Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) will play their sixth game across the pond on Sunday against the Super Bowl champions, Philadelphia Eagles, also with a 3-4 record.
The Florida-based franchise have won their previous three games in London and will be hoping the familiarity of playing this side of the Atlantic will give them the advantage. After Sunday, 29 of the 32 teams in the NFL would have played a game in the UK, with only Green Bay, Houston and Carolina yet to make the trip.
Historically teams have struggled to win their opening game in the International Series and the Eagles — the newcomers — will be unfamiliar with changing time-zones and preparing for a game in a new stadium that will be full of Jacksonville fans.
Jaguars All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey doesn’t believe the familiarity of playing in the UK is a significant advantage, however.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage,” he told the Sports Gazette. “We both had to fly in a long way from the States, get adjusted and go through our regular routines. Both teams right now are trying to overcome some trouble.”
Ramsey is was one of the most outspoken players in the league and has established himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL since being drafted in the first round in 2016.
The Jaguars managed 33 turnovers in the 2017 season during their run to the AFC Championship against the Patriots. This year they have been unable to turn the ball over as frequently.
Their inefficiency largely derives from recent injuries to defensive backs, such as AJ Bouye and Tyler Patmon, who both miss Sunday’s game. Therefore, several rookies will likely join Ramsey in the secondary.
Defensive end Calais Campbell noted this is a crucial factor in the outcome of Sunday’s game, especially as Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has flourished thus far, averaging 11.2 yards per reception and totalling 291 yards in October.
Campbell said: “We know interceptions are going to help our game. If we get turnovers that usually equates to winning ball games. Especially if you can protect the ball on the other side, and win that turnover battle, you usually end up with the W.”
During Ramsey’s rooking season, he gave up 96 yards in his defensive match-ups against Eagles’ receivers. Although he recognises the threat of Philadelphia’s quarterback Carson Wentz he didn’t want to focus on the negatives of that performance too much.
He added: “I messed up against him in my rookie year. That was two years ago. We’ve both grown a lot from that time.”
The venue for the game has dominated the discussion in the UK in the build up to Sunday. The Jaguars owner, Shahid Khan, tried to strengthen the franchise’s stake in London by bidding £600 million for the FA’s most prized asset, Wembley Stadium.
However, he withdrew his offer for the national stadium after recognising the amount of opposition to the sale. Despite this, a UK-based franchise is seemingly inevitable eventually.
Nontheless, discussion in the States has largely focused on Doug Marrone’s decision to bench starting quarterback Blake Bortles halfway through their 20-7 loss to the Houston Texans last week.
The starting QB has struggled with consistency throughout his NFL career, but has been a significant factor in the Jaguars three consecutive defeats, managing just two touchdown passes and eight turnovers.
Bortles signed a new contract with the Jaguars after a run of impressive playoff performances that took them to the AFC Championship game last season. Chief executive Tom Coughlin rewarded Bortles and stuck with their former third overall pick despite him often being the scapegoat when the team lose.
It will be interesting to see if any trade rumours materialise after Sunday’s game with the trade deadline coming up on Tuesday. Bortles best performances frequently come when under scrutiny, and he said he wouldn’t pay too much attention to the watchful eyes of the media.
“It’s good to be able to get my mind off of last week and move on and start worrying about Philly,” Bortles said.
“Instead of the outside noise, I just focus on playing football. I’ve always just believed that if you win football games, eventually the noise will go away.”
Issues on the field haven’t been the full extent of Marrone’s problems this season. Prior to their campaign, starting defensive end Dante Fowler had an altercation with fellow DE Yannick Ngakoue. This led to All-Pro Ramsey shouting profanities at the media in attendance.
The environment seemingly reached boiling point again on Sunday when Calais Campbell was pictured holding back Ngakoue when the locker room door was opened briefly to the media.
Campbell — 2017 All-Pro defensive end — wasn’t afraid to highlight this issue when speaking to the media on Friday.
“I think adversity brings out the best of us all. You show your true character when things are going bad. I think we did a good job to slow the bleeding.”
Campbell also spoke about Bortles’ recent difficulties: “I know he’s always motivated to redeem himself, just like we all are. When you lose a game — especially three in a row — you want to redeem yourself and get back in the winning column.”
Although the International Series has been criticised for lacking a competitive game, Jaguars v Eagles will likely produce a tough battle as both teams look to spark new life into their stuttering seasons.
Marrone and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson would have had Super Bowl aspirations in September, so Sunday could be pivotal to where both teams end up once we reach January.
Featured photograph/Michael Jordan