Gritty Jaguars finding ways to pull out wins
An AFC scout sizes up the Jaguars:
“[David] Garrard’s resilient, but he’s not the most accurate passer. He wills the offense to win some of these games. Earlier in the season, he didn’t have as much help. With the two young tackles [Eugene Monroe, Ebon Britton] playing better, he’s still making some mistakes, but he’s getting more time. And with guys like [Mike] Sims-Walker, he’s got some more young weapons.
“With [Maurice Jones-Drew], he’s short, but he’s so quick and powerful and explosive, it’s tough to bring him down. He’s got that low center of gravity, so sound tackling is key. It’s difficult. He’s got good vision, and that’s important, because he hasn’t had a stellar line, and he still puts up nice numbers, making those cuts.
“Torry Holt has a little bit left, not a lot. His better years are gone, but he provides veteran leadership, and he allows the young receivers to be successful, shows them what he sees. He’s a veteran presence, and he does make some plays. The speed’s not there anymore, but his hands are still good. You can see the age, and so you focus on Sims-Walker.
“You’ve got to respect Sims-Walker. He’s developing. I remember he was hurt in college, so guys missed on him. He needs to be more consistent, but he’s a taller, longer guy who can go get it. [Marcedes] Lewis can stretch the field too, he’s another long guy, but is inconsistent as well. He’s more of a slot tight end, they get him wide. He’s still developing. He’s getting better as a blocker.
“With the tackles, it’s still a process, but playing against [Dwight] Freeney twice, Mario Williams twice, speeds that up. Watching them on tape, they were all over the place early, and now you can see it coming together.
“They drafted [Derrick] Harvey so high, and he hasn’t panned out to what they wanted him to be, so their pass rush is struggling. Plus, [Rashean] Mathis has been hurt, so that makes things worse. [Justin] Durant’s a good linebacker; they have some decent players but they don’t have those elite guys.
“You don’t see the same hard-nosed, aggressive team they had been in the past. It’s a little smoke-and-mirrors. Their thing is finding a way to win games. It’s not one of the tougher Jack Del Rio teams, but they’re getting better with a lot of young guys in the mix.
“They are some players away from being what they had been, guys like Mike Peterson are gone, but you can’t take them lightly. You can see [Del Rio] is a good coach with what he’s been able to do.’’
2. One area in which the Patriots defenders struggled against the Bills’ running game early was setting the edge. Tully Banta-Cain lost outside containment on 7-yard and 6-yard runs, which allowed Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch to turn the corner. That was compounded by missed tackles and the inside linebackers struggling to get off blocks without Vince Wilfork in there to draw double teams. The latter problem persisted, but the Patriots cleaned up their problems on the outside, which probably wasn’t an adjustment as much as coaches’ emphasis. Pierre Woods and Banta-Cain got better as the game went on, and Adalius Thomas made his presence felt in this area.
3. Dan Koppen has struggled some against the league’s bigger nose tackles, so some of his work Sunday was encouraging. On three straight plays on the Patriots’ first touchdown drive, it showed up clearly. A 9-yard Laurence Maroney run was sprung off Koppen’s right side as he controlled Marcus Stroud. Then, Kevin Faulk went for 7 yards out of the I-formation with Koppen riding Kyle Williams (a nightmare for New England to deal with all day) out of the play. After that, the Patriots converted on second and 3 with a 4-yard run by Sammy Morris, made possible because Koppen neutralized linebacker Chris Draft.
4. Last week, a big Brandon Meriweather mistake led to a Steve Smith touchdown. But another one Sunday was tougher to swallow. In the fourth quarter, the Patriots sent seven rushers on fourth and 8, so the defense had little behind Meriweather, in man coverage on Bills receiver Josh Reed. In that spot, he absolutely has to make the tackle. And he didn’t. He went for the kill shot against Reed, who was a college tailback, and still runs like one. So Reed keeps his feet, and 29 yards later, it’s a ballgame. Part of what makes the best safeties so good is knowing when and where not to drop the hammer. This was the time to wrap up and get the guy to the ground.
“You can watch Chris play and see him do all the things that that position does,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “Even lining up in the backfield, he’s done that some. The inside motioning, the perimeter off-the-line plays, the on-the-line plays. I think he has a pretty good feel for those things, the wham blocks, the flash blocks, where they come all the way back, the point of attack blocks.
“I think he’s a pretty versatile guy and that helps you in the running game, so you’re not always doing the same thing with that player and it makes the defense have to defend the blocking combinations.’’
Baker’s ascension as a blocker was a big reason the Patriots signed him in March, and it happened as a means of survival from his early NFL years.
When he arrived in the league from Michigan State, it was with the reputation as a catch-first, block-never player. And that wasn’t going to fly in a Jets offense that wasn’t going to feature the tight end.
“My first year in New York, I think I caught two passes,’’ Baker said. “So I really started honing my skills, as far as blocking, to get on the field, because they didn’t use a tight end in the passing game my first couple of years. So it was, ‘Let me get on the field and do what I can,’ and I got better and better.’’
A big part of it, for Baker, has been taking a hard-nosed attitude to this kind of work, particularly when arriving in New England and having so much learning to do in the passing game.
“I’ve learned the last couple of years, it’s a lot more about attitude,’’ Baker said. “My technique now, compared to what it was a couple of years ago, probably isn’t what it was because I don’t work on it as much here as I did in the past. So it’s the attitude of going out and doing it.’’
And as Maroney & Co. can attest, he’s done it.
Albert R. Breer can be reached at email@example.com.