J.C. Jackson continued his hot streak last week against the Falcons and will look to build on his excellent year against a Titans passing offense that may not have their top receiving weapon, A.J. Brown. Over the last three games, Jackson has three interceptions and five passes defensed, as he leads the cornerback position in the initial round of Pro Bowl voting.
After grabbing nine interceptions a year ago, Jackson has six this season as his ball skills continue to show up no matter who Jackson is playing with or against.
"He puts a tremendous amount of effort into his ball skills," said cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino earlier this week. "He has very natural hands as you can see on the catch near the sidelines [against Atlanta]. He's got soft hands, but he also puts in a lot of effort in between. 'Mike, come throw me a ball, Mike, let's do this, Mike, let's do that.' It's a direct correlation to his effort and willingness to get better or be the best at what he wants to do."
"A lot of times his back's to the ball when it leaves the quarterback's hands, like the interception he had against the Jets," said Bill Belichick when asked to describe what makes Jackson's ball skills so outstanding. "Plays like that, where a receiver comes out of his break and you're a defender trying to cover the receiver, and then find the ball, be able to catch it, get his feet down in bounds. Plays like that. That was a pretty good play. He tracks the ball well in the deep part of the field. Anticipates well."
Jackson is playing this season on an RFA tender contract after making the team in 2018 as an undrafted rookie free agent. Jackson said he loved being a Patriot and was leaving the contract stuff up to his agent while he kept his focus on football.
"I love playing for the New England Patriots," said Jackson. "Playing under coach Belichick I have grown as a football player since I've been here, I would say I've learned the game. As you know it's a lot of older guys on this team, I have picked up a lot of knowledge from these guys who have been in this organization for a long time. I love it here, it's a place they brought me in and gave me a chance from day one. I would love to be a New England Patriot for a long time.
"My main focus this week is Tennessee and that's it. The contract and everything else, it's going to take care of itself."
The secondary will be looking at a severely diminished Titans attack. Julio Jones is on IR and A.J. Brown was already ruled out. Jackson had high praise for the receiver.
"A.J. Brown is a big-time receiver," said Jackson. "He's pretty good with the ball in his hands, he's a big guy, strong kid. He's elite. I'd say he's one of the top receivers in the game."
Even without Brown and Jones, the Patriots defense will still need another effort like they've been putting together recently.
"It's it married all up together," said Jackson of how the defense has come together. "You got a good pass rush, we're playing good coverage, you're gonna make some plays."
Belichick: Seymour, Wilfork, Harris all in his Hall of Fame
Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork were named Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalists this week and while Rodney Harris was left off the list, Bill Belichick said during his Friday press conference that all three players would be in his own Hall of Fame.
"For me, those are two [of the] best defensive linemen that I've coached," said Belichick of Seymour and Wilfork. "Vince was a phenomenal player, and he was quite different from Richard. Richard was a phenomenal player and quite different from Vince, but both very dominant in their own way and kind of in their own position, even though Richard played nose his rookie year and Vince played end his rookie year.
"Again, in my Hall of Fame, those two guys are there without a doubt."
As for Harrison, Belichick made the same case.
"I think that Rodney Harrison one hundred percent belongs in the conversation," said Belichick. "I've coached safeties that have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame, not taking anything away from them, but certainly Rodney Harrison belongs in that conversation, and he certainly belongs in the conversation with other players that are already there."
Five Points of Emphasis vs. Titans
- Win the Trenches: There's plenty of praise to spread around during the Patriots' five-game winning streak, but how the offensive and defensive line are simply winning the line of scrimmage has been most impressive. This might just be the biggest factor against the physical Titans, who also look to exert their will at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots' defensive front is cooking with gas right now, as they're mixing disruption and line control and keeping offenses off balance, while the offensive line has been excellent no matter what kind of play they're executing.
- Put it all on Tannehill: The Titans released Adrian Peterson this week as they continue to search for post-Derrick Henry answers, his absence changes a lot for the Titans offense but when they don't beat themselves (see last week), they can be opportunistic as banged up as they are. A strong start from the run defense will quickly put pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is coming off a four-interception game after throwing more than 50 passes. The Titans are 2-4 when Tannehill throws more than 30 passes and he's 1-6 against the Patriots in New England, with six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the only win, he needed to complete just eight passes because Henry rushed for 182 yards. If the Patriots can contain the beleaguered Titans rushing attack it should yield returns in the next point:
- Don't Stop the Turnover Party: The takeaways have been coming in bunches in recent weeks and have played a significant part in the Patriots' win streak, as they now lead the league in interceptions with 18. Nothing can change the complexion of a game like a takeaway followed by a score. It's the kind of complementary football the Patriots thrive off of and this week, with the pressure on Tannehill, they should be able to keep the things rolling.
- Post-Thanksgiving Execution: With the passing of Thanksgiving, the most critical part of the football season is upon us and with it, the Patriots should continue to round into form, building off their recent success that has been largely predicated on reliable team play. Earlier in the year things were often a little too sloppy with turnovers and penalties, while the defense wasn't quite able to make a couple clutch stops. Now is the time to really start putting it all together, with clean, tough football and players stepping up to make the critical plays.
- Win: It takes just one look at the standings to realize how big this game is. They're hot right now and rising up the standings, but it only takes one off day to derail all of that. The Titans are still a tough, well-coached team that will bring the fight. These are the kind of big games that define the season, and this one has a connection and recent history as added layers of intrigue. It would be as big a win as we've seen in Foxborough in a long time.
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots had full attendance at Friday's final practice of the week, including Christian Barmore and Trent Brown who were both listed as not having participated in Thursday's session. The Patriots did not rule anyone out but do have a list of 10 questionable players.
The Titans ruled A.J. Brown out in a big break for the Patriots secondary.