JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2018 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News NFL writer Paul Domowitch about the Eagles as they prepare to play Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London Sunday.
Question: The Eagles (3-4) won the Super Bowl last season but have lost three of their last four games – including a 21-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday in which the Eagles led 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Entering Sunday, how do the Eagles feel about themselves?
Answer: They're not feeling really good about themselves right now after a crushing performance in the fourth quarter against the Panthers. They think they're better than that, obviously. [Head Coach] Doug Pederson had some strange things to say both after the game Sunday and again Monday at his press conference talking about the pressure being off and people having written them off. He was saying it in a positive way. I don't know that anybody's written them off. They're in the NFC East, which is probably going to be won by a team with nine wins. They're not playing nearly as well as they need to, but they feel they're better than this.
Q: And injuries have played a role …
Answer: They really miss [safety] Rodney McLeod (out for the season, knee) on defense; safety was not a very deep position to begin with and losing him really hurt. The offensive is not playing nearly as well as it did last year; they think it will all come together as people start to heal. They've had [running back] Darren Sproles out since Week 1 [with a hamstring issue]. They think they're better than this; they think they're capable of getting on a roll. We'll see. Their defense right now is really a concern the way they played in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Q: And your assessment?
A: They're better than they showed in the fourth quarter Sunday. They did a good job on [Panthers quarterback] Cam [Newton] for three quarters using much the same tact they used in the fourth quarter. They didn't blitz much; they were able to get pressure with a four-man rush, which is what [Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz] prefers to do. But in the fourth quarter they tackled awfully. Cam had 200 passing yards on three scoring drives and more than half were yards after the catch. Their corners are not shutdown guys, particularly Jalen Mills. They'll let you catch it in front of them, but generally when they've been good they've been able to tackle you and limit the yards after the catch and make you work your way down the field. They didn't do that last week and they haven't done it on several occasions so far this season, which is a concern. But their offense is talented, even though [quarterback Carson Wentz] is relying too heavily on [tight end Zach] Ertz and wide receiver [Alshon] Jeffery right now. That needs to change. He needs to start using some of his other receivers more. They're capable of being better than a 3-4 team, especially in the NFC East. They'll be there in the end in this division unless they get more injuries, but you're not going to see them in the Super Bowl again.
Q: Wentz missed the end of last season and the beginning of the 2018 season with a knee injury, but he has played the last five games with 10 touchdown passes and one interception. Where is he in his comeback?
A: Physically, he seems fine. He's back from the knee injury. He's putting up some incredible numbers. He's not throwing interceptions. He hasn't thrown any in the last four games. What he's not doing that he did last year – except for one game against the Giants – is be dominant on third down. He led the league last season in third-down passing, and that's basically how they got to the Super Bowl. When Wentz got hurt, [backup] Nick Foles picked it up and was the same way in the playoffs. They were a good situational offense last year – red zone and third down. This year so far it has been hit and miss. That's what has to change. I think it will to a certain degree, but I don't think they will be as dominant as they were last year.
Q: It sounds as if they're leaning heavily on the offense this year.
A: [Defensive coordinator] Jim Schwartz's defense is not going to just shut anybody down. Their pass rush has been good, and [defensive tackle] Fletcher Cox may be having the best season of his career, and [defensive end] Michael Bennett last week had the best game he has had since they traded [with the Seattle Seahawks] for him. But some of the other guys … [end] Chris Long has disappeared; he's 33 and I think age finally has caught up with him. Their linebackers have been OK, but injuries have killed the secondary. McLeod is out; [nickel/slot corner] Sidney Jones is going to be a very good player, but he has a hamstring injury and probably is going to be out at least a couple of weeks. They're struggling with their secondary and need their front four to put constant pressure on quarterbacks. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don't.
Q: You mentioned Pederson's comments this week … has it been tricky for this team handling the aftermath of the Super Bowl?
A: Their whole offseason motto was "The New Norm." They have a sign in the building – that basically "We're going to be good for a long time … we're going to expect this from you guys every year." But they're playing like a team that has a Super Bowl hangover. As much as they say that's not the case … he [Pederson] took it easy on guys during training camp … a lot of the starters didn't play at all in the preseason, and a lot of them still got hurt … there are lot of quads, hamstrings that have really handcuffed them. As much as they talk about "they still have that hunger," I don't see it a lot of times.
Q: What do they need to do to get it together going forward? How do they win the division and be a playoff contender? What's their formula?
A: They were built to get out to quick leads, so that teams can't run on them. Last year they had the best first-quarter point differential in the league. So, it all worked. The offense just took off and the defense was able to play the way Schwartz likes to play, which is "Let's go after their quarterback because he has to throw." This year, that's not happening. They have been a slow-starting team offensively so far. They have been outscored in the first quarter. That's really hurt them. They're not built to play that way. They don't have a running game that's working very well since [running back] Jay Ajayi got hurt. So, they've become a very lopsided offense that's passing the ball too much. Basically, what they need to do is get off to faster starts, and I don't see that happening against Jacksonville this week.