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Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Philadelphia Eagles primer: Key matchups, storylines, predictions, and more for Week 8

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The Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) travel across the pond to test their mettle against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) at Wembley Stadium in London at 9:30am EST.

The game will be broadcast on NFL Network and will be a guinea pig experiment for a four man booth with Rich Eisen, Michael Irvin, Steve Mariucci, and Kurt Warner.

UNIFORM WATCH: Back in black for the funeral.

Opponent

London has never hosted a game between two teams with winning records, and that tradition will continue this week. The Eagles have the exact same record as the Jaguars heading into this game (3-4), but their 3-4 feels a lot different than the Jags’ 3-4. The Eagles have lost all four games by less than a touchdown, and that certainly can’t be said for this franchise that has dropped three consecutive games in embarrassing fashion.

Offensively, the Eagles are starting to click since the return of Carson Wentz from his ACL injury, and he actually looks better than he was pre-injury. Wentz has a 10:1 touchdown to interception ratio (must be nice) and is averaging almost 50 more passing yards per game this year than he was in 2017 when he was widely considered an MVP favorite prior to his injury. The issue for the Eagles on offense has been injuries to their running back group. U.K.-native Jay Ajayi was placed on injured reserve with an ACL tear and the ageless Darren Sproles has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, so it’s been up to Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, and undrafted rookie Josh Adams to procure rushing yards. As for the pass catchers, the Eagles run the most two tight end sets in the NFL, and rookie second rounder Dallas Goedert has a 100% catch rate so far in his career. Not a bad compliment to Zach Ertz, who is second in the NFL in receptions this season. Outside of Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, the Eagles are stretched thin at wide receiver and have reportedly been in on Amari Cooper and DeVante Parker in recent weeks.

Defensively, the Eagles have struggled to replace injured safety Rodney McLeod and have had issues getting off the field during crucial downs (remember the Titans game where they allowed 5,000 fourth downs in overtime to lose?). They placed promising young pass rusher Derek Barnett on injured reserve this week with a shoulder injury, so that means we will see a heavy dose of former Seminole Josh Sweat in the edge rotation. On the interior, Fletcher Cox has been his dominant self this year and could have something to say about the Jaguars returning to their smash mouth run offense this week. A healthy Jordan Hicks has been a huge boost to the linebacking unit, and strong side linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill has done some impressive things this season. Cornerback is another spot that has given the Eagles some issues this year, as Jalen Mills has been largely inconsistent. The Eagles defense is sixth-best in the NFL in points per game allowed (19.7) and for as much grief as the Jaguars defense gets for not getting interceptions, the Eagles only have one more (four total) on the season than the Jaguars.

Check out Ryan O’Bleness’ cross-over piece with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation for some more scoops on the Eagles heading into this game.

Storylines

It’s been beaten to death at this point that the Jaguars have a magical home field advantage at Wembley. Whether it’s the familiarity with the routine, knowing what to expect, or the energy from the fans, they just seem to play good football there over the last few years. Hays Carlyon went so far as to suggest that the London advantage to the Jaguars is worth 13.5 points alone, and the Jaguars better hope that’s true if they’re going to win.

Of course, the other major storyline has been the quarterback situation. In what some may consider to be a surprising decision, head coach Doug Marrone elected to stick with Blake Bortles as the starter, and there have been conflicting reports as to how long of a leash Bortles will have in this game. For a front office and coaching staff that harps exclusively on limiting turnovers, this is a… curious choice.

Speaking of Bortles, the bash fest continued this week when Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins took a ricochet shot at Blake by saying there was no reason Colin Kaepernick shouldn’t be an NFL quarterback right now after watching tape of Bortles. The last time a player took a blatant shot at Bortles in the media was Jadeveon Clowney when he called him trash, and Bortles responded by completing 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and 3 TDs. Will Bortles have a similar response to the criticism this week?

Key matchups

Jalen Ramsey vs. Alshon Jeffery

To this day, Alshon Jeffery has been the receiver who has hung the most yards on Jalen Ramsey with a seven catch, 93 yard outing when he was still a member of the Chicago Bears in 2016. If you read Phillip Heilman’s Times-Union article, you’ll know that Ramsey hasn’t forgotten. Jeffery has been playing very well since being activated from a shoulder injury that cost him a few weeks to start the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ramsey follow Jeffery around the field like he did with Deandre Hopkins last week.

Quenton Meeks vs. Nelson Agholor

Nelson Agholor has been starting in two wide receiver sets and slipping inside in the slot in some packages when the Eagles opt to go with three receivers. Meeks probably won’t follow Agholor into the slot, but he’ll have a tough task in his debut as an NFL starter. Meeks has stated that he is hungry to prove that it was a mistake for him to go undrafted and wants to show the Jaguars they made the right decision investing in him. There will definitely be a drop off from A.J. Bouye, but Meeks was a player I was high on in the pre-draft evaluation process and we should all be excited for him.

Carlos Hyde vs. Fletcher Cox

The Jaguars are (again) putting all their eggs in the power running game basket and hoping that one player with a physical, down-hill running style erases all their troubles on offense. Carlos Hyde has said in interviews this week that he “loves to run angry,” and that’s great because he’s going to be running into a Hulk this week in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Hopefully this re-commitment to their original offensive identity can stack the box and allow Bortles to execute out of play action.

Ronnie Harrison vs. Dallas Goedert

The Eagles run a ton of two tight end packages, and that’s a prescription for a heavy dose of the brute back. Harrison has played very well for a rookie this season and quite frankly, the Jaguars are fortunate to have a player of Harrison’s ilk to neutralize a potential Dallas Goedert/Zach Ertz mismatch. When you factor in that the Jags are down to CB1, CB5, CB6, and now even CB7 with Dee Delaney getting promoted this week, Harrison may get the most snaps he’s had this season.

Josh Walker vs. Brandon Graham

This is a terrifying mismatch in favor of the Eagles. A true nightmare. Walker has been doing his best in spot duty at a foreign position, and while he’s held his own all things considered, the speed to power rush style of Brandon Graham is an extremely poor match up for the former guard. Keep an eye on this and expect the Jaguars to use the running back to chip on more passing plays than usual.

Blake Bortles vs. Malcolm Jenkins

Already referenced above, we’ll see how Bortles responds to Jenkins’ criticism. If Jenkins picks Bortles off on Sunday… whew buddy.

Final prediction

I actually think the Jaguars win this week for no other reason than the NFL is weird and the moment you get ready to write a team (and a player) off, they come back out of nowhere and surprise you. The Jaguars are going to take the ball out of Blake’s hands and allow him to operate off of play action bootlegs and use his legs if his first read isn’t there. Not having A.J. Bouye on defense is concerning, but Meeks was a good player at Stanford and has been waiting for his moment to prove he should’ve been drafted. Jaguars win with a Carlos Hyde touchdown, a defensive touchdown, and two Lambo field goals.

I think the Jaguars win 20-17.