The Philadelphia Eagles will play their second 2019 preseason football game on Thursday night against Jacksonville Jaguars.
In order to preview this (meaningless) matchup and check up on old friend Nick Foles, I reached out to our associates over at Big Cat Country. The great Ryan O’Bleness was kind enough to answer my questions, so let’s take a look at those. Also don’t forget to check out my side of the Q&A exchange over at BCC.
1 - Gotta start with the obvious one. How’s Eagles Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles looking so far?
The majority of reports and observations out of training camp thus far have been favorable for Foles. It’s obvious that the offense runs smoother, and can actually move the ball downfield a lot better with Foles leading the charge. But, compared to what we saw offensively from the Jaguars last season, that should be expected. Don’t get me wrong, Foles has had his struggles, but has looked sharp for the most part. He has rarely thrown “interceptions” in practice, and when mistakes are made, he has quickly found ways to talk with his teammates and correct them. He has found a nice connection with his former Kansas City Chiefs teammate, Chris Conley, as well as budding Jaguars star Dede Westbrook. While Foles sat out the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, he made some nice throws in joint practices last week (see below). I think Jags fans are taking a cautiously optimistic approach with Foles -- we know he is a clear upgrade over Blake Bortles, but also understand that he still has a lot to prove as a full-time starting quarterback in the NFL. I am hoping he’ll play at least a series against his former team on Thursday night, but the Jaguars are using extreme caution with their starters heading into the season, so don’t count on it. [BLG UPDATE: Foles will reportedly not play on Thursday.]
A nice throw from Foles to Conley against the Ravens at joint practices last week:
Yeah, we feel pretty good about our WRs @NickFoles ➡ @_flight17_ #DUUUVAL pic.twitter.com/uhCuuo9e4e— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) August 6, 2019
Here is another Foles-to-Conley connection at practice this past weekend:
Beautiful.@NickFoles ➡️ @_flight17_ pic.twitter.com/sYGCbMxYqR— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) August 10, 2019
2 - With Nate Sudfeld injured, Cody Kessler might actually have to play if Carson Wentz gets hurt early in the season. Having seen Kessler start for the Jags, what can you tell us to expect in a situation where he ends up playing for Philly?
In my personal opinion, Kessler is kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get quarterback. He isn’t going to kill you with mistakes, but he is not going to win you many games by himself, which is why he has a 2-10 career record as a starter. When he is in the game, expect a conservative game plan. Last year, Kessler appeared in five games for the Jaguars, and started four of them in place of Bortles. In those five games, Kessler averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt and didn’t complete a pass for more than 35 yards all season long -- the 35-yard play to Keelan Cole was quite possibly his best throw of the season. But it was very rarely that Jacksonville’s coaching staff allowed Kessler to even test the waters. The majority of the plays called were designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly on things like short crossers, quick slants and screens. Because of this, Kessler was extremely accurate, completing nearly 65 percent of his throws in 2018, and he has completed more than 62 percent of his career pass attempts. I think he is a serviceable backup and can manage a game for a short period of time, but if Wentz gets hurt again and misses an extended period of time, and Kessler is the primary backup, then the Eagles are likely in trouble. With that said, Kessler should have a much better supporting cast in Philly than he did in Cleveland or Jacksonville, so the door could be open for more success.
3 - How long should we expect to see the Jaguars’ starters play on Thursday, if at all? Who are the key players in/out?
Not for very long, if the starters play at all -- I am thinking a series, or two series at most. The Jaguars sat 32 players in the preseason opener, and I believe 21 of the 22 starters. Now, this week, head coach Doug Marrone stated that we will likely see more of the same this week against the Eagles. Marrone basically said he wants the first string offensive players to get more reps against first string defensive players in practice, as opposed to the preseason games, and that the starters will get their most snaps in the third preseason game. I would think we’ll see a few more starters this week, but the high profile guys will likely sit out. The Jaguars were hit hard with the injury bug in 2018, and are already dealing with some in 2019, so the team is taking extreme caution this time around.
I would guess that we won’t see players like Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye (who has been banged up), Leonard Fournette, and as much as Eagles ad Jaguars fans alike want to see him, Nick Foles -- as well as several other starters. So that should open up opportunities for rookies and younger guys to shine, such as first-round pick, defensive end Josh Allen, and rookie backup quarterback Gardner Minshew II (who struggled a bit last week). The offensive line will be a key area to watch, as multiple guys such as Will Richardson and Cedric Ogbuehi compete for a role on the team. Jawaan Taylor, a rookie left tackle selected in the second-round, hurt his knee recently, so he will likely be held out for precautionary reasons. The linebacker group should also be interesting to watch, with multiple guys competing for a roster spot and looking to step up with Telvin Smith on hiatus and his replacement, Quincy Williams, out with a slight meniscus tear.
4 - Can you name an under-the-radar player on offense and on defense we should watch out for on Thursday?
Defense: Safety CJ Reavis, an undrafted free agent signee in 2018. was one of the lone bright spots of Jacksonville’s preseason opener against the Ravens, in which the Jags’ second and third team players got embarrassed by Baltimore’s first team and depth, 29-0 (which is expected). He had a team-leading seven total tackles, and made some impressive, clean hits. The safety position is a bit of a question mark for the Jaguars, as a new duo of Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson takes over. It will be interesting to see if Reavis repeats that performance and can be relied upon to provide solid depth behind those two guys.
Offense: Wide receiver is a position to check out. As mentioned, many of the starters are likely to sit out, so look for guys like Tre McBride, who had three catches for 42 yards last week, C.J. Board and Tyre Brady to step up and try to earn a roster spot.
5 - What’s the outlook for the Jags this year? How many wins are you expecting?
A lot of national media analysts are predicting a big turnaround for the Jags. I’ve seen many sources predict the Jaguars as a playoff team and even an AFC South division champion. I’ve also seen many 4-12/5-11 predictions. For me, I fall somewhere in the middle. I am not sure the team is mature enough on the field yet to go back to the playoffs, but I certainly think it’s a decent possibility. The offense should be much-improved and the defense should remain, at the very least, a top-10 unit in the league. But the AFC South is really tough, with the Colts and Texans both coming off of playoff appearances and the Titans owning the Jaguars in the past few meetings. I am estimating seven or eight wins in Foles’ first year at the helm, and then next year I see the team really taking a step forward and making a run. I am cautiously optimistic, but not getting my hopes up -- I’ve been there one too many times with this team.
6 - Can you give us an outsider’s take on the Eagles’ outlook this year?
I look at the Eagles as a contender. However, I also think the team rises and falls with Wentz, who has had a difficult time staying on the field thus far throughout his career -- and the security that was Nick Foles behind him is now with my favorite team. I believe Wentz is one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and I also think the coaching staff and offensive personnel around him puts the team in position to win now. I think the defense is solid as well, but I understand there have been some changes there. Philly would be my preseason pick to win the NFC East, but Dallas is going to challenge (you know, as long as Ezekiel Elliot doesn’t hold out all season). I do think the backfield is crowded and needs to be figured out, but a committee approach could be successful if done correctly. As mentioned, I don’t follow this team closely, so I may be way off base here, but my old friend [and BGN alumnus] Mike Kaye and you, Brandon, keep me updated on the team’s whereabouts via my Twitter timeline!
7 - Wanna give a meaningless score prediction?
Yeah, it’s hard to predict, but if the Jaguars sit as many key players as they did last week, and not knowing if Philadelphia’s starters will play much at all, but assuming they play a bit, I am guessing the Jaguars have another poor performance playing the backups’ backups’ backups, so I will say: Eagles, 27, Jaguars 10.