The Philadelphia Eagles will have their work cut out for them this Sunday as they take on the London — er, Jacksonville — Jaguars across the pond in what could have been last year’s Super Bowl match up. The Jags have won their last three games at Wembley Stadium and will look to make it four against an ailing Eagles team. Interestingly enough, Philadelphia, not Jacksonville may have more fans in attendance despite the seeming home-field advantage the Jaguars have had over the last five games in London. Stub Hub reported that 41% of ticket sales in the United States have come from Pennsylvania, while only 5% from the state of Florida. Philly fans have a reputation for travelling in herds, and this game should be no exception. Fans that will be in attendance, and those watching from home, will have a new face in the secondary to cheer for — one that could have a major impact on the outcome of the game.
Dexter McDougle was picked up off the street before the start of the Eagles game against Carolina last week and ended up playing 48 defensive snaps (81%) in the stead of an injured Sydney Jones. After being drafted by the New York Jets in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the slot-corner was shipped to the Eagles in exchange for safety Terrence Brooks. Therefore, he is not entirely unfamiliar with the Eagles’ defensive system. In a recent interview, Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz noted it is precisely for that reason that he saw so much action a week after being signed to the team.
Of McDougle’s performance, Schwartz stated: “Dex did a good job in coverage. I’d like to see his tackling a bit cleaner . . . a little bit of the cost of doing business when you get a guy that hasn’t played in the last month.”
Specifically, the young cornerback allowed just one reception for nine yards last Sunday. He faced only two targets. This number is likely to be higher this weekend. McDougle will also be called upon early and often to make plays in run defense facing a Jaguars team that has struggled to pass the ball. Point blank: he will have to tackle, and tackle a lot. The Jags are without their top three tight ends and will look to their receivers to create plays over the middle of the field. Schwartz is not in the dark about this fact.
“We’re going to see a bunch of double shallow crossers,” he said in an interview this past week.
Jacksonville’s slot receiver, Dede Westbrook has been one of the most efficient slot receivers in the league so far this year tallying 350 yards from the slot (5th in the league). He is also has the most receptions of any receiver on the offence. What is more impressive is he has turned in 195 yards after catch on those routes — often shallow crosses — good for first in the NFL. Accordingly, the Jaguars are third in passes below 5 yards with 167 attempts, averaging 6.1 yards after the catch on said plays. The key will be to apply pressure on the receivers and attack the football in the air. Jacksonville receivers are 30th in the league in dropped passes, dropping 5.5%. They habitually run play action passes (61 times, 9th in the NFL), but have not found huge success in that ares, averaging only 7.5 yards per play. Couple that along with the Philly defense’s habit of forcing offences into 3rd-and-long, McDougle should be presented with some very obvious passing situations. Another factor in that equation is 3rd-down running back extraordinaire T.J. Yeldon.
Yeldon has been considered a one-dimensional back for most of his career and is much more of a threat in the passing game than running the football. Behind Westbrook, he has the second most receptions in the Jaguars’ passing attack. He will line up all over the field and creates real mismatches for defenders, evidenced by his 30 receptions, 263 yards and 4 touchdowns on 44 targets this season. He, like Dede, has found his success turning short passes into long gains. McDougle, as well as the Eagles safety tandem, will be asked to make tackles in space on Yeldon when he leaks out of the backfield. The Eagles will likely concede large gains if they are unable to do so.
Despite his reputation, in the absence of Leonard Fournette, T.J. has filled in admirably and has become somewhat of his own entity in the run game. The Jaguars did go out of their way to add another back to the rotation, acquiring Carlos Hyde from the Cleveland Browns. He will make his first start for the team against the Eagles, functioning as an early-down hammer. For the Browns, he totaled 382 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 114 carries. Last time the Eagles faced Hyde, they held the then San Francisco running back to 25 yards on 12 carries. The Philly defense has had more noteworthy struggles stopping faster, versatile backs in the ilk of Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey. Yeldon fits the ticket. Either way, the defence will face a ton of runs on Sunday.
Possibly my favorite quote of the Schwartz presser, when asked about Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, Schwartz quipped: “somebody asked [him] what his ideal run-to-pass ratio was and he said 100 percent, and that tells you all you need to know.”
The Jacksonville rushing attack isn’t exactly gaining yards the way they were last season — attacking defenses straight up the middle and pummeling opponents into the ground. So far this season, Yeldon has averaged 1.3 yards per carry more on runs to the outside than up the middle. The offensive line is also 10th in the league allowing their running backs to run untouched for an average of 2.8 yards per carry. This means when Yeldon looks to bounce, it is often up to the first player to make the tackle. With the Philly D-line’s ears pinned back a-la Jim Schwartz, that first defender will often be McDougle.
The third, and possibly most overlooked, facet of the Jags offence is their ability to gash defenses on read-option runs. Currently, the team sits 5th in the league in that category, averaging 5.9 yards per carry for a total of 152 yards on 26 attempts. Blake Bortles himself averages 6.8 yards per carry and has 16 first downs on 32 carries this season. A majority of read-option plays look to attack the space off the outside hip of the offensive tackle — prime McDougle territory. At 6’5″, 238 lbs, Bortles is no small man and will be a challenge to bring down for the 5’10” 190-pound McDougle.
Whether through the air, or on the ground, Dexter McDougle will be challenged early and often on Sunday. It looks as if he will be allowed to try and fail as Schwartz seemingly has no intention of moving Jalen Mills inside or allowing Rasul Douglas the opportunity to play safety and moving Avonte Maddox back to his slot-corner position.
You can read more about the Eagles’ secondary situation here:
Mandatory Credit: Al Tielemans via AP