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Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Jaguars

12.22.12 at 9:56 am ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Jaguars game:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Running back Stevan Ridley against linebacker Paul Posluzny: Despite an otherwise terrific season, Ridley put the ball on the ground four times this year, including once last week against the Niners. Posluzny is a big, physical linebacker who has forced a pair of fumbles on the season. When it comes to ball security, it should be a good test for Ridley, who still has a shot at a unique plateau with two games left in the season: he can be the first New England running back since Corey Dillon in 2004 to hit the 300-carry mark, and he also has a shot at finishing over 4.0 yards per carry. If he can hit both, he’€™ll join an elite group of backs who have turned the trick over the last five years. Since 2007, only 11 different running backs have managed to carry 300 or more times while averaging at least four yards per carry.

2. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork against center Brad Meester: While we’€™ve lauded linebacker Brandon Spikes for being a huge part of New England’€™s success against the run this year, it’€™s becoming more and more evident that the Patriots’€™ stout presence is due to the work of Wilfork up front. The big fella continues to dominate in the trenches, and will have another opportunity to be a tone-setter Sunday afternoon a Jacksonville offensive line that has allowed 42 sacks on the season (tied for fourth in the league) and has struggled to provide protection for quarterback Chad Henne (or whoever else has been under center).

3. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Justin Blackmon: After an occasionally rocky start to his rookie season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound has started to come on nicely over the last month with 18 catches in his last four games to give him 51 receptions on the year, to go along with 707 receiving yards and three touchdowns. (His best game this season came in a loss to the Texans, where he had seven catches for an amazing 236 yards, both of which were career-highs.) While he won’€™t be matched up exclusively with Blackmon, Talib will likely receive the bulk of the duty opposing the rookie out of Oklahoma State. Talib, who has 17 tackles (11 solo) and a pick in his relatively brief career with the Patriots, has teamed to form an impressive corner-safety tandem with Devin McCourty that has worked well in recent weeks, particularly when it comes to baiting quarterbacks and receivers into throws that are eventually picked off. It’€™ll be interesting to see if they have anything special planned for Henne and Blackmon.

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: Cecil Shorts III. The wide receiver out of tiny Mount Union — who New England was sniffing around during the predraft process in 2011, thanks mostly to the fact that he was one of the best at the combine in the 3-cone drill — has world-class speed, and that’€™s translated into some nice numbers this season with the Jags. In his second season in the NFL, he has 49 catches for 925 yards and seven touchdowns, to go along with an 18.9 yards per catch average, second-best in the league. Not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s someone who can do an excellent job when it comes to getting behind a secondary. ‘€œThey do a good job of trying to get him in different spots, whether it’€™s a matchup or a particular pattern they’€™re looking for, but he’€™s definitely a guy that can create a big play and someone that obviously is gaining trust with the quarterback and building that relationship,’€ Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Shorts. ‘€œ[He'€™s] a guy that will go up and get the ball and catch it and be able to turn plays that may be a shorter route on paper, but the application on the field turns into a bigger play than they thought.’€

5. By the numbers: (tie, both courtesy of Nuggetpalooza): The Jaguars have sacked opposing quarterbacks on just three percent of passing plays this year, the lowest percentage in the league and on pace to be the fourth-lowest percentage since 1970; Jacksonville’€™s defense has been called for 15 personal fouls this season. Only Baltimore, with 17, has more. Six of the Jags’€™ personal fouls were for roughing the passer, tied with Denver for the most in the league).

6. Quote from the Jags regarding this Sunday: ‘€œWell, that would make a lot out of our season. Obviously, we want to go in and try and win every game, but against a great opponent. It’€™s a great test for us — it’€™s a great resiliency, where if we put one together and can win this game, it shows a lot people how we are improving and coming along as a team.’€ – Henne on whether or not the Jaguars are embracing the role of spoiler this week against the Patriots.

7. Patriots fans should be worried about’€¦.. their own special teams, particularly when it comes to kick and punt coverage. Last week, the Niners’€™ average starting field position was their own 46-yard line, and two costly plays stood out: first, in the first quarter, with the Niners facing a 4th and 10 at their own 46, they executed a perfect punt fake, with up man Dashon Goldson taking the snap and shooting around left end for a 31-yard gain. Another special teams error came in the fourth quarter, right after New England had tied the game at 31. That’€™s when San Francisco kick returner LaMichael James delivered a 62-yard jolt that gave the Niners fantastic field position. One play later, San Francisco cashed in with a 38-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree to give the Niners a lead they wouldn’€™t relinquish. The Jaguars aren’t especially proficient when it comes to returns, but this could be a good opportunity for New England to tighten things up before the start of the postseason.

8. Jags fans should be worried about’€¦. where to start? We’€™ll keep it simple: Jacksonville is 31st in the league in total defense (allowing an average of 394.1 yards per game), 32nd in the league in run defense (the Jags give up an average of 148.1 rushing yards per game), 29th in the league in points allowed per game (27.4) and 28th in the league in third-down defense (teams convert at a rate of 41.8 percent of the time). Whatever defensive metric you want to apply to them, it’€™s clear they have issues. That doesn’€™t bode well for a team going up against an offense that is at or near the top of the league in most major categories. Even if they don’€™t have Rob Gronkowski, New England shouldn’€™t face much resistance when it comes to moving the ball up and down the field.

9. One more thing: For the Patriots, this game is really about mental toughness. On the road, two days before Christmas, against a team that is struggling to close out the season. New England needs to keep its eyes on the prize, and simply take care of business. Get out of Jacksonville with a win and with nobody injured, and you’€™ve done your job.

10. Prediction: This game has a lot of similarities to the contest between the Patriots and Rams earlier in the season — New England is going up against a young opponent that is clearly overmatched. And while that St. Louis team had a lot of potentially disruptive players on the defensive side of the ball, aside from Posluzny and (potentially) defensive end Jason Babin, the Jaguars have no defensive difference makers. Jacksonville should be able to make a little noise in the passing game, but the fact that Maurice Jones-Drew is out will render them one-dimensional. It would be hard enough for Jacksonville to win this game with MJD — without him, it’€™s a fundamentally impossible task. The Patriots win this one, 47-10.

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