As game planning continues both in Jacksonville and New England, there are fascinating parts to the Jaguar defensive challenge on Sunday.
We’ve already discussed the possibility of DB Jalen Ramsey being matched up some or a lot with TE Rob Gronkowski for portions of the game.
Equally as big, is trying to figure out just who the Pats will use in the backfield Sunday.
As usual, the Pats have a plethora of running backs at their disposal, and they all have played a role at some point this season.
Free agent acquisition Mike Gillislee started the year as the man, had a three-touchdown game in the opener, but fumbles cost him his role and he’s been a healthy scratch at various points this season. Gillislee had only one game in the last eight (Week 15 vs. the Bills) where he was active and had even a single carry. He did so six times for 28 yards and a score.
Next is Rex Burkhead, who has used his scrappy play to cut out a lead role, and he did have eight combined rushing and receiving TDs this year. However, a knee injury cost him his spot but, he and the Pats hope he returns Sunday. He didn’t play in the last three games of the regular season or in last week’s playoff win over the Titans.
The Patriots have seen Dion Lewis (photo above) come alive over the past few weeks in Burkhead’s absence to take over that lead back role. He carried it 26 and 24 times in the final two regular season wins and 15 times in the playoff win over the Titans.
James White, the Super Bowl hero last year, enjoyed a successful game against the Titans showing he can still make an impact, but he only has 43 carries on the year. His specialty is catching the ball, where he had 72 catches in the regular season.
Oh, and Brandon Bolden, who offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went to and also scored a touchdown last week with four carries for 27 yards.
It’s clear the Patriots have a variety of weapons in the backfield, and we have seen over the years it’s hard to game plan against one particular back when facing Bill Belichick.
If in fact Burkhead is able to play, that is a big pick up for the Pats. He and Lewis would figure to play the most with White trickling in, mostly on third down.
If there is any weakness to the Jags defense, it would be running backs and tight ends. Pittsburgh’s Vance McDonald had ten catches for 112 yards last week, and LeVeon Bell had a solid day, including a great TD catch despite some questionable play calls.
You could also see a running back split wide some (White and Burkhead do this a bunch) to try to open up the whole field. You get 53 yards of width on the field. So, why not use all of it to your advantage.
The Problem, the Jags, will face Sunday is you just never know what you’re going to get from the Patriots behind Brady.
With so many weapons that are built and do the same kind of things, the Jags will need to be up to the task of determining who is in and how to stop them.
It won’t be simple. That’s the Patriots for you.
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