I had to go back to the 2005 season to think of a game comparable to what I felt last Sunday.
13 years ago, the Eagles lost a Monday Night Football game 42-0 to the Seahawks. A win would have put them at .500 and in the NFC wildcard hunt. Instead Seattle’s defense scored three touchdowns and my adolescent mind exploded with unrealized expectations. Koy Detmer was the Birds QB1 in that game so my optimism was ridiculously flawed, but it still hurt. However, that Panthers game takes the top spot for regular season heartbreakers.
The play-calling down the stretch left me scratching my head as well as the execution from players on both sides of the ball. The offense has lacked that “killer mentality” all season and the defense is breaking and not just bending in crucial moments. Even Carson Wentz can be faulted in this one as he continues to refuse to acknowledge his checkdown receiver in crucial moments.
From that game to the Derek Barnett injury, it has not been a fun week to be an Eagles fan. But I’m going to take a page out of Bill Belichick’s book. At 3-4 midway through the season and the division completely up for grabs, we’re on to Jacksonville.
The 2018 version of the Jaguars’ defense has been a shell of last season’s unit. The team returned almost every starter from 2017 besides now retired linebacker Paul Posluszny. On top of that, the defense has not suffered any major injuries thus far. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell is questionable status for Sunday with a stinger which happened last week. Maybe the defense misses Posluszny’s presence and leadership, leading to mismatches and blown assignments. Maybe it’s their offense’s porous play that leaves them on the field for too long. My best guess is that it’s a combination of factors, starting with their run defense.
During their three game losing streak, the Jaguars have allowed a 100+ yard rusher in consecutive weeks. On the season they are giving up over 120 rushing yards per game (25th in the NFL). However Jacksonville’s weakest area is where the Eagles have been struggling recently.
Over their last two games, the Birds have averaged barely over three yards per rush. Besides Jay Ajayi, no running back has surpassed 60 rushing yards in a game mainly due to the committee approach. But when the whole committee is struggling, who do you turn to? I don’t expect Darren Sproles to be back before the bye week, so once again either Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, or Josh Adams will have to step their game up in London.
The Jaguars pass defense is once again top notch. They still are 1st in the league in passing yards allowed per game (179.7), but that number has ballooned to over 200 yards during the past three games. Jacksonville’s defense remains primarily a matchup single high look with Jalen Ramsey shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver.
While Alshon should draw this matchup, don’t be surprised to see him line up on Zach Ertz for a good portion of the game. Finally, Wentz needs to take advantage of their matchup defensive scheme by utilizing his legs when no receivers are open. His true escapability has yet to be on full display this season. The Jaguars are the perfect team to do it against with their linebackers and secondary’s aggressive style of play.
Most Important Player(s)
This game feels like a make-or-break situation for the Eagles sitting at 3-4 on the year. With the bye week upcoming, a win over in London followed by a nice trip back and several days off would do wonders for this team. On the other side, losing four out of their last five games heading into the bye would cause a lot of questions to be answered.
It was a very sad week for me as I’ve been a Jason Peters super fan since he joined the Eagles. I tried to positively spin some of his subpar play this season, but I just can’t anymore. The Bodyguard is showing true strength by playing through torn biceps right now. No one expects your top-notch performance each week but Peters has been below average at times. Big V is one of the most confusing young players on the Eagles when he fills in for Peters who’s ultimately sidelined once a game.
In order to establish the always important edge at the line of scrimmage, I’m looking at the unsung heroes on the interior offensive line. Jason Kelce, needs to come up big once again as he has all season long. Kelce is having yet another dominant year at center and needs to be at his absolute best against this weak Jacksonville run defense. His running mate on the right side, Brandon Brooks, needs to go into beast mode from the first snap. He’s one of the best run blocking guards in football and needs to prove it in London.
On the left side, Isaac Seumalo’s name was not mentioned during the Panthers game, which is a great sign for an offensive lineman. While the jury is still out on Seumalo as the future full-time left guard in my opinion, stringing together two great performances certainly would boost his confidence greatly.
If those three can control the line scrimmage and create holes for the limited running back committee, the Eagles will be in good shape. However it does not matter who your quarterback is if you cannot protect him or run the ball efficiently. The backs not only have to produce in the run game but also improving in picking up blitzes to give Wentz just a few more seconds to hit a receiver.
As for my player prediction, I am going with the optimistic route. Because the Jaguars play press matchup coverage on most downs, I think Wentz will scramble for over 50 yards including a touchdown and some key first downs to ice the game. Also, we are in London, so Jake Elliott may be in for a huge kicking day.
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