On the surface of things it would appear to be ideal timing for the Eagles to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are mired in a 3-game losing streak during which their offense has basically disappeared.
The Jags have got their best tackles and tight ends hurt. They have lost their best running backs (Leonard Fournette and Corey Grant) to injury (hamstring and Lisfranc, respectively). Blake Bortles has looked lost at times and has been making some weird in-play decisions at QB. No doubt that HC Doug Marrone will dumb down his offense against the Eagles, getting the ball out of Bortles’ hand as quickly as possible, and push, push, push the ground game and swing-pass game. Marrone believes if he can grind it out, keep the scoring low, and win time-of-possession and field-position contests, he’s going to beat the Eagles in London.
Marrone won’t come out and say it, either, but he’s banking on the “home field advantage” the Jaguars feel they have by virtue of their traditional experience with doing the London thing.
“Having gone through it a few times, you kind of understand what’s going on,” Jags right guard A.J. Cann said. “It’s not really new to you. I would agree [that it’s an advantage], but we still have to adjust to the sleep schedule and the time [difference]. But I would say, yeah, we get to understand how it works [and that helps].”
They’ve got their overseas travel mechanics down. This will be the sixth consecutive year the Jaguars have played a home game in London and the fourth year in a row in which they’ll leave Jacksonville on Thursday evening. The Jaguars arrive in London on Friday morning, make a brief stop at their hotel, and then head to their designated practice field to have their normal Friday light workout/walk-through.
They settled on that schedule in 2015 after spending a week in the United Kingdom in 2013 and 2014. They’ve not lost since, beating Buffalo, Indianapolis and Baltimore. All three teams were making their first trip overseas to play — as is Sunday’s opponent, the Eagles.
“Being a guy that’s been to London twice, I think it’s just more so about your just finding your sleep pattern, because they’re five hours ahead of us,” said defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who will be making his third trip. “Once you find that sleep pattern you should be fine, because your body should get adjusted and ready for game day.”
Having London native Jay Ajayi along for the trip could help mitigate the unknown factors for the Eagles. Although Ajayi’s season as a player is over (knee), he can show his teammates the ropes needed to adapt to time zone change, what to expect in terms of long bus trips to the stadium, and all the other things that threw the Ravens for a loop last year when they got pounded by the Jags, 44-7, on their very first London experience.
But I digress. The biggest obstacle facing the Eagles in London is the #2 overall-rated defense of the Jaguars.
This is an angry group of young men in the Jags’ defense meeting room. They are so pissed off at their own offense (and at coach Marrone for continuing to trot out Blake Bortles at QB) that there are altercations spilling out into the clubhouse locker room.
I am more than concerned that the Jacksonville defense wants to take their current frustration out on us.
Their defensive motivation is to prove they can neutralize our offense and thereby render their own offense harmless to the cause—being the second-class citizen, if you will, compared to the Jacksonville defense.
Free safety Tashaun Gipson on Wednesday spoke of the difference in the Jaguars’ defense this season compared to last season. While the unit ranks No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 1 in passing defense, the defense also allowed 23 points to Kansas City, 40 to Dallas and 20 to Houston. While many of those points – including 10 against Houston – came after the offense committed turnovers deep in Jaguars territory, Gipson said the Jaguars still need to “crack the Da Vinci code, get out of this sunken place and start playing our type of football. Over the last three weeks, specifically the last two, it’s just been downright bad football played on our end. We talk this talk … going out there and playing weak and laying eggs is unacceptable.” Gipson was asked about the Jaguars having played with a “chip” on their shoulders last season. “That chip is what drove us and fed us last year,” Gipson said. “Guys aren’t playing with the same chip and it’s not specifically singling out anybody. It’s just collectively we’re not playing with that type of urgency, that type of aggression – and it’s starting to show. You can tell teams are comfortable now against this defense whereas last year teams weren’t comfortable. Teams are testing us, and great teams respond to that.”
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson on dealing with frustration after a three-game losing streak: “You have to go out and there and do your job. That’s all you have do to. We understand what it takes. We understand what it means to be angry and channel that energy in the right way. It’s not at anybody or anything. It’s about the way you go about your work next week and in the game.”
Look out, Eagles fans— this defensive group from Jacksonville is fired up.
One of the Jaguars’ biggest beefs on defense is Bortles and his offense keep putting the D in deep field position holes with turnovers. The Jaguars have committed 17 turnovers while the defense has forced just five turnovers.
Bortles and his O group have not given their defense much margin of error lately, either. The Jaguars were outscored 57-0 in the first halves of the last three games.
On a similar note, Carson Wentz and the Eagles O have been struggling a bit on 3rd down plays and on scoring opportunities in the red zone. Could this end up a perfect storm of frustration for both teams in London?
There’s a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball for Jacksonville. This will not be an easy challenge for the Eagles offense. Ultimately it must be the Eagles offense which rises to the Jaguars’ defensive challenge—because any offense the Jaguars get is reluctant and unlikely—like house money.
Check out the highly drafted talent on the current Jaguars defensive depth chart:
|DE||Yannick Ngakoue||Dante Fowler Jr.||Lerentee McCray|
|NT||Marcell Dareus Abry Jones||Eli Ankou|
|DT||Malik Jackson||Taven Bryan|
|DE||Calais Campbell||Taven Bryan||Dawuane Smoot|
|WLB||Telvin Smith Sr.||Blair Brown|
|MLB||Myles Jack||Donald Payne|
|SLB||Leon Jacobs||Lerentee McCray|
|LCB||Jalen Ramsey||D.J. Hayden||Tre Herndon|
|FS||Tashaun Gipson Sr.||Jarrod Wilson||Cody Davis|
|SS||Barry Church||Ronnie Harrison|
|RCB||A.J. Bouye||Tyler Patmon||Quenton Meeks|
Man, that defense is loaded. This game is going to be anything but a European vacation for the Eagles offense.