Thursday, August 10, 2017

Big Plays, Patriots' Gaffes Help Jags to Preseason Win

All Matt Patricia could do is shield his eyes against the debacle unfolding in front of him.

Granted, it was his New England Patriots' defense's first preseason game, and hardly any of the players he had available to him had any sort of impact during last season's championship run, and most were still in college - but it goes without saying that he had to have higher expectations than what he actually got.

The bane of his existence on a warm, mid-August evening in Foxborough, Massachusetts wasn't the second and third team offensive units of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who put up most of the Jags' total yards, rather, it was his own players who gave up the chunk plays that the Patriots are usually so good at avoiding.

As a result, backup quarterback Chad Henne went 5 of 6 for 139 yards and third-year back Corey Grant carried the ball eight times for 120 yards, leading the not-as-explosive-as-the-Patriots-defense-made-them-look Jacksonville Jaguars to a 31-24 win over New England at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night...

...because if you take away the chunk plays - Henne's 97 yard bomb to rookie Keelan Cole and Grant's 79 yard touchdown run right through the heart of the Patriots' defense - their numbers were average and ordinary as Henne went 4 of 5 for a pedestrian 42 yards and Grant 7 carries for 41 yards. Even third string quarterback Brandon Allen got in on the fun, hitting rookie wide out Dede Westbrook with a 42 yard scoring strike to provide the winning margin.

Those chunk plays accounted for nearly half of Jacksonville's 447 total offense, and came at the expense of a secondary missing all of it's starters.

Both touchdown passes came with second-year corner Cyrus Jones in coverage with third-year safety Jordan Richards over the top.  Jones lost Cole in man coverage when he looked back for the ball, and didn't have the recovery speed to catch him, giving up at about the 20 yard line, then later looked as if he was releasing Westbrook to Richards in zone, but on both plays, Richards was nowhere near the play.

Even worse was safety Richards's form on Grant's touchdown rumble, buying an shoulder feign from Grant, getting turned around in the box and allowing Grant the sideline where he easily outran the entirety of the Patriots secondary.

But despite all of the issues with the defensive depth, the Patriots offense moved the ball well and matched Jacksonville score for score until a fumble by Patriots' running back D.J. Foster broke the pattern and gave the Jaguars the advantage, the only real surprise being quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing nearly three quarters of football before relenting to third-string passer Jacoby Brissett with less than five minutes left in the third frame.

Always the gamer, Garoppolo shined with a nearly perfect 22 for 28 performance for 238 yards and two scoring tosses while six different backs combined for 116 rushing yards on 29 carries.  Brissett went 8 of 13 for 88 yards in a little over a quarter of uneven work - not bad for an offense that, like the defense, was giving it's starters the night off in order for the coaching staff make some initial impressions of their depth players.

Two players that made immediate impressions were tight end Jacob Hollister, who flat owned the seam against a Jags' safety corps that had just as rough a night as the Patriots' blue liners did, putting up a seven catch, 116 yard stat line that was a game high for either team, while wide receiver Austin Carr hauled in five balls for 44 yards, one for a touchdown in which he elevated in the back of the end zone and came down with the tough grab.

K.J. Maye also found paydirt, taking a bubble screen from Garoppolo and showing good vision in traffic, weaving through a maze of defenders to go five yards for the score, while running back D.J. Foster found the edge on a three-yard touchdown run after previously putting the ball on the ground and ending a Patriots drive inside the red zone.

There were few bright spots on defense, though strong safety Damarius Travis had a strong game in the box, contributing three tackles and a pass defended.  The linebacking corps was the best unit on the field all evening with solid performances by veteran Jonathan Freeney, second-year load Elandon Roberts and versatile rookie Harvey Langi, all of who were flying to the ball.

The teams exchanged field goals in a measured performance for both, but after a beautiful coffin-corner punt by Ryan Allen that pinned the Jaguars inside their own five yard line, Henne went right after Jones on the first play - Cole baiting Jones to look back for the ball, then angling him off to gain separation, then taking the pass in stride and easily outdistancing Jones to the end zone.

After the next Patriots possession stalled, Ryan got off a flat punt that was returned to midfield, four plays late rookie back Leonard Fournette finding paydirt from one yard out to give the Jags a 17 - 3 lead,

Garoppolo responded on the next series, running off nine plays in less than two minutes and moving the offense 76 yards, capping off the drive with Carr's high-wire, trapeze catch in the back of the end zone to cut the Jacksonville lead to seven going into the room, then tied the score early in the third quarter on the screen to Maye.

Gordon's explosive run off left guard gave the lead right back to the Jaguars, then Allen took advantage of Foster's fumble, hooking up with Westbrook seven plays later to run the Jacksonville lead to two scores - and Foster's three yard scamper late in the game got the game close, but it couldn't make up for the turnover that ended what promised to be the tying drive earlier in the half.

Belichick is giving his charges a couple of days off to rest and recover before meeting up with the Texans for some joint practices next week leading up to the second preseason game for both next Saturday in Houston.

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