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Eagles - Jaguars Preview: The Return of Gus
The Philadelphia Eagles will open the season on Sunday, looking to defend their NFC East crown. The visiting Jacksonville Jaguars are a rebuilding team, just looking for progress one step at a time. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense vs. Jaguars Defense
Nick Foles had the third highest passer rating in NFL history last season (119.2) and the Jags had the 26th ranked pass defense. That doesn't sound good for the Jags against an Eagles passing game that ranked 9th in the NFL. While Foles lost DeSean Jackson in the offseason, he gets Jeremy Maclin back after he missed last season with a torn ACL. Maclin looks healthy and will team up with Riley Cooper on the outside. Rookie Jordan Matthews will man the slot on occasion, but expect the Eagles to utilize a 2 TE formation quite often. Brent Celek is a great blocker and capable receiver, but Zach Ertz has shown glimpses of being a dangerous weapon. The Jags CBs, Dwayne Gratz, Alan Ball and Will Blackmon are adequate at best.
Expect Foles and his receivers to have their way with the suspect Jags secondary. Complicating matters for the Jags secondary is that their front seven has trouble generating any pass rush. They tied for the fewest sacks in the NFL last season with 31 and the only addition they made in the offseason was RDE Chris Clemons, who only had 5.5 sacks last season in Seattle. LT Jason Peters is going to dominate Clemons. The rest of the Eagles line returns, with the exception of RT Lane Johnson, who will be sitting out the first four games of the season for a PED suspension. Allan Barbre hasn't looked good in the preseason, so expect the Eagles to run left a lot.
The Eagles were the No. 1 ranked rushing offense in the NFL last year thanks to that great offensive line opening holes for the NFL's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy (1,697 yards). The Jags play a 4-3 and will need to stay in their lanes to prevent McCoy from making those incredible cut backs for big yardage. Jacksonville tried to upgrade their 29th ranked run defense with the addition of DE Red Bryant from Seattle. Again, with Brant going up against Barbre, expect the Eagles to run the other way early and often. The one name Eagles fans will recognize on the Jags' defense is Pro Bowl MLB Paul Posluszny. His 162 tackles in 2013 were second in the NFL to Vontaze Burfict. The problem is the lack of talent on either side of him. The Eagles also traded for Darren Sproles and it should be interesting to see how Kelly deploys his new toy. While Sproles doesn't run the football much anymore, he is a dangerous receiving threat and the Jags don't have anybody capable of covering him coming out of the backfield.
Will the Eagles Miss DeSean Jackson?
Jaguars Offense vs. Eagles Defense
Jacksonville spent the 3rd pick in April's draft on QB Blake Bortles, but for some reason, they're starting journeyman Chad Henne. Henne is nothing but a game-manager who has thrown seven more interceptions than touchdowns in 50 career starts. But while the Jags are going with a veteran presence at QB, they're going with a youthful approach at receiver. Besides Cecil Shorts (66 rec., 777 yds., 3 TDs in 2013), the team has three rookies at WR. Second round picks Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson are joined by undrafted rookie Allen Hurns. Lee will start opposite Shorts, but Robinson has been hurt all preseason. Marcedes Lewis is a decent TE who led the Jags in touchdown receptions last season. Unfortunately, he only had 4 TDs. The Eagles CBs, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin shouldn't have much trouble containing this group. They'll be joined by Nolan Carroll when the team goes to their new dime package. That will get DeMeco Ryans off the field in passing situations, where he has become a liability. Free agent safety Malcolm Jenkins will be the steadying presence for an Eagles secondary that ranked dead last in the NFL against the pass last season. Luckily, the Jags were only ranked 22nd in passing offense and dead last in scoring at 15.4 points per game.
The Jags upgraded their 31st ranked rushing attack by signing Toby Gerhart. Gerhart has only 353 career touches while serving as Adrian Peterson's caddy in Minnesota, but he is a good between-the-tackles runner (1,305 yards in four years). The problem is that it may be hard for him to find holes behind Jacksonville's sub-par line. Luke Joeckel was the No. 2 overall pick last year, but only started five games. Now he's moving from RT to LT, where he'll face Trent Cole. Cole had all 8 of his sacks in the second half of last season, so the second year tackle will have his hands full. LG Zane Beadles is good, but the rest of this line is made up of rookies and journeymen. For as bad as the Eagles 29th ranked defense was last year, they were decent (10th) against the run. Maybe that was because teams just wanted to attack their porous pass defense, but they held their own on the ground. The Jags won't be able to run much if they get behind quickly, which is a distinct possibility.
The Eagles had one of the worst special teams units in the NFL and made it a priority to sign free agents who played on special teams. Their coverage teams have nowhere to go but up. They'll have a new punt returner (Sproles), kick returner (Carroll) and a new kicker in Cody Parkey, after they jettisoned the inconsistent Alex Henery. Thanks again for the wasted fourth round draft pick, Andy. The under-rated Donnie Jones returns at punter. The Jags, on the other hand, have good special teams units. Punter Bryan Anger is a good punter and represents what kind of talent you should get when you spend a draft pick on a kicker or punter. Kicker Josh Scobee is one of the NFL's best. He has converted 71 of his 78 field goal attempts over the last three years.
LeSean McCoy 2013 Highlights
Chip Kelly is coming off an impressive rookie campaign and is the new "genius" coach in the NFL. His offensive innovations are being copied around the league and my guess is that he's got even more tricks up his sleeve to keep defensive coordinators off balance. He'll also make less in-game mistakes in Year 2, after a few goofs last season. Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley was almost hired as the Eagles coach last year. Bradley was actually at Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie's mansion for an interview; when Chip Kelly reconsidered his initially declining of the Eagles offer to be their coach. Let's hope it's not awkward during the post-game handshake.
This one shouldn't even be close. If the score is within two touchdowns in the second half, the security at Lincoln Financial Field will need to be on suicide watch in the upper deck. The Eagles offense just has too many weapons for the Jags defense to deal with. And the Jaguars offense doesn't have enough weapons of their own to challenge a suspect Eagles defense. It should be happy ride home for Eagles fans.
Eagles 34 - Jaguars 17