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Sexton-Oehser keys: Patriots-Jaguars


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville …

Oehser …

1.The turnover battle. Beating the defending AFC Champions centers on this issue. The Patriots haven't been invincible under Head Coach Bill Belichick with Tom Brady at quarterback – and the teams that have beaten them usually have protected the football and forced the Patriots' offense into mistakes. This may feel obvious, but here's the money statistic: when the Patriots have a positive turnover differential in the Belichick era (2000-2018), their record is 143-15. When they lose the turnover battle, they're 37-42. When it's even, they're 35-17. Translation: Winning the turnover ratio doesn't guarantee you will beat the Patriots, but it gives you a real chance. If you don't win it? Look out. The good news for the Jaguars: their style offensively and defensively gives them a chance to win this statistic no matter the opponent.

2.Handling the hype, beating the buzz. A strong argument can be made for this being the biggest regular-season home game in Jaguars history. It's certainly on a short list and it undoubtedly is the biggest regular-season game in recent memory. That's cool. It's fun. It's terrific for the city. But it can't be a factor for the coaches, players and anyone involved with the team. The Patriots have been involved in more games like this than they can count – i.e., a game against an up-and-coming team in front of a stadium of fans who believe it's their team's turn to knock off one of the great dynasties in sports. The Jaguars unquestionably have the chance to do that Sunday and just as certainly have the ability. But they must focus on the moment and the game on the field. The Patriots won't be overwhelmed by the moment; they may not even be that aware that it is a moment. And they won't be intimidated by the crowd. Here's what can intimidate the Patriots: a fierce Jaguars pass rush and a defense capable of pressuring even the best offense into a miserable day. If the Jaguars make that happen, the other storylines will take care of themselves.

3.Run. There's more to the Jaguars' offensive game plan, of course. And without question the Jaguars must pass more effectively against New England than they did in the second half of the Week 1 victory over the New York Giants. But for the Jaguars on Sunday, the offense must start with the run. It was when they failed to run that the offense bogged down in the AFC Championship Game in January. This doesn't mean the Jaguars have to start running early; they may even shock the Patriots by attacking early. But at some point the Jaguars must be able to run when the Patriots know they want to run. If they can't, the rest of the offense will stagnate and put too much pressure on the defense. Can the Jaguars beat the Patriots if they struggle to run? Anything's possible, but the task will be infinitely more difficult.


1.Run the football, then run it again. I get it: I could write this every week and so could you. Even your grandmother knows you must run if you want to win in the NFL. But this week there is extra emphasis with Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette's hamstring injury – even more so because the Jaguars couldn't run in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game in New England last January when they needed it the most. Jacksonville led 20-10 with 14:52 to play; over the next 7:56 they ran five times for three yards and threw seven times for 27 yards. Had they been able to run effectively and stay in manageable down-and-distance situations they might have eaten enough clock or even added enough points that the Patriots couldn't come from behind. Five rushes, three yards … end of story. The Jaguars are a running team; in fact they are the NFL's best running team. It's more their personality than it is the Steelers, who like to think of themselves as the league's ground-and-pound franchise. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles will have to throw Sunday; Belichick has a way of getting you to do what he wants you to do. But if they can run the ball effectively they can ignore Belichick's desires and stick with their game plan. They couldn't run the ball in New England in January. Can they run in Jacksonville in September? The answer will likely determine the winner.

2.Be in the right place at the right time: "Do your job" could be another title for this one. Safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church were each slightly out of position in January and Brady beat them – throwing to wide receiver Danny Amendola on third-and-18 on the game-winning drive and the game-winning touchdown pass. This isn't just on the safeties, though with tight end Rob Gronkowski they're definitely in the crosshairs; everyone in the back seven must understand the defensive game plan – and execute. Brady, in his 19th NFL season, sees everything. He also has the ability to make you think he doesn't – then after looking a player off, he comes back to the miscue and exploit it. You can't cheat on Brady. You must be where you're supposed to be when you're supposed to be there.

3.Hit him, then hit him again: Brady may be the best-conditioned 41-year old on the planet, but he's old by NFL standards. The Jaguars' front seven caused Giants quarterback Eli Manning headaches in New York despite only sacking him twice. You know what Jaguars ends Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell can do off the edge; recall that end Dante Fowler Jr., who returns from suspension this week, notched two of the Jaguars' sacks of Brady in January. The key is pressure from tackles Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus and Abry Jones up the middle. Manning sidestepped the edge pressure but struggled when it came right at him. Like Manning, Brady wants to stay in the pocket – and for the most part is courageous and comfortable there. He won't be with Jackson, Dareus and Jones driving offensive linemen into his legs. The pressure up the middle must get home and the Jaguars' defensive line must punish the oldest player in the game over, and over and over.

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