It’s Week 2 of the preseason, which means we are one step closer to regular season football! The Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles square off on Thursday night at TIAA Bank Field for a (meaningless) contest.
Nick Foles is unlikely to play against his former team, but many of this week’s storylines have revolved around Foles’ relationship with the franchise he helped win a Lombardi Trophy, and a city that will forever love him.
1. We talked a bit about this during the offseason, but as somebody who has covered Nick Foles in the past, your initial reaction to his large contract was that he’s not going to live up to it. Now that we are closer to the start of the season, has your perspective on Foles changed at all? What do you think are realistic expectations for him as a full-time starter?
Brandon: My opinion hasn’t changed much. If anything, I might be a little less optimistic about his outlook now that I’ve learned more about his supporting cast. I saw ESPN had the Jags ranked 32nd in their offensive arsenal rankings. Foles is a player who needs the system to work for him. I don’t think he can be reasonably expected to thrive with a less than ideal supporting cast.
With that said, Foles has defied my expectations time and time again. So it’d only be natural that I’d have low expectations for him as the Jags’ starter and he’d end up playing well.
I don’t think Foles will be good enough to get the Jags to the playoffs. I think the Jags are looking like a 7-9 team with him at the helm. And that’s assuming he stays healthy enough to play all 16 games for the first time in his career.
2. Another new Jaguar in 2019 you have previously covered comes from the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was Philadelphia’s QB coach in 2016-2017. What are you looking forward to seeing from him as a play-caller on Thursday night?
Brandon: I’m curious to see how Flip does down in Jacksonville. He got a lot of credit in Philly before then flaming out in Minnesota. To what extent was the previous Flip hype justified?
I’m guessing we won’t see a ton of creativity on Thursday, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Jags incorporate some Eagles concepts. The Eagles used a lot of RPO stuff with Foles so maybe we’ll see that become more prevalent in the Jags’ offense.
3. Who are the under-the-radar players, drafted rookies and/or undrafted rookie free agents on the Eagles you are most looking forward to watching on Thursday?
Brandon: Defensive ends Daeshon Hall and Josh Sweat are among the players I’m most interested to see. Hall had a real good game against the Titans last week; he was wrecking s*** out there. I want to see if he can keep that up, especially since he missed some practice this week with a shoulder injury. Sweat also had some good moments against the Titans and he has an opportunity to be part of the Eagles’ pass rush rotation if he can prove himself this summer.
Cody Kessler is an obligatory answer since he’ll be starting with Carson Wentz likely out and Nate Sudfeld definitely out. He sure didn’t look good last week. It’d be nice to see a little more out of him in this game since he’s poised to be Wentz’s top backup until Sudfeld can return a few weeks into the regular season.
Wide receivers Mack Hollins and Marken Michel also interest me. It’s been forever since we’ve seen Hollins play in a game and Michel burned Titans starting cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (!) for a 75-yard touchdown last week.
4. What is the running back situation looking like for the Eagles? The team acquired Jordan Howard in the offseason and drafted Miles Sanders in the second round, while also bringing back Darren Sproles. Additionally, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey are on the roster. How do you make sense of this, and will the team go with a committee approach throughout the season?
Brandon: I fully expect the Eagles to go with a committee approach. It’s just how they’ve operated during Doug Pederson’s tenure.
I believe Howard’s going to be the Eagles’ “1A” in the rotation early on in the season. His playing time could drop if he struggles and/or Sanders excels. I don’t think he’ll be phased out entirely, though. He’ll definitely have some kind of role on this team. At the very least, he figures to be a contributor when it comes to short-yardage and red zone situations. Howard’s the Eagles’ most physical runner.
Sanders is clearly the team’s most dynamic running back. He has juice in his legs that the other running backs just don’t; it’s pretty apparent when you watch him in practice. Sanders has a real opportunity to earn more playing time as the season progresses. The rookie just needs to prove the coaching staff can trust him, especially when it comes to things like pass protection, ball security, etc.
Sproles is going to continue to be a role player in the Eagles’ offense. The hope is that the coaching staff won’t overuse the 36-year-old scatback.
Clement is the favorite to be the fourth running back. His third down back skills give the Eagles insurance if Sproles gets hurt again.
5. How is Carson Wentz looking so far throughout training camp and the preseason? How concerned are you with his health?
Brandon: Wentz has had a good camp. He’s definitely had way more ups than downs. And he’s healthy, which is more important than anything.
I’m not concerned at all about his current health. Am I concerned about him getting hurt again? I mean, I think any Eagles fan would be lying if they said no. He’s clearly had some injury issues.
But I don’t see the point in stressing about it. The way I think about it is that Wentz is healthy now and I expect him to stay that way until something changes. He played all 16 games as a rookie so it’s not like staying healthy is this impossible thing for him. I also think back to how Matthew Stafford missed a lot of games early in his career before becoming an ironman. Sometimes injuries are just bad luck and I think that’s been the case with Wentz.
The Eagles ultimately felt good enough about Wentz’s health to give him $128 million. They didn’t need to rush to pay him if they were seriously worried about how he’ll hold up over time.
6. What is your season outlook for the Eagles? Record, division standing, playoff chances, etc.
Brandon: I have the Eagles going 11-5 and winning the NFC East. They should be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Wentz has previously proven he has NFL MVP upside and now he’s working with a great supporting cast around him. His offensive weapons are not limited: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, Dallas Goedert, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Corey Clement … that’s a real good group. Oh, and the Eagles should figure to have one of the best offensive lines in the league.
The Eagles don’t lack talent on defense, either. Jim Schwartz’s unit should still be able to generate a lot of pressure with Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Malik Jackson, Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan, and Vinny Curry on the defensive line. The secondary has some intriguing young talent at cornerback in addition to veteran experience at safety
The roster is loaded and Doug Pederson has rallied his players when adversity has struck. Add in the fact the Eagles have one of the league’s easiest schedules and I’m feeling pretty good about this season.
It all hinges on Wentz’s health, of course.
7. Unpredictable preseason score prediction?
Brandon: Kessler and rookie quarterback Clayton Thorson couldn’t even run the offense last week. Maybe that’ll change this week, but I’m certainly not counting on that. This could be a real ugly preseason game.
Jaguars 10, Eagles 3
Thank you once again to Brandon for taking the time to answer my questions and for providing great insights and analysis. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter, and follow BGN to keep up with Philly as well.
If you’re interested in my responses to Brandon’s questions, check here.