Week 1 features a visit from the team that is probably the biggest underdog on the card this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN THE BALL
The Eagles, who ran the ball 47 percent of the time last season, had the best running attack in the league. LeSean McCoy, running behind the league’s most athletic line, ran away with the rushing title, amassing 1,607 yards. He had a league-high 79 rushing first downs and 47-double-digit runs, including nine of 20 yards or more. The absence of RT Lane Johnson, who is serving a four-game PED suspension, may impact the run game a bit, but probably not much. His replacement, Allen Barbre, isn’t nearly as athletic and can’t get out on the perimeter as well as Johnson. But the rest of the starting unit is intact. McCoy’s backup, Darren Sproles, is dangerous in space, but he is expected to be used more as a receiver than a runner. The Jaguars weren’t very good v. the run last year, allowing 131.8 yards per game. But the addition of 6-5, 330-pound DE Red Bryant should be a big help.
WHEN THE EAGLES THROW THE BALL
Nick Foles is coming off a season that saw him lead the league in just about every pertinent passing category. He threw 27 TD passes and just two interceptions and put up the third best passer rating (119.2) in league history. He is accurate and makes good decisions, which are musts in Chip Kelly’s QB-friendly system. The wide receiver group is good, not great. Jeremy Maclin had 278 catches and 26 TDs in his first four seasons before missing last year with a torn ACL. Riley Cooper and rookie slot receiver Jordan Matthews both are big targets who can take balls away from defenders. The passing game figures to be very tight end- and running back-centric this season, with a lot of screens to the wideouts and running backs, particularly Sproles. Also look for Kelly to make more use of hybrid TE Zach Ertz. The Jags had just 31 sacks last season, but are hoping ex-Seahawk edge-rusher Chris Clemons can be a difference-maker.
WHEN THE JAGUARS RUN THE BALL
The Jaguars want to run the ball. But that’s easier said than done. They were one of the worst running teams in the league last year, averaging a puny 3.3 yards per carry. They let Maurice Jones-Drew go and brought in ex-Viking Toby Gerhart. Gerhart is a power back with average speed and not a lot of elusiveness. He’s rushed for 1,305 yards in four NFL seasons. Up front, they’re starting a rookie at RG – Brandon Linder – and a journeyman at C – Jacques McClendon – who has played in just nine games in six seasons. Luke Joeckel, their 2013 first-round pick, has moved from RT to LT. The most experienced player on the line is LG Zane Beadles, who was a four-year starter in Denver. The Eagles were very good against the run last year, finishing fourth in yards allowed per carry. Cedric Thornton is developing into a solid two-gap end, and rookie NT Beau Allen is pushing Bennie Logan for playing time.
WHEN THE JAGUARS THROW THE BALL
The Jags selected Blake Bortles with the the third overall pick in the May draft, but want to bring him along slowly. So, at least for now, he’ll sit and Chad Henne will start at QB. Henne has 50 career starts, including 13 last year with the Jags. He’s thrown seven more career interceptions than touchdowns and has a sub-60-percent completion rate. The Jags overhauled their receiving corps, spending two second-round picks on Marqise Lee and Penn State product Allen Robinson. Robinson was hurt much of the preseason, but Lee will be one of the team’s two starting wideouts Sunday, along with Cecil Shorts. Shorts had a team-high 66 catches last year. TE Marcedes Lewis is a decent receiver, but has caught 50-plus passes just twice in eight seasons. The Eagles had problems getting off the field on third down last year, but they have improved on the back end with the additions of safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll.
The Eagles enter the season with a new kicker after releasing Alex Henery and replacing him with rookie Cody Parkey. Parkey, who was signed late in the preseason, made 53- and 54-yard field goal attempts in the final preseason game to win the job. Henery had an 86 percent accuracy rate, but was too inconsistent beyond 45 yards and had one of the league’s poorest touchback percentages on kickoffs. Parkey led the nation in touchback percentage at Auburn last year. The Eagles also will have two new return men this season. Darren Sproles will return punts and Nolan Carroll will handle kickoffs against the Jags. Carroll hasn’t returned kickoffs since 2010. Jags PK Josh Scobee is one of the league’s best kickers. He has missed just six of 78 FG attempts over the last three years, but is coming off a quad injury that still hasn’t completely healed. KR Jordan Todman averaged 27.4 yards per return last year.
Temperatures are expected to be around 80 degrees Sunday, which could create some fatigue issues for the Jags’ defense against Chip Kelly’s tempo offense, particularly in the second half.
HOT AND NOT
Eagles: QB Nick Foles. Had the third highest passer rating in league history last season (119.2).
Jaguars: PK Josh Scobee. Has converted 71 of 78 field goal attempts over the last three seasons.
Eagles: RB Chris Polk. Missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury.
Jaguars: RT Cameron Bradfield. Gave up 7 sacks, 14 QB hits and 29 hurries last season.
--Eagles RB LeSean McCoy v. Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny: McCoy is one of the best backs in the league, rushing for 1,607 yards last year. Posluszny is a talented downhill attacker, but he’s going to have problems dealing with the Eagles’ athletic line to get to McCoy. Edge: Eagles
--Eagles LT Jason Peters v. Jaguars DE Chris Clemons: The Jags brought in ex-Seahawk Clemons to improve their pass rush. Peters is a six-time Pro Bowler with freakish athleticism for a 330-pound man. Edge: Eagles
--Eagles OLB Trent Cole v. Jaguars LT Luke Joeckel: Even at 32, Cole still is a dangerous pass-rusher. He had eight sacks in the last eight games last season. Joeckel, the second pick in the 2013 draft, is making the move from RT to LT and has just five career starts. Edge: Eagles
Domo's prediction: Eagles 27, Jaguars 10