Preview: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Eagles and Jaguars both have their problems. The two teams are almost desperate for a win in Sunday's matchup at Lincoln Financial Field.

Seven games into the season, the Eagles still have not lost to another team.

That they are 4-3 instead of 7-0 is strictly their own doing.

They blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the New York Giants in Week 2 thanks in large part to an uncharacteristic fumble by running back Brian Westbrook and an inexcusable personal foul penalty by defensive end Trent Cole that set up the Giants' game-tying field goal.

The Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago when a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty negated a third-down sack and kept alive the Saints' game-winning scoring drive.

Then, last Sunday, four turnovers and an act of stupidity by defensive end Jerome McDougle, led to a 23-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs. Three of the four turnovers were interceptions by quarterback Donovan McNabb, including two that were returned for touchdowns by Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber.

The act of stupidity by McDougle was another penalty. McDougle committed a 15-yard fourth-quarter facemask penalty that he made worse by kicking the official's flag and getting another 15-yard penalty. Those 30 yards gift-wrapped the second of Bucs kicker Matt Bryant's three field goals.

"We've got some young guys, some inexperienced guys, trying, and at times, trying too hard," coach Andy Reid said. "Some of that stuff is new for them. They've got to learn to control their emotions, keep their ears open."

Under Andy Reid, the Eagles always have done a good job of protecting the football. McNabb has the second lowest interception percentage in league history. Fumbles were few and far between. They usually kept stupid penalties to a minimum. But not this year.

While McNabb had thrown just 2 interceptions prior to the Bucs loss, the fumbles and penalties have been a season-long thing. Their eight lost fumbles are the second most in the league. Only the hapless Oakland Raiders have more (9). Their 47 penalties in the first 7 games are the sixth most in the league.

Almost every one of their lost fumbles has either cost them a potential score or set one up for the opponent. Rookie Jason Avant's fumble at the Tampa Bay 20 yard-line Sunday on the Eagles' first possession cost the Eagles at least a field goal, which would have been the difference in the two-point loss.

Dexter Wynn's muffed punt return against New Orleans set up a cheap touchdown for the Saints right before the end of the first half. Westbrook's careless fumble late in the fourth-quarter against the Giants prevented the Eagles from eating up the clock with a 10-point lead. Running back Correll Buckhalter had two fumbles inside the five yard-line against Green Bay.

Reid usually gives his team the Monday - and the mandatory Tuesday - off after a game. But he ordered his players into the Eagles' south Philadelphia training facility this past Monday to watch the gruesome tape of their loss to Tampa Bay. He also told them they need to play smarter. He stopped short of doing anything else, like, say, releasing McDougle.

"I like this football team," Reid said. "I like the character on the team. Sunday, you could see throughout the league that people who were in the NFC got beat. Those things happen."

"I don't worry too much about what happens down the road as much as I do this next football game and getting that straight. That's where we're going to put our focus."

Meanwhile, things aren't going so well in J-ville either.

The coach is squabbling with the quarterback over whether he's injured.

The coach benched a defensive back for trying to give a halftime pep talk.

The coach is complaining his staff members don't speak up.

The running back complained about his contract and then was guilty of a game-turning fumble.

The defensive end was arrested.

Three starters are out for the season with injuries.

Welcome to the 2006 Jaguars, who are trying to keep the wheels from falling off.

Just a year ago, they went 12-4 and they thought they were Super Bowl contenders.

Instead, they're 3-3 after losing all three road games and their season could fall apart if they don't upset the Eagles in Philadelphia Sunday.

Coach Jack Del Rio had improved the team from 5-11 to 9-7 to 12-4. Now they appear to be taking a step backwards and the club appears to be close to being engulfed in turmoil.

Things fell apart Sunday in Houston when they lost 27-7 to a team that had lost four games by an average of 19 points.

Del Rio played quarterback Byron Leftwich even though he had a sore ankle. Leftwich completed only 14 passes for 125 yards, but said his ankle wasn't a factor in his poor play.

Del Rio said it must be his ankle and was going to pull him in the third quarter if Leftwich hadn't led the team on a touchdown drive.

Del Rio then said Monday he didn't think the ankle was a problem. He changed his mind Monday night, and by Tuesday night it was a problem, and added that Leftwich has to convince him he's healthy and will play David Garrard if he isn't. Leftwich still maintained the ankle isn't the problem, but it appears that Del Rio will turn to Garrard against the Eagles.

That would be enough to worry about for a team, but it's just the tip of the iceberg for the Jaguars.

Del Rio benched safety Deon Grant at halftime when he said he wanted silence in the locker room and Grant, who came in late and didn't hear it, tried to pep up his teammates. That seemed to be an overreaction by Del Rio, who said Monday that Grant would return to the lineup.

Del Rio also complained none of his assistants told him to pull Leftwich even though it was obvious he wasn't playing well. It made it sound as if Del Rio was trying to blame his staff for a decision he should have made.

And running back Fred Taylor complained that the Jaguars won't give him a new contract and then fumbled late in the third period after the Jaguars had cut the deficit to 10-7.

And defensive end Bobby McCray was arrested on a reckless driving charge by police, who also said he had a controlled substance in his possession. McCray and the Jaguars said it was a pain pill he got on the plane ride home from the team doctors. But it was an embarrassment to the team.

Meanwhile, starters Mike Peterson, Reggie Hayward and Greg Jones are out for the team and Marcus Stroud, who missed the last two games, is doubtful with an ankle injury. And Matt   Jones, who missed the last two games, is questionable with a hamstring injury.

If the Jaguars upset Philadelphia, they come home to play Tennessee and Houston and can get on a role.

If they lose, they fall below .500 for the first time since Del Rio's first year in 2003 and the wheels could fall off.

There's a lot at stake in Philadelphia for the Jaguars Sunday.

BIRDS' GAME PLAN: The Eagles feel they can exploit coverage mismatches in the passing game with RB Brian Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith. They'll try to get both matched up against Jacksonville's LBs. Their defensive focus will be shutting down the run on first- and second-down and putting the Jaguars in third-and-long situations where they can tee off on either Leftwich or Garrard, whoever is playing for the Jags.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

  • Eagles DTs Darwin Walker, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley and Sam Rayburn vs. Jaguars C Brad Meester and Gs Chris Naeole and Vince Manuwai. The Jags are primarily a downhill A-gap running team. The Eagles rotate four tackles inside.
  • Eagles RB Brian Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith vs. Jaguars LBs Clint Ingram, Daryl Smith and Nick Greisen. Westbrook and Smith are difficult coverage matchups for any linebacker unit, particularly this one.

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