensive pass interference, because Westbrook blocked Chung more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. It’s no excuse for the Patriots defense, but it’s a frustrating observation for those who would like to see more consistency out of the officiating.
— Chris Hogan had a better day than anyone could’ve imagined. He got real separation from Jalen Ramsey on a slant to score his first touchdown of the game, and got open more often than you’d expect against the Jaguars’ excellent secondary. The Patriots still aren’t in an ideal position with Hogan as the No. 1 receiver. But it’s encouraging that Hogan not only wasn’t completely wiped out, but got open and found the end zone.
— Two games in, Dont’a Hightower isn’t impacting the game like we’re used to seeing. He’s losing snaps to Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley. And when tasked with attacking up front against the Jaguars, he got stuffed. He also got blocked on the edge on a pair of early chunk runs for T.J. Yeldon. Hightower is going to need to be better, because his return was ostensibly the biggest offseason addition for the defense.
— The Patriots still have some question marks on defense, but Stephon Gilmore isn’t one of them. On the catches he did give up, including the Moncrief touchdown, he was tight in coverage. He made a couple of big plays in the second half that gave the Patriots life. His forced fumbled felt like the start of an epic comeback. The secondary has some things to figure out in the coming weeks, but they at least know they have a reliable, playmaking No. 1 corner.
— Rookie running back Sony Michel didn’t do anything extraordinary in his NFL debut, but he did flash some of his potential when he got the ball. He showed legitimate power and burst on a rugged 15-yard run that helped set up a Patriots touchdown. And on a few plays that were broken up at the point of attack, he was still able to power ahead and turn nothing into short-to-medium gains. And perhaps most importantly, he didn’t fumble. It’s clear that Michel will eventually emerge as the Patriots’ most dynamic option in the backfield.
Next film takeaways will come after the Patriots take on the Detroit Lions in Week 3.
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 email@example.com.