The Jacksonville Jaguars vs Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday brings one guarantee: the Eagles are going to light it up. It isn’t a matter of the Philadelphia Eagles scoring, it’s a matter of when they first score and how often will it happen after that. Now, can the Jacksonville Jaguars keep up wtih the Philadelphia Eagles?
That is the question of the hour as we near the start of the season.
Before we dive in, let’s first wrap our heads around some numbers. We’ll be using Pro Football Reference’s numbers for this.
The Eagles ranked fourth in total points last season with a whopping 442. That’s almost exactly 200 more than the Jaguars scored last year and it’s almost exactly as many points as the Jags’ defense surrendered. Better yet, the Eagles racked up the second most yardage last season. With 6,676 yards, the Eagles accumulated almost a full 2,000 yards more than the Jags and the Jags surrendered just 600 less yards than the Eagles accumulated.
Now, while those sink in let’s take a jump into the hypothetical and wonder: Can the Jaguars keep up?
The answer is we don’t really know.
The Jags are an incredibly young team with some incredibly high potential. But they likely won’t reach that potential in week one of the 2014 NFL Season. Even looking back at 2013’s numbers don’t suggest anything promising. But what is easily overlooked is that in the second half of the season, the Jaguars were a much better team. Good enough to stop Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy from scoring? Certainly not. Good enough to stop them from scoring so much as to run away with the game? Definitely.
The Jags surrendered from serious yardage last year. They surrendered over 400 yards on seven occasions and the defense essentially acted as welcome mats for opposing offenses before breaking the plain and ending up in the end zone. With 392 yards surrendered per game in the first half of the season, the Jags seemed set to completely implode. While they certainly didn’t do super well, the second half of the season showed that the Jags could buckle down. They allowed almost 30 yards fewer per game in the final eight matchups for an average of 366 yards. More importantly, the Jags shut down the opposing offenses’ running games. The Jags allowed over 110 rushing yards in every one of the first eight games (including a whopping 226 against the Oakland Raiders) but allowed just two opponents in the latter half of the season to post over 100 yards rushing as a team. The average dropped from 161 in the first half of the season down to just 101 in the latter half. That’s remarkable.
But the Jaguars still lost games.
Because the NFL is a passing league, some teams can get away with only 14 yards against the Jaguars (Looking at you, Arizona Cardinals). It doesn’t matter if shutting down the running game just showcases the lack of a secondary a team has. But, like most anything with the Jaguars, improvement occurred later in the season. Dwayne Gratz showed he can step up and play and – most importantly – safety Johnathan Cyprien started to put it together after a poor showing earlier in the year.
While the Jags have surrendered some massive yardage before, don’t expect the defense to be as much of a doormat as it was last year. They will hold the Eagles to less than their stellar 27 points per game average from 2013. But that doesn’t mean that 20 points still can’t put the Jaguars away with the team’s anemic offense.
So, can Chad Henne and company actually rise to the occasion and post 20 or more points?
If we continue to look at trends for the Jags from last year, you can expect that yes, they can. The Jaguars only posted five games with 20 or more points in 2013. But four of those came in the second half of the season where – you guessed it – the team scored an average of 10 points more per game (20) than they did in the first half of the season. With some new toys and a more balanced offensive approach, I think you’ll find that the Jags will take off just where they left off and manage to put more points on the board.
If this were the first half of last year’s season, I would write this one off as an automatic loss, let alone a close game. With the advances the Jags showed last year and their improved personnel and a second year under head coach Gus Bradley, I think we can expect the Jaguars to not only keep up in the opener, but to make this one a close one.