Are the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1) for real? That is the question that fans and pundits alike are pondering through three weeks of play in the 2022 season. On Sunday, the team will face perhaps its biggest test thus far, as the Jaguars travel to Philadelphia to take on the 3-0 Eagles at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.
In an effort to learn more about the 2022 version of Philadelphia, I reached out to my go-to guy when it comes to all things Eagles: Brandon Lee Gowton, manager and editor-in-chief of SB Nation’s great website, Bleeding Green Nation.
How can the Jaguars slow down Jalen Hurts and the offense? Will Doug Pederson be greeted warmly by Eagles fans? Brandon gives his thoughts on these questions and more.
1. The Eagles are off to a 3-0 start. What has gone well so far? What would you like to see the team do better? What about Jacksonville’s game should scare Philly the most?
Brandon: Pretty much everything has gone well!
It starts with the quarterback. Jalen Hurts is playing at an NFL MVP level thus far. He’s made tremendous strides from last year. He’s working all levels and areas of the field. He’s showing a mastery of the offense, knowing exactly where to go with the ball. He’s attempting difficult throws and completing them with great touch and accuracy. He’s choosing the right moments to take off running instead of using his mobility as crutch. It’s very difficult to be more satisfied with how he’s played to this point.
Hurts is unquestionably aided by an offensive line that ranks first overall in pass blocking as graded by Pro Football Focus. Having two No. 1 wide receiver types in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith is also pretty nice. Not to mention one of the NFL’s best tight ends in Dallas Goedert. Or a running game that’s capable of doing damage. Or useful complementary players such as Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal.
Jonathan Gannon’s defense got off to a rough start, allowing the Detroit Lions to do too much damage. But the Eagles’ defense has settled in the past two weeks with just 13 points allowed. Hard not to be happy with the pass rush after a nine-sack performance.
When it comes to room for improvement, there are a few things that come to mind. And they kind of fall under the category of champagne problems. It would be nice to see the special teams unit look sharper after some struggles there. It would also be nice to see the Eagles a little more consistently dominant after some quieter second half showings.
2. With Doug Pederson returning to Philadelphia this week — this time as head coach for the Jaguars — how do you expect Eagles fans to welcome Pederson? Is he still beloved in Philadelphia? If so, will that remain the case if the Jaguars win?
Brandon: Any Eagles fan who “boos” Doug Pederson is an idiot. This is the first and only Super Bowl-winning head coach in franchise history. He didn’t ask to be fired. If anything, he was done dirty by taking a disproportionate amount of blame while Carson Wentz and Howie Roseman got off relatively easier at the time.
I expect Doug to be greeted by cheers. I’m hoping to see a standing ovation. He should always be beloved in Philly. The outcome of this game shouldn’t change anything.
Now, I can’t expect Eagles fans to feel good about losing to Doug. I do think some could find a loss to him more tolerable than the average loss, though not by much.
3. The Jaguars have been playing at a much higher level than expected through three weeks. What scares you the most about this Jacksonville team? What areas do you think the Eagles could take advantage of?
Brandon: Trevor Lawrence playing at a high level is definitely a concern. If the light is truly going on for the No. 1 overall pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, he’s going to put the Eagles’ defense to the test. Gannon has typically thrived against lesser quarterbacks and really struggled against legitimate ones. Is Gannon’s unit due for a setback after beating up on talented but flawed passers who exude loser energy like Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz?
Jacksonville’s defense is also legit as the fourth-ranked unit in defensive DVOA. As previously mentioned, the Eagles have a very strong offensive line. But Travon Walker and Josh Allen are going to challenge the Birds’ pass protection.
If someone is going to slow down Hurts right now, it might be Mike Caldwell. He was an assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they shut down the Eagles’ starting quarterback in the playoffs last season. The Jags’ defensive coordinator might be able to put a good game plan together to limit his production.
4. Outside of Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders and A.J. Brown, who are the players on Philadelphia’s offense that could make an impact? What do the Jaguars need to do to slow down the Eagles?
Brandon: DeVonta Smith is obviously worth mentioning after his career high in receiving yards (169) against the Commanders. If teams are going to try to take away A.J. Brown, DeVonta is more than capable of winning his matchups. Quez Watkins is a speedster who can make big plays down the field in addition to drawing pass interference penalties. Dallas Goedert is another big play threat from the tight end position; his 15.3 yards per reception ranks 25th in the league (and second among tight ends).
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I don’t think there is a good answer for how to stop the Eagles’ offense right now. Everything is clicking for them. They’re able to win in a lot of different ways. It’s not nearly as simple as taking away one player.
The Eagles’ opponents have tried different strategies when it’s come to defending Hurts and none of them have worked. The Lions tried to blitz the heck out of him and he responded by eluding rushers and taking off running. The Vikings tried to limit his legs by playing zone and he beat Minnesota by making a lot of tight windows throws. Washington challenged him to beat them with big plays and that’s exactly what he did.
5. Who are the players on Philly’s defense to watch out for? What is the best way for Jacksonville to exploit the tough defensive unit of the Eagles?
Brandon: Pay attention to the Eagles’ defensive interior. It’s a deep group. Fletcher Cox still seems to have some gas left in the tank after all. Javon Hargrave is capable of creating interior disruption. Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu are second-year players who’ve shown promise. And then there’s big man rookie Jordan Davis, who is coming off a strong game as a pass rusher. That group could cause problems for what seems to me like a weakness in the Jags’ offensive line when it comes to Ben Bartch and Luke Fortner.
Top quarterbacks have been able to shred Gannon’s unit in the past by being patient and taking what the defense is giving them. The Eagles’ focus is on eliminating on the big play. They want quarterbacks to have to sustain long drives against them in order to score. The hope there is that the opposition will make a mistake in terms of a turnover or a penalty at some point that will prove costly. If Lawrence can play mistake-free football and take advantage of what he’s being given, he could cause some problems for the Eagles.
6. The Eagles are currently listed as 6.5-point favorites and the over/under is set at 48.5, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook. Will the Eagles cover, what is your final score prediction and are you taking the over or under?
Brandon: I’ll say the Eagles win this game by a score of 28 to 24. So, yes, I’ll take the over. And I will not take them to cover. The Jags are looking like a legitimately team right now. The Eagles are as well, for sure, but I don’t think this game will be a cake walk for them by any means. Doug Pederson is going to have his team ready and they’re really going to want to win for him.
I still feel confident in the Eagles winning because of how Hurts is playing. And it seems like there’s hope for Philly’s defense.
To read my answers to Brandon’s questions, head over to Bleeding Green Nation.