As DeSean Jackson pointed out this week, the Eagles captured the attention of the “whole world” during Chip Kelly’s memorable Eagles debut on Monday. That might be hyperbole from Jackson, but there’s growing buzz about Kelly and the Eagles after their dizzying pace and opportunistic defense built a big lead in a win over Washington last week.
Now, it’s the Eagles’ chance for an encore. And it comes in Kelly’s first regular-season game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles host the Chargers, who followed the Eagles on Monday by building a three-touchdown lead before losing it in the fourth quarter. They’re coached by Mike McCoy, who interviewed for the Eagles job in January. Although McCoy was a candidate, the Eagles had their eyes on Kelly all along. The reason was, in part, what will be on display on Sunday: a frenetic philosophy of football that has bedazzled Eagles fans and put the league on notice.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN
The Eagles have the NFL’s top rushing offenses after one week, and for good reason. LeSean McCoy topped 100 yards in the first half and finished with 184 yards on 31 carries. Michael Vick added 54 rushing yards. Don’t expect McCoy to total 31 carries again, but he could top 100 yards again. The Chargers have a solid rushing defense and kept the Houston Texans to 120 rushing yards last week. That’s tied for 25th in the NFL, although it’s below the Texans’ average last season. The Chargers have a strong defensive line, but they’re thin at inside linebacker. That’s especially the case if Manti Te’o misses his second consecutive game with a foot injury. Look for the Eagles to get Bryce Brown a nice chunk of the work. Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur coached against Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano last season, so he might have insight on how the Chargers play. Shurmur said San Diego is schematically the same this year with Pagano staying as coordinator under new coach Mike McCoy, although some of the personnel is different.
WHEN THE EAGLES PASS
The Eagles curbed their passing in the second half of Monday’s game, so Vick might need to throw more than 25 passes on Sunday. If he does, he’s going against a pass defense that allowed 346 passing yards in last week’s loss. The player to watch in San Diego’s secondary is safety Eric Weddle, an all-Pro who had an 11 tackles in the debut and led the NFL in interceptions in 2011. The Chargers won’t be afraid to blitz, and the Eagles must be careful about aging star Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson, the Chargers’ two outside linebackers. Defensive end Corey Liuget, a former first-round pick, had seven sacks last year and also must be watched. But San Diego lacks depth, and they did not often substitute their defensive linemen on Monday. That’s a risky proposition against the Eagles because of their tempo. The Eagles are hoping for another big game from DeSean Jackson, who was hard for the Redskins to stop last week. Brent Celek found the end zone, but James Casey barely found the playing field. Pay attention to whether Casey plays on offense this week.
WHEN THE CHARGERS RUN
The Chargers struggled rushing the ball on Monday and the Eagles excelled in stopping the rush, so evidence would suggest that the Eagles have the edge. But let’s see if it continues for another week, because the Eagles’ rushing defense appeared suspect in the preseason. The Chargers’ top rusher is the underachieving Ryan Mathews, who had 33 yards on 13 carries. Former Eagle Ronnie Brown rushed five times for 27 yards. The Eagles had the No. 6 rushing defense last week, keeping Washington to 74 yards. The Chargers’ left tackle is former Eagles starter King Dunlap, which Eagles fans might be happy to see. Their offensive line is considered a weakness. The Eagles will continue to rotate their defensive linemen. It’ll be worth monitoring whether the Eagles activate Vinny Curry, who is stronger against the pass than the run. The Eagles’ emphasis on stopping the run kept Curry sidelined last week, but that could change Sunday.
WHEN THE CHARGERS PASS
San Diego is a pass-happy offense, and quarterback Philip Rivers can accumulate yards if given time. Rivers threw for a four touchdowns last week, although he completed just 48.3 percent of his passes. The Chargers don’t have a strong receiving corps, although Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Brown, and Eddie Royal all are respectable options. Tight end Antonio Gates is not the player he once was, but he can still be dangerous. The Eagles must also watch out for backup tight end Ladarius Green, who had two preseason touchdowns. The Eagles will play without starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, which forces the defense to adjust. The best option is playing Brandon Boykin on the outside in Fletcher’s place. Brandon Hughes is back from injury, so Hughes can play on the outside when Boykin needs to fill in on the slot. The Eagles could also move safety Patrick Chung to the slot in certain situations and use Earl Wolff at safety. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis worked under Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt when Whisenhunt coached Arizona.
The Chargers special teams struggled in the preseason and had a costly penalty in Monday’s loss that gave Houston a new set of downs and put the Texans to bring the deficit within one score. The Eagles special teams excelled on Monday, with an impressive Donnie Jones punt pinning Washington back to set up a safety and Alex Henery nailing a 48-yard field goal. DeSean Jackson lined up for punt returns, and the Redskins punted away from him. Teams might use that strategy this year to avoid a big play, although it can give the Eagles a short field.
There’s considerable excitement for Kelly’s first game, and the home crowd will be behind their team after booing their way through much of the 2012 schedule. The Chargers also have to combat the difficult West-to-East trip, which is even harder to do in a short week. Kickoff will be 10 a.m. on the body clocks of the San Diego players.
Contact Zach Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.