The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Jaguars
Here’s a look at how the Eagles and Jaguars match up.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN…
LeSean McCoy is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in rushing yards (1,607), yards from scrimmage (2,146), carries (314) and touches (366). He is in the prime of his career and by all accounts is poised for another monster season.
The Eagles return four of five starters up front. The only exception is Allen Barbre, who gets the start at right tackle in place of suspended Lane Johnson. Barbre was up and down in the preseason, at times not sustaining his blocks as long as Chip Kelly would have liked in the ground game.
Jacksonville’s defense was 24th against the run last year, according to Football Outsiders’ rankings. But they have some talent in the front seven. The Jaguars added former Seattle defensive lineman Red Bryant to go along guys like Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny drew praise from Pat Shurmur earlier this week and is a downhill thumper in the run game.
Chris Polk (hamstring) is questionable. If he can’t go, the Eagles could only have two running backs active in McCoy and Darren Sproles.
The Eagles’ offense is still built around spreading the defense out and running the ball with McCoy. They should be able to do that effectively against Jacksonville.
WHEN THE EAGLES PASS…
The phrase “27 and 2” has been repeated often in the Delaware Valley this offseason. Now, Nick Foles looks to build on his performance from a year ago. He wasn’t lights-out in the summer, but looked comfortable running the offense. Foles’ biggest strengths are his decision-making and knowing where to go with the football.
Jeremy Maclin will play in his first regular-season game since 2012, and Riley Cooper starts opposite him after signing a long-term extension in the offseason. Rookie Jordan Matthews will likely see the most snaps in the slot.
We’ll get our first chance to see how Kelly plans to use Darren Sproles – both in the run game and the pass game. Brent Celek had a strong preseason, and Zach Ertz is poised for a breakout year. Look for Ertz to get his number called often in the red zone.
Jacksonville ranked 30th in adjusted sack rate a year ago, but added former Seahawk (and Eagle) Chris Clemons in the offseason. If 2013 is any indication, don’t expect the Jaguars to blitz much. They rushed four 73.6 percent of the time last season, second-most in the league according to the Football Outsiders Almanac. If they do bring pressure, expect Gus Bradley to attack the right side of the Eagles’ line. Barbre had issues in pass protection during the preseason, and Todd Herremans was up and down in that area a year ago.
Jacksonville has some young talent in the secondary. Jonathan Cyprien, a second-round pick in 2013, improved last year as he gained more experience. And Dwayne Gratz, a third-round pick in 2013, will set up at left cornerback. Veteran Alan Ball will start opposite Gratz.
WHEN THE JAGUARS RUN…
It’ll be a heavy dose of Toby Gerhart. The veteran signed with the Jaguars after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Vikings. He’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 276 career attempts.
The Eagles’ run defense ranked 11th in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders, last year. Cedric Thornton is a technician, and Fletcher Cox adjusted well to two-gapping against the run. The Eagles’ depth is better as well. Brandon Bair played his way onto the roster and will rotate in at defensive end. Don’t be surprised if Bennie Logan and rookie Beau Allen pretty much split snaps at nose tackle.
DeMeco Ryans’ strength is playing the run, and Mychal Kendricks seems poised for a breakout season at the other inside linebacker spot. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole do a fantastic job of setting the edge in the run game and getting to the ball-carrier.
The Jaguars’ offensive line was terrible a year ago. Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, returns from ankle surgery that sidelined him for the last 11 games of 2013 and will start at left tackle. Jacksonville signed veteran Zane Beadles from Denver and drafted right guard Brandon Linder in the third round. Jacques McClendon will be making his first career start at center.
WHEN THE JAGUARS PASS…
Chad Henne has thrown 55 touchdowns and 62 interceptions in 50 career starts. He’s completed 59.5 percent of his passes and averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt. We know what Henne is at this point, but we’ve also seen the Eagles’ defense make bad quarterbacks look like Pro Bowlers in the past.
Wide receiver Cecil Shorts II is questionable with a hamstring injury. Rookie Marqise Lee is someone the Eagles would have considered in the second round had he been available. Lee can make plays downfield, fight through contact and line up in a variety of spots. His weakness is that he doesn’t have great hands.
Allen Robinson, a Penn State product, has been sidelined for a month with a hamstring injury, but he’s probable. Tight end Marcedes Lewis averaged 14.4 yards per catch last season.
The Eagles will go with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher at corner. Brandon Boykin will rotate in as the nickel, and Nolan Carroll II gives them the ability to play more dime.
Nate Allen will start alongside Malcolm Jenkins at safety. The Eagles are counting on Jenkins to provide some stability to what has been a weak spot for years.
Up front, if the Eagles can’t pressure Henne, it’ll be a sign that this pass-rush is in trouble. Brandon Graham will rotate in at outside linebacker, and Vinny Curry figures to see plenty of snaps as a pass-rush specialist. Don’t be surprised if Billy Davis once again dials up the blitz often. Kendricks is the player to watch when he has his number called.
Cody Parkey replaces an ineffective Alex Henery for the Eagles. The coverage units were not good a year ago. They’ll count on free-agent signees Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos to make a difference. Carroll will handle kickoff returns, and Sproles will likely get the call on punts.
Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee is probable with a quad injury.
Jacksonville ranked ninth in Football Outsiders’ special teams rankings last year; the Eagles ranked 25th.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on CBS. The announcers are Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein. Click here to see if the game will be broadcast in your area. …The Eagles are 10.5-point favorites, and the over/under is 52. … My guesses for inactives: Josh Huff (already ruled out), Matt Tobin (already ruled out), QB Matt Barkley, DL Taylor Hart, TE Trey Burton, CB Jaylen Watkins and OL Dennis Kelly. There’s a chance Dennis Kelly could dress and Andrew Gardner could be inactive. There’s also a chance Marcus Smith II could be inactive. If he dresses, he’ll have a limited role.