FOXBORO — While everyone is focused on trashing-talking cornerback Jalen Ramsey, there’s another group of Jacksonville Jaguars whose bite is worse than their bark.
Last year, the Jaguars finished second in the NFL with 55 sacks — one behind Pittsburgh for the league lead. Last year's group had four dangerous pass rushers — Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks), Yannick Ngakoue (12 sacks), Malik Jackson (eight sacks) and Dante Fowler Jr. (eight sacks).
The defense returns the same dangerous pass rushers this weekend and one – Ngakoue – looks like one of the most promising defensive ends in the NFL. In two seasons, the 23-year-old has 20 total sacks. In the Patriots much-anticipated matchup this weekend, the Pats know they’ll need to keep an eye on this dangerous edge rusher.
“I guess you’d have to be blind to not see him on film. He’s a dynamic player,” center David Andrews said. “He’s got a lot of variety of rush moves he can do with a very good skill set. He’s definitely a tough player and that’s why he was so good last year with what he did."
Last year, the Patriots pass protection was up-and-down in the AFC Championship Game against the Jaguars, as Tom Brady was sacked three times and hit seven times overall. In his lone quarterback hit, Ngakoue showed why he’s one of the best defensive ends in the league.
At 13:28 of the second quarter, the Patriots offense was saddled with a third-and-11. Ngakoue was lined up at the right defensive end spot opposite of left tackle Nate Solder. In this instance, the Pats pass protection wasn’t bad. Brady had over 3.5 seconds to throw the ball. The problem with this Jags defense, however, is that their secondary is talented enough to cover long enough to allowed their pass rushers to get to the quarterback.
Solder did a solid job of blocking Ngakoue, but the end was quick enough to bounce off the initial block and circle back past left guard Joe Thuney and Andrews. He hit Brady as he released the ball and pass fell incomplete. The Pats ended up punting.
“He's a really good speed rusher that has more than speed, but he wins with speed and he makes you defend the speed and then he sets up other things off of that,” Bill Belichick said. “That’s definitely his go-to move, is his get-off and his edge rush and his speed. But when you overplay that, he’s quick enough to come underneath. He can turn speed into power and he can counter, so he's certainly got enough to be a problem in a lot of ways.”
Ngakoue's turned into one of the better picks from the 2016 NFL Draft. Selected in the third round, 69th overall — nine picks after the Patriots drafted Cyrus Jones. His speed, combined with the talented players around him, make for a tough matchup for any offensive line.
Last weekend, the Patriots offensive line stepped up to the challenge of the Houston Texans and allowed just two sacks and five quarterback hits. This weekend, it’ll be interesting to see who draws Nagkoue more — the left tackle or right tackle. Trent Brown will certainly be there at left tackle, but right tackle is a bit of a mystery. Marcus Cannon has been limited with a calf injury. If he can’t play, it’ll be up to LaAdrian Waddle.
Both Waddle and Brown know it won’t be easy to stop Ngakoue and his fellow defensive linemen.
“He’s an explosive player. Good rusher. Good combo of speed and power,” Waddle said. “Definitely fast off the edge. He’s a talented rusher. Young and up-and-coming guy who can get to the quarterback and cause some problems if we’re not on top of our game.”
“He’s got a lot of energy. Another good pass rusher, as you would expect. It’s the NFL,” Brown said. “[We need to] handle our business, use the technique Scar teaches us every day and hope for the best.”