Good morning. By the time you read this, it will be afternoon where the Eagles are – and where I am. The Eagles flew to London on Thursday night for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They practice at 2:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. in Philadelphia). The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News/philly.com will have four reporters across the Atlantic Ocean, so follow along for the latest information.
This is a Friday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. If your friends haven't subscribed, it's free to sign up here to receive the newsletter in your inbox. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Five keys for the Eagles against the Jaguars
Challenge the middle of the field
The Jaguars have one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey. A.J. Bouye makes their defense an even tougher challenge, but Bouye didn't make the trip after injuring his calf during practice this week. Even though Alshon Jeffery has been hot this season, the Eagles would be better served attacking the middle of the field on the Jaguars. Look for another big game from Zach Ertz, who has topped 100 receiving yards in three of the past four weeks. I also expect the Eagles to continue to trust their two-tight end sets, so Dallas Goedert will figure into the offense. Nelson Agholor needs to be used in the middle of the field, too. The goal should be to pick on the Jaguars' safeties and linebackers. That's a better game plan than hoping Ramsey has a bad day. (Or bad morning, if you're watching in Philadelphia.)
Get an early lead
This might seem foolish to write one week after the Eagles lost a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead to Carolina, but Blake Bortles is not Cam Newton. The Jaguars don't have the firepower to play from behind and have been outscored 57-0 in the first half of their past three games. They're best when they can get an early lead and pound the defense away. The Eagles, meanwhile, are at their best when they can make an opponent one-dimensional and send the pass rushers after the quarterback. (I know, I know, it didn't work last week.) But if the Eagles are playing from behind, this will be a tough game. Jacksonville's cornerbacks are too good, and the Jags can control the clock. My guess is the team winning at halftime is the team that wins the game.
"Our defensive line can be disruptive against anybody if we can give them a lead and allow them to go do their thing," Jordan Hicks said. "I think getting up on them early will be a big deal."
Stop the run
The Jaguars like to run the ball. That's not a secret. It's harder to do without Leonard Fournette, who's been out with a hamstring injury, and left tackle Cam Robinson, who is out with a knee injury. That's why the Jaguars rank No. 23 in the NFL in rushing offense one year after they had the top rushing offense in the NFL. They traded for Carlos Hyde last week, and Hyde fits the style that the Jaguars like. He'll require the Eagles' attention on Sunday. The Eagles had the No. 1 rushing defense last season and have the No. 1 rushing defense this season, so teams are having a hard team running against them. (Teams are finding it easier to pass on them, however.) But the Jaguars are not going to be a pass-happy team. If the Eagles can contain Jacksonville's ground attack, it'll be a good sign for the Eagles.
Where are the turnovers?
The Eagles had game-changing takeaways last season, but they've been harder to find this season. They have just six takeaways in seven games. Only three teams have fewer takeaways. Last season, the Eagles ranked No. 4 in the NFL in takeaways. If you're looking for a problem with the defense this season, start there. The Jaguars have the second-most turnovers in the NFL with 17 this season, including nine interceptions and eight lost fumbles, so there should be opportunities this week. The Eagles must take advantage and give the offense short fields.
" There are two things we can do as a defense," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "One is hold the score down, and No. 2 is put our offense in position to score, or score ourselves, and that's a thing that was a common theme for us last year that we haven't really been able to get our feet under us this year in creating those game-changing plays."
Deal with the London Effect
The Jaguars play in London every year. This is new to the Eagles, so adjusting to all that comes with the trip will be a key part of the game for the Eagles. They must get their bodies acclimated to the time zone change after a long overnight flight, and then their routine is disrupted with a different practice venue. There's also a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the game. The Jaguars have won three in a row in London. The Eagles did well adjusting to a week in California last December and a week in Minnesota last February, so a few days in London should be fine. But it's nonetheless something to watch.
What you need to know about the Eagles
The Eagles' offense has struggled to produce at the level it did last year, Jeff McLane reviews the tape to find out why.
Les Bowen stopped by a local London pub, where Eagles chants can be heard and the Lombardi Trophy can be seen.
Thinking about betting on the game? Read Ed Barkowitz's analysis before wagering on the over/under.
'Sunday Night Football' is using an innovation from golf in its broadcasts, writes Rob Tornoe.
The NFL fired a referee in the middle of the season for the first time, Katie McInerny details why.
3 Questions With | Defensive end Josh Sweat
Zach Berman: Where have you developed the most since coming to the Eagles?
Josh Sweat: Probably transitioning from playing such a run-heavy defense. I've been playing a lot of four-technique and I can be a lot more free on the edge. Basically, all I have to do is get off the ball and react to whatever's going on. I can never be wrong. It's never just two-gapping, slow-playing or reading. I'm attacking.
ZB: If Josh Sweat from April watched you now, what would he think?
JS: He'd be jealous, because he actually got to rush from the edge. He'd be jealous.
ZB: How will you prepare for the increase in snaps going forward?
JS: The easiest thing I can say is practice. I'm on scout team, but I get to go against the 1s all the time. I get reps with the 2s against the offensive scout team. I'm constantly getting looks. Whether I've giving a look or getting a look, I'm always getting quality reps.
From the mailbag
That would make sense, especially since A.J. Bouye won't play. Alshon Jeffery is a difference-maker on the outside, and the Eagles have relied so much on Jeffery and Zach Ertz. If Jacksonville can make it hard for Carson Wentz to look toward Jeffery because of Jalen Ramsey, it will change the Eagles offense. Like I mentioned above, I think the Eagles will focus on the middle of the field anyway — they know how good Ramsey is — but I do expect to see Ramsey on Jeffery.
I received a few questions about a trade, so hopefully this covers all of them. I don't think the Eagles will be sellers if they lose or under any circumstance, but they might decide to stand pat. The division is still in front of them. Even if they lose and drop to 3-5. they have five division games remaining. That's their best path to the playoffs. But if they lose, they might not be as aggressive about adding a piece because they'll realize even that player might not be the difference. They must be honest with themselves about what their chances are this year, and which injured players they'll return.
With that said, I can see Howie Roseman making a move for a player who can help the team beyond this season. I'd be surprised if he gives a pick for a rental. If he can find a player who can help the next eight games, but also help the next 2-3 years, it's a different equation. Don't rule that out. But I don't think they'll try to find a three-month Band-Aid.
I've heard that comparison (Mike Sielski mentioned it in a column this week) and I can see the parallels, but I think this is a different beast. There's not a toxic subplot to the season like Terrell Owens that year, and the injuries accumulated that year as the season progressed — most notably losing Donovan McNabb. The Eagles were recovering from lingering injuries this year — most notably Carson Wentz — and they're still paying the price for Tim Jernigan's injury. The Eagles were 3-1 that year and started to collapse. The Eagles have not been able to go on a run yet this year, but I don't see this team imploding. The worst-case scenario for this team, as I see it, is to continue on this start-and-stop path. I'd be surprised if this is a 6-10 team with Wentz at quarterback. I'm not ruling out 8-8, but if this season is like 2005, it's a major problem for this organization.