EAGLES // JAGUARS OVERVIEW
It is not in the NFL’s pattern of behavior to send marquee games across the pond, but the boys on Park Avenue did their best in this spot, sending last year’s Super Bowl champion to play the team that should have matched up against them on the biggest stage (the Jags were a too-conservative second half game plan away from reaching that game themselves). But the beauty of parity (some love it, some hate it — you can count me in the first group) is that this game has suddenly taken on new meaning. Each of these teams now sits at 3-4 — and while each does play in a wide-open division, the loser of this game is going to need to put together a hot run over the second half of the season to have any chance at repeating their 2017 success. So far, the Eagles look like the team that is far better equipped to make the turnaround, but this early-morning game will shape much of the rest of the season.
The Eagles have opened as three point favorites in a game with an Over/Under of only 41.5, and while I have read snippets that refer to the Jaguars’ defense as “crumbling,” we should keep in mind that the Jags’ defense carries the following ranks on the year:
2nd — yards allowed per game
5th — yards allowed per drive
5th — drive success rate allowed
The issue for the Jags has not been their defense, but has instead been an offense that has given the ball away 17 times (only the 49ers have turned the ball over more), leading to opponents picking up easy points against this unit. Blake Bortles will be starting again for the Jags, but he does have a history as a streaky player, and while it obviously won’t be surprising if he posts a massive dud in this spot, it also won’t be surprising if he comes out hot — leading to a more difficult game on offense for the Eagles than recent teams have had against the Jags.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
In terms of pure matchup, it doesn’t get much more difficult than the Jags, who are tied with the Browns for the second-lowest catch rate allowed on the year (behind only the Ravens), and who are just inches behind Carolina for lowest YAC allowed per reception. Jacksonville has been significantly above-average defending all areas of the field except the deep sidelines. Jacksonville is still solid defending this part of the field, but DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill were all able to hit for moderate chunk gains up the sidelines, and this is where Alshon Jeffery operates. Since returning to the field, Alshon has seen target counts of 9 // 8 // 12 // 10. Inefficiency will be the name of the game here, but he tends to get his targets regardless, and he can avoid a dud if he is able to haul in four or five of these downfield looks.
There has been a narrative this year that the Jags can be attacked over the middle because Tyler Patmon is the weak link in this secondary. (Patmon also left last Sunday’s game with a neck injury, so this narrative should intensify if Patmon misses on Sunday.) But this has not actually played out in reality, with teams constantly avoiding the middle of the field against Jacksonville and their speedy linebackers — and even when Cole Beasley popped off out of the slot, all of his receptions actually came outside the hash marks, on double-moves or extended plays. The Eagles don’t really have a double-move specialist like Beasley (the Cowboys absolutely hammered Jacksonville on those routes), and slot man Nelson Agholor is more of a one-cut-and-go receiver. Agholor has recent yardage totals of 24 // 22 // 45 // 91 // 20, and nothing in this matchup suggests an outlier game is likely.
The Saints, Raiders, and Bears are tied for the fewest receptions allowed to tight ends this year, at 20. The Jags (who — unlike those three — have not yet had a bye) have allowed 23 receptions to the position. We should be long past the point where we worry about matchup for Zach Ertz, who has double-digit targets in six of seven games (and has nine targets in his other game), but this matchup will make it much tougher for him to perform with his usual high level of efficiency. He should still get his nine or more on-the-money looks from Carson Wentz.
Dallas Goedert has seen matchup-specific usage, and it has been impossible thus far to pinpoint the matchups in which Doug Pederson will look to feature him. But with recent target counts of 7 // 2 // 2 // 1 // 5, he’s a name to keep in mind on the Showdown slate as a player who carries an absolute dud floor to go with excellent point-per-dollar upside on weeks when he is featured.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
Wendell Smallwood has quietly out-snapped Corey Clement 79 to 51 over the last two weeks, with 30 touches to Smallwood and 24 to Clement. As has been noted all season: the Eagles approach each game with an offensive game plan unique to the opponent they are facing, so this playing time distribution could shift without warning. Because each guy is roughly the same size (and the same style of player) as the other, it has been impossible to get a read on how Pederson views them from one matchup to the next. The safest bet is to assume a roughly 60/40 split one way or the other, with the fat end trending toward Smallwood lately. Darren Sproles appears on track to finally return this week (though perhaps the trip to London will give Pederson pause — leading to one more week of Sproles on the sidelines).
The Jags rank 12th in yards allowed per carry — and as always, we could take off Saquon’s long run against them and make their number look much better (4.2 yards per carry down to 3.8 — which would be tied with the Ravens for fifth in the league) — but Jacksonville has faced the fourth-most rush attempts in the NFL, as teams try to avoid passing against them. This has led to only five teams allowing more yards on the ground, creating a quietly intriguing spot for one of these two backs to post a solid game.
JAGUARS PASS OFFENSE
At this point, Bortles’ bipolar (tripolar?) act has taken him beyond the powers of foresight and quality pregame breakdowns. We can look at the usage for his receivers and the way the matchup sets up, but results will also be dependent on which version of Bortles shows up. There are basically three versions we could get: Aggressive and awesome Bortles // Aggressive and awful Bortles // Scared-and-hiding-in-his-shell, game-manager Bortles. The Jags would like Bortles to simply fill that third role, as that’s all they need in order to pick up enough wins to take down the AFC South — but Bortles often clicks over to his aggressive side, and while it’s always an adventure to watch, the results are entirely unpredictable.
What has been impressively predictable for us lately is “which Jaguars receiver sets up best for a particular matchup,” as we have nailed usage three consecutive weeks in what is thought to be an impossible wide receiver corps to figure out.
As noted last week, the Eagles are actually a bit above-average on a per-pass basis, but because teams do not like running against them, Philly has faced the sixth most pass attempts in the league. Teams primarily attack Philly in three distinct ways: wide receiver screens // sideline targets on the left side of the field (against Ronald Darby) // double-moves on the right side of the field (against Jalen Mills). As with last week (10 targets for Donte Moncrief, seven targets for Keelan Cole), this matchup sets up best for Moncrief and Cole. Dede Westbrook (four targets last week) is a candidate to see some wide receiver screens, but he’s the least likely receiver to pile up volume. All three of these guys will be dependent on the play of Blake Bortles.
Behind these guys, David Grinnage saw two targets last week in the limited Jacksonville tight end role, playing only 31 snaps as the Jags pulled D.J. Chark onto the field for 30 snaps. Chark’s usage may have been specific to last week’s game plan, but he did see seven targets, going 4-31-0. He had exactly one target in three of his previous four games, and he played behind all of Westbrook, Cole, and Moncrief last week, but his usage is worth noting for those taking deep shots on the Showdown.
JAGUARS RUN OFFENSE
Jacksonville has struggled to get much going on the ground this year as one of only 10 teams in the NFL averaging under 100 rushing yards per game as a team — in spite of Bortles contributing a healthy 31.1 rushing yards per game of his own. This week, they are taking on a Philly unit that has unsurprisingly allowed the second fewest rushing yards per game in the league. Through seven games, the Eagles have faced an average of only 19.0 rush attempts per game — by far the lowest mark in the league.
The Jaguars appear set to feature Carlos Hyde on first and second downs this week, while turning the backfield over to T.J. Yeldon on passing downs. Either guy will need to reach the end zone (possibly more than once) in order to make a dent.
On the full-weekend slate, I would not play a single player from this game, and I honestly wouldn’t have much interest in the Showdown slate even if I were a regular in those contests. If playing the Showdown, however, I would likely use this spot to simply think about game flow. For example: “What if the Eagles score two quick touchdowns with the running backs? What would that mean for the rest of the game?” In this instance, you would assume that each running back on the Eagles has a solid start and continues to be featured throughout, and you would assume that the Jags go pass-heavy afterward (from here, you could further decide whether you want to tell a story in which Bortles plays great, or if you want to instead figure out what your team should look like if Bortles struggles). Then, you could flip it around and build another roster that tells a story in which Bortles comes out hot and throws an early touchdown to Donte Moncrief. What would this mean for game flow? And what would this mean for who you should roster from there? (And so on.)
On a slate like this, the best thing you can really do is understand how the players on each team are used (above), and then build some variations on your rosters that tell different stories about how the game could play out.