SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Jaguars lead the series, 3-2. The Eagles have won two in a row.
PREDICTION: JAGUARS 23, EAGLES 21
NOTES, QUOTES –
Receiver Nelson Agholor averaged 12.4 yards per catch on 62 receptions last season. This year, he has 38 receptions, but the average yards-per-catch has dropped significantly, to 8.5.
“I think a lot of the situations that you’re talking about there's tight coverage there, so it's a completion and a quick tackle,” said offensive coordinator Mike Groh. “Could he break a tackle? I guess, without examining each one here in this conversation. But a lot of times it's tight coverage and it's a tight-window throw, and he's been making the catches and then he's been tackled. Again, he is a guy that we know is a playmaker for us and we love his talent and his ability and what he brings to this offense. Got to continue to try to find ways to get him the ball down the field.”
The Eagles defense knows the Jaguars have been outscored 57-0 in the first half of their last three games, all three losses, and it is a trend they will try to prevent from ending.
“That makes them more dangerous,” said defensive end Brandon Graham. “They’re trying to get things fixed just like us. I feel like this week is going to be who plays the best D. Our defense has to outplay their defense. We know they have a really good defense, and we can’t let the Jaguars get started with us.
Things haven’t been going the way they’ve wanted it to, but overall they’re still in the running for themselves and I’m sure they have goals they’re trying to get to just like us, so we have to make sure we don’t get them started and we have to keep grinding and keep enjoying the process and not look ahead too much because there’s still nine games left.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 6. Number of fumbles Carson Wentz has had in five games this season. “We emphasize it and we talk to him about it, and obviously pocket security is really important and he understands that,” said Groh. “We're obviously not tackling in practice, so it's one of those things that you just have to continue to emphasize until you get the results that you want.”
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL PLAYER NOTES:
Second-year defensive end Derek Barnett had shoulder surgery on Tuesday and is out for the season. He was added to the team’s lengthy list of players on Injured Reserve, including running back Jay Ajayi, receivers Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins, and safety Rodney McLeod. With Barnett out, rookie fourth-round pick Josh Sweat from Florida State will get more reps. Sweat has been active for the last three games but has played just 15 defensive snaps in those games.
“I think he's done a great job,” said Pederson about Sweat. “He's working the service team, working his reps there, and he's getting time with the D-line. (He) does a great job. I think he's explosive off the ball; he's long; has been around the passer; can be disruptive. This will be a great opportunity for him.”
With slot cornerback Sidney Jones out with a hamstring injury last week, and likely to miss Sunday’s game, too, Dexter McDougle, who was signed prior to last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers, was on the field for 48 plays last week (81 percent of the defensive snaps). Meanwhile, cornerback and 2017 third-round pick Rasul Douglas did not play a single snap on defense.
“Dexter was with us last year and was our backup nickel, and with Sid being week-to-week, we thought it was best to plug-and-play one guy in there rather than layering and moving a lot of different guys in there, so that was probably the biggest thing,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “Dex did a good job in coverage. I’d like to see his tackling a little bit cleaner. I think it's probably a little bit to be accepted, a little bit of the cost of doing business when you get a guy that hasn't played in the last month.”
Schwartz added the team thinks Douglas’ skillset is better suited for outside corner rather than in the slot or at safety.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will be a game-day decision after being listed as questonable on Friday. He has missed the previous three games with a calf injury. His return would be a welcome sight on many levels, since Fletcher Cox has been playing more snaps that Schwartz would like and Ngata would give the Eagles a veteran presence up front. Last week, they had to give extensive snaps to Treyvon Hester (34 snaps, 58 percent of the snaps) and Bruce Hector (21 snaps, 36 percent). Both Hester and Hector started the season on the practice squad.
“It's what you have,” said Schwartz. “I don't want to say it's like drawing cards, but you play poker, you get the cards that you get. You can't turn all five of them in. You've got to play your hand. I thought those guys did a good job in the game. Bruce got back and got his playing time back but they were around the quarterback. I thought they did a good job staying active in the pocket. Some of our pressures, those guys were right around either keeping the guy from stepping up or making him counter step, and I thought they both handled themselves really well.”
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Zach Ertz. The Eagles tight end is having an All-Pro season. He ranks second in the NFL in receptions (57), trailing only Adam Thielen (67)., and ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards – and first among tight ends – with 618, behind Thielen (822), Julio Jones (708), DeAndre Hopkins (707) and Tyreek Hill (635).
Ertz joins Ben Coates in 1994 (51 catches, 744 yards) and Mike Ditka in 1964 (50-617) as the only tight ends in NFL history to produce 50-plus receptions and more than 600 yards receiving through the first seven games of a season.
GAME PLAN: The Eagles defense will try to shut off the Jaguars’ running game, which probably means stopping Carlos Hyde. Hyde was acquired last week in a trade, but did not dress for last Sunday’s game. Leonard Fournette will likely miss another game with a hamstring injury, but Hyde and T.J. Yeldon (4.1 yards per carry) figure to be a handful.
If the Eagles run defense can limit the Jags’ runners that will force Bortles to make plays, something he hasn’t been able to do much of recently.
One of the biggest challenges, though, will be the adjustment to playing overseas, which is something the Jaguars won’t have to worry about.
This will be the sixth game Jacksonville has played at Wembley Stadium, so it is reasonable to assume the Jaguars are familiar with the logistics, the time change, the crazy 9:30 a.m. (ET) start, which is 2:30 p.m. London local time.
“The biggest challenge is these next 48 hours, just making sure you’re taking care of yourself then honestly making sure you’re able to sleep on the plane then staying awake the next day,” said Jacksonville coach Doug marrone on a conference call with Eagles media on Wednesday. “That’s it right there. It’s not rocket science.”
The Jaguars are 3-2 at Wembley, but own a three-game winning streak there, including wins over Baltimore on Sept. 24, 2017 (44-7), Indianapolis on Oct. 2, 2016 (30-27), and Buffalo on Oct. 25, 2015 (34-31). During the three-game winning streak, Jacksonville has eight takeaways to only one turnover.
The Eagles are treating this game no differently than they would a trip to play a team in California or Seattle. They are scheduled to arrive in England at 7:30 a.m. Friday then hold a practice at Wembley.
“We had an advance team way back when the schedule came out,” said Pederson. “Did a lot of the legwork up front behind the scenes. A lot of credit goes to them for the preparation and hard work that they've done. And then really just being able to educate the players. Spent some time (Tuesday) talking to them about this trip and giving them all the details up front so that they can put that behind them and just focus on Jacksonville this week and their preparation. So we're all set. It's been a seamless process. Practice today and tomorrow here, and fly over just like we would on a normal road trip.”
QUOTES TO NOTE:
“After the (Carolina Panthers) game, guys were distraught,” said Ertz. “As tough a loss as I’ve had in my five plus years here. Thing about this team, guys love playing football, we’re a resilient bunch. We typically play our best when everything’s kind of stacked against us, when our backs are against the wall. We had a really good day of practice today, love the game plan going into the game this week.”
“A lot of teams, they've studied us and had time to kind of prepare,” said Pederson when asked about his RPO (run-pass option) attacks which haven’t been as successful as they were last year. “I think you go back to what Pittsburgh did to us in the pre-season. Teams play a little more zone, especially teams like last week with very aggressive, fast linebackers.
“This is going to be the same type of defense. They're very aggressive. They got a lot of speed at their linebacker position, so they can run. So dependent on what you do, whether you give the ball or throw the ball, a lot of times defenses are right there to make the tackle, so we're not seeing the yards after catch like we did a year ago.”
MATCHUPS TO WATCH – Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery vs. Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey. The chemistry between Jeffery and Wentz continues to grow, and the duo has connected for four touchdowns in the four games since Jeffery’s return to the lineup. Jeffery is averaging 12.1 yards per catch on 25 receptions and has 14 touchdowns in his last 16 games overall. Ramsey, though, is one of the game’s best corners and the Eagles are expecting him to be on Jeffery throughout the game.
“What a tremendous player, tremendous talent,” said Pederson about Ramsey. “He's aggressive. With him, he's big, physical, so he can play bump and run. He can run. He's great at the top. He's smart. This guy is very instinctive. It's a challenge and will be a challenge for Alshon going into this game.”
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz vs. Jaguars safety Tahsaun Gipson. Ertz is the team’s leading receiver and has been a handful all season long for opponents. He has yet to play against a talented cover safety like Gipson, though. “Probably the best cover safety that I’ll go against this year,” said Ertz.