Jacksonville (Sports Network) – The Jacksonville Jaguars knew they were going to have to prepare for Michael Vick in their Week 3 contest with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, no one thought it would have to be for an entire game.
After parlaying a stellar relief effort into a starting job, Vick will lead the Eagles into EverBank Field this Sunday for an intriguing interconference encounter with a Jaguars team that’s likely relishing a return home.
Vick’s first NFL start since the 2006 regular-season finale turned out a smashing success, as the once-disgraced quarterback threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns and did not commit a turnover in guiding Philadelphia to a hard-earned 35-32 win at Detroit last Sunday. The 30-year-old had been subbing for Kevin Kolb, the intended heir apparent to former franchise field general Donovan McNabb who was held out after sustaining a concussion in a Week 1 loss to Green Bay.
With Kolb cleared to practice without limitations this week, Vick was believed to be going back to his previous role as the primary backup and change-of-pace option in Philadelphia’s Wildcat formation. But head coach and longtime Kolb supporter Andy Reid threw everyone a curve ball with Tuesday’s stunning declaration that Vick would be under center for not only this weekend’s game, but for the remainder of the season barring injury.
Reid stated the decision was based on Vick, a three-time Pro Bowl honoree in Atlanta who helped the Falcons to two playoff appearances during a tumultuous six-year tenure, giving his team the best chance to win what appears to be a wide-open NFC East Division. Kolb, a second-round draft choice of the Eagles in 2007, has just three NFL starts and 140 career passes to his credit.
While Vick was virtually mistake-free in his long-awaited second-chance opportunity, Jacksonville’s David Garrard put forth an error-filled performance in his most recent outing. The inconsistent quarterback matched a personal-worst by tossing four interceptions in this past Sunday’s visit to San Diego, and the Jaguars had a whopping six giveaways as a team in an ugly 38-13 loss to the Chargers.
The setback extended Jacksonville’s string of struggles on the West Coast, where Jack Del Rio’s squad was outscored by a 61-3 margin in defeats at Seattle and San Francisco last season.
The Jaguars have been noticeably better on their home turf, having won six of nine tests at EverBank Field since the start of the 2009 campaign. That includes a 24-17 season-opening verdict over Denver in which Garrard completed an ultra-efficient 16-of-21 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns without a pick.
Jacksonville may have to tighten up its pass defense to improve upon that solid record, however. The Jaguars have allowed an average of 300 yards per game through the air over the first two weeks and were throttled for 334 yards and three scores by the Chargers’ Philip Rivers last Sunday.
The Eagles have a few areas to correct as well, having surrendered a league- high 59 points thus far and allowing 12 quarterback sacks.
The Jaguars have won their only three matchups with the Eagles all-time, winning a road matchup with the Eagles in 2006 (13-6) and home affairs against Philadelphia in 1997 (38-21) and 2002 (28-25). The Eagles also visited Jacksonville on Feb. 6, 2005, when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Eagles were 28-27 winners when the Jaguars visited Philadelphia for an Aug. 13th preseason game.
Reid is 0-2 against the Jaguars in his career. Del Rio is 1-0 against both Reid and Philadelphia as a head coach.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Philadelphia has never been regarded as a run-first operation during Reid’s 12-year reign as head coach, but believe it or not, the team ranks second in the NFL with an average of 155.5 rushing yards per game at the moment. Part of that high total has to do with Vick’s (140 rushing yards) incomparable scrambling skills, as the dynamic signal-caller rolled up 103 yards on the ground when replacing Kolb in the Week 1 loss to the Packers, but top running back LeSean McCoy (155 rushing yards, 4 TD, 9 receptions) has done his part as well. The second-year pro delivered a career day against the Lions, having amassed 120 yards on only 16 carries and scoring three touchdowns, including a 46-yard dash in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win. The Eagles have a wealth of big-play ability at the receiver spots as well. Fleet-footed wideout DeSean Jackson (8 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD) stands among the game’s elite deep threats and produced 135 yards and a long score on just four grabs in last triumph, while tight end Brent Celek (5 receptions) is a proven field- stretcher who’s coming off a 76-catch season. Philadelphia sorely needs to shore up the pass protection, though, after giving up an unhealthy six sacks in each of the first two games.
The Jaguars displayed an effective pass rush in the season-opener with the Broncos, and will need to bring the heat this week as well in order to protect a secondary that’s shown plenty of holes early on. Veteran Rashean Mathis (6 tackles) is solid at one corner, but youngster Derek Cox (5 tackles), a 16- week starter as a rookie last year, has given way to ex-Bengal David Jones (7 tackles, 1 INT) on the other side after getting burned repeatedly in the Denver game. End Aaron Kampman (6 tackles) came through with 1 1/2 sacks against the Broncos, but the 30-year-old is the lone proven commodity on an otherwise lightly-seasoned line that contains 2010 first-round pick Tyson Alualu (6 tackles, 1 sack) and sophomore Terrance Knighton (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks) as the tackles. Jacksonville can be vulnerable versus the run as well, having permitted 151 rushing yards and five yards per attempt to the Chargers last Sunday, and may be without outside linebacker Justin Durant (6 tackles) this week due to a sprained ankle. The team is expected to get back starting safety Anthony Smith (5 tackles) from a one-game absence due to a foot problem, though Courtney Greene (12 tackles, 1 INT) did record 11 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble in his place against San Diego.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Jacksonville’s chances of prevailing on Sunday may very well be determined by how well Garrard (343 passing yards, 4 TD, 4 INT) performs, as the ninth-year vet was brilliant in the Denver win and horrid against the Chargers. He’s historically fared better at home, however, and does have some decent weapons at his disposal. Wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker is a big and physical target who hauled in 10 passes for 105 yards and a score last Sunday, one week after being shut out by the Broncos, while the diminutive Mike Thomas (10 receptions, 132 yards) is showing signs of emerging into a reliable alternative out of the slot. The team is finally beginning to incorporate tight end Marcedes Lewis (7 receptions, 2 TD) more in the passing game, with the 2006 first-rounder gaining 70 yards on five grabs versus San Diego. The offense’s focal point is usually running back Maurice Jones-Drew (129 rushing yards, 4 receptions), but the versatile All-Pro has had a tough time getting untracked in the early going, possibly because of a sore ankle that caused him to miss some practice time this week. He’ll play on Sunday, but could cede some touches to hard-running backup Rashad Jennings (64 rushing yards, 5 receptions).
Jones-Drew might be set up for a big day if he’s close to 100 percent, considering how the Eagles failed to contain Detroit’s Jahvid Best — a smallish and speedy back in a similar mold as the Jacksonville star — this past weekend. The Lions rookie sliced and diced his way to an impressive 232 total yards (154 receiving) and three touchdowns in nearly leading his team to the upset, while journeyman quarterback Shaun Hill hung 335 yards and two scoring strikes on a Philadelphia secondary that possesses a three-time Pro Bowler in cornerback Asante Samuel (8 tackles) and a potential ballhawk in rookie free safety Nate Allen (9 tackles, 3 PD), who’s had an interception in both of his first two NFL games. End and fellow first-year man Brandon Graham (2 tackles) notched his first career sack last week and joins standout lineman Trent Cole (10 tackles, 1 sack) and situational rusher Juqua Parker (4 tackles, 3 sacks) as the club’s primary pressure generators. The reeling defense should get a big lift, especially against the run, with the return of valued middle linebacker Stewart Bradley from a concussion which knocked him out for Week 2.
Perhaps the most popular waiver-wire pickup since the start of the season, Vick gets a juicy matchup against a shaky Jaguars secondary and is certainly worth a play. Jackson and McCoy fall into the must-use category as Philly’s two other offensive playmakers, while Celek usually makes for a solid choice as well at the tight end spot. No. 2 wideout Jeremy Maclin (7 receptions) has come up with a touchdown catch in each of the Eagles’ opening two games, but remains a hit-or-miss call with the quarterback switch and a so-far secondary role in the overall game plan. While Jones-Drew’s slow start is a bit of a concern, it would be rather foolish to give up on a guy who scored 16 touchdowns a year ago that’s facing the league’s current bottom-feeder in points allowed. Insert Lewis into this week’s lineups as well, as the Eagles gave up over 100 yards to Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew last Sunday, but Garrard’s too erratic to recommend in a non-bye week situation and Sims-Walker and Thomas are both lukewarm choices. Though there’s potential for turnovers and sacks on both sides, the defenses carry risk in a game that could be high- scoring.
Reid has certainly opened himself to a heavy dose of criticism with his sudden about-face on his team’s quarterback situation, but he’s no dummy. Vick is the best quarterback on the Eagles’ roster right now and the player best-suited to get the most out of an offense that sports a wealth of speed and skill. And with the problems Philadelphia has had on defense so far, this is a team that’s going to need every point it can get. That could be the case on Sunday, as the Jaguars have enough weapons to put up their fair share of points as long as Garrard plays sound and smart. Still, Philly’s quick-strike ability in a showdown against an extremely shaky Jacksonville pass defense might be a bit too much for the home team to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 34, Jaguars 27