Three Eagles-Colts Pregame Thoughts

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

INDIANAPOLIS — Here are three thoughts on the Eagles as we count down to kickoff.

1. Chip Kelly insists he didn’t go into last season with any preconceived notions about life in the NFL. That applied to big-picture stuff, but it also applied to on-field game-planning and specifically how teams would defend his offensive attack.

What he discovered was that the strategy of choice was a lot of man coverage. The Eagles’ run game was lethal, and teams had to guard against it. That meant loading the box, playing with a single high safety and daring Nick Foles and the receivers to beat them.

“People want to play you in man-to-man coverage,” Kelly said in March at the owners meetings. “We saw a lot more of that than other people. Getting guys that can get open versus man coverage is a key deal. …That’s the one thing we know as a group going in, is one-on-one coverage is a big deal for us. It is a big deal in this league. People probably – I think, and I don’t know the statistics if you break it down – may have played us in more man than most teams in the league.

“So anybody we’re gonna look at at wide receiver from the future here on or that’s currently on our roster is: What’s your ability to get open in one-on-one coverage? Because we see a ton of it. That’s a huge thing for us in the offseason.”

The names on the roster have obviously changed. Jeremy Maclin is in, and DeSean Jackson is out. Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles are new toys for Kelly to utilize as well.

But in Week 1, the Jaguars played a lot of Cover 3. Kelly’s scheme and play-calling produced open receivers downfield against the zone looks. But that game wasn’t really about winning one-on-one matchups.

Which is what makes tonight so fascinating. The Colts are largely a man coverage team with corners Vontae Davis and Greg Toler. Barring something unforeseen, that’s how they’ll defend the Eagles. It will look a lot like what we saw last year.

Guys like Maclin, Matthews and Riley Cooper will have to win their matchups. Foles will have to be willing to throw to guys who are covered up. Expect to see a lot of the Eagles’ mesh concept and perhaps even a back-shoulder fade or two.

And this will be our first chance to really see what Kelly’s offseason vision was when he made so many changes. As I mentioned in the scouting report, don’t be surprised if the focus is on taking advantage of the Colts’ linebackers with Zach Ertz, Sproles and LeSean McCoy.

One way or another, tonight’s matchup should provide good insight into what’s in store for Year 2.

2. Fletcher Cox is one of the most fascinating players on the Eagles’ roster. He flashed plenty in his first two seasons, but never reached the consistent level where it was obvious he was going to fulfill expectations as the No. 12 overall pick.

Scheme, of course, had something to do with that. Cox’s first year was spent under Jim Washburn, playing defensive tackle and firing off the snap all game long. The goal was to get into the backfield on every play.

Since Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro have taken over, the goals are quite different. Cox is forced to read and react in the Eagles’ 3-4 and play two gaps most of the time. He’s often lined up across the nose tackle in sub packages and tasked with transitioning from his run responsibilities to his pass-rush without thinking twice.

Cox was a productive player last year, but far from dominant. Against Jacksonville, he was fantastic – both against the run and as a pass-rusher.

After the 2014 season, Cox will be eligible to restructure his contract. Will the Eagles view him as a key cog in their machine going forward? Will Cox prefer to test the market after 2015 and potentially look for a fit in a different scheme?

Answers to those questions should reveal themselves in the next 15 games, including tonight. Andrew Luck is a master at climbing the pocket when he feels pressure off the edge. The Eagles need Cox to provide an interior push and be there waiting for Luck when he tries to step up.

If Cox is ready to make the leap, the outlook for this defense suddenly looks different.

3. Then there’s the pass-rush as a whole. Many (including yours truly) applauded Billy Davis and the defense for the way they applied consistent pressure on Chad Henne in the opener.

But Week 1 can be tricky. You don’t really know how good the competition is. Week 2 provides some more answers. And what we saw yesterday was the Redskins sacking Henne 10 times in their 41-10 victory.

In other words, I want to see more from Davis and company tonight. Will those A-Gap pressures get to Luck? Can the Eagles get pass-rush contributions from a variety of sources like they did last week? Can they afford to send Mychal Kendricks after the quarterback, or will they need him in coverage?

The pass-rush is always tied to the back end. Davis wants to pick his spots with blitzing and disguise pressure up front. Kelly described Luck earlier this week as “the smartest guy you’re going to go against.”

Tonight will serve as a good barometer for where the defense, and specifically the pass-rush, is in Davis’ second season.