This week’s matchup for the Philadelphia Eagles against the Jacksonville Jaguars pits two teams that finished in last year’s final four that now find themselves at 3-4 and looking to turn their seasons around. Like the Eagles, this season has not gone according to plan for Jacksonville, and injuries have been a bit of a factor for both squads. The ailments for the Jags, however, have mostly occurred on the offensive side of the ball as this defense is the same ferocious unit that nearly led them to an appearance in Super Bowl LII.
Watching this defense, it all starts up front. The Jaguars finished second in the league last year with 55 sacks, and a vast majority of those sacks came from the defensive line. Jacksonville ranks 20th in sacks this year but the D-line is still a very disruptive group.
ALL OF THE VIDEO CLIPS FEATURE AUDIO ANALYSIS FROM FRAN DUFFY
Yannick Ngakoue, a player who I broke down thoroughly on this week’s Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast, has really turned into one of the best pass rushers in football. An athletic kid with a quick first step, Ngakoue uses his hands well to win at the top of the rush and has the twitch to win with his feet both inside and outside off the ball. They like to use him out wide on the open side, and he’s an athletic mismatch for most tackles.
On the other side, veteran Calais Campbell starts in the Jaguars' base defense and then slides inside in the pass rush packages. He hasn’t been quite as dominant as in the past, but he is certainly stout, great with his hands, and can impact the game both as a run defender and interior pass rusher.
Malik Jackson is another player who lines up both outside and inside, and his ability to win with both quickness and technique makes him a tough matchup. Veteran nose tackle Marcell Dareus is a stout run defender with subtle quickness inside getting after the quarterback. He’ll come off the field for Campbell in most of their nickel subpackages, and when Campbell slides inside that’s when Dante Fowler comes off the bench. A former top-five pick from Florida, Fowler has an explosive first step and the ability to corner. Taven Bryan, this year's first-round pick, rotates in at multiple spots and is an aggressive, athletic kid with a high motor. The Eagles' offensive line has to be prepared for this group because they come in waves and line up at multiple spots across the formation.
Against the run, this group is pretty stout as well. I know the numbers don’t play out that way as the Jaguars are 25th in yards allowed per game. I think the fact that teams have been able to get up on them and run the ball to eat up block has played into that. This is a tough, physical group across the board. The Eagles have to bring their A game on Sunday.
At linebacker, the Jaguars have arguably the most athletic duo in football with Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. Both guys have sideline-to-sideline speed with the ability to cover backs, tight ends, and even wide receivers in space. Their range in coverage is rare to find with a pairing at that spot.
Both players can be a bit slow with their eyes. They are definitely "fast-flow" players, meaning that misdirection plays can be effective against them because they’re prone to attack the first thing that moves in the backfield. They’re still a dynamic duo at the second level and play all of the snaps in this defense. When the Jaguars go into their base package, rookie Leon Jacobs slides on as the strongside linebacker. Blair Brown, a personal favorite of mine a couple of years ago out of Ohio, is the backup across the board.
Let’s get to the secondary, and I’ll start with the safeties. Barry Church is a veteran who has been around this league for a long time. He plays both in the box and as the post player deep down the field. The former Dallas Cowboy packs a punch as a tackler and provides a steady presence for them in the defensive backfield. Next to him, Tashaun Gipson is the primary tight end matchup guy who will battle Zach Ertz in man-to-man coverage. Who will match up on Dallas Goedert when the Eagles roll out 12 personnel? That will be rookie Ronnie Harrison.
Harrison is a physical, instinctive safety who was a second-day draft pick from Alabama this spring. He’ll battle with Goedert one-on-one in man coverage, and with the Jaguars’ nickel corner Tyler Patmon out for this game, he could be the full-time nickel defender this Sunday. Keep an eye out for that matchup. Harrison is a talented player, but he’s still a rookie. If he’s put in space against Nelson Agholor, that’s a matchup the Eagles may look to take advantage of in London.
At corner, the Jaguars have one of the best pairings in football – when healthy. Jalen Ramsey has lived up to his reputation as one of the top cover men in football. He’s a do-everything guy on the perimeter who can lock down opposing No. 1 receivers, regardless of their size/speed profile. His matchup with Alshon Jeffery is going to be fun to watch.
On the other side, A.J. Bouye is a veteran guy who, like Ramsey, possesses great length and athleticism. Fortunately for the Eagles, Bouye was ruled out with a calf injury and didn't make the trip overseas. Both guys have the ability to find the ball downfield and make plays on it for interceptions. They’re both press man corners by trade, but the Jaguars actually play more zone than man coverage. They specialize in both Cover 3 and Cover 4, with man coverage being more of a complement.
As you can see, the Jaguars have elite talent at all three levels of the field defensively. This will be a challenge for the Eagles' offense and Carson Wentz as they try and move the ball early and often on Sunday morning.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.