Predictions from The Inquirer’s Eagles beat reporters:
Jeff McLane: Zach, because philly.com readers seem to love our work so much as evidenced by the complimentary notices we often receive in the comments section, I figured we’d give the readers what they want: A running conversation of our thoughts and predictions on the Eagles’ upcoming game.
The Jaguars come to town, and while no one seems to be giving Gus Bradley’s troops much of a chance -- Vegas has them as 11-1/2-point underdogs -- I think their defense has to be reckoned with. Chip Kelly and the Eagles obviously won’t take them lightly. Bradley went out and brought two of his former Seahawks ends -- Red Bryant and Chris Clemons -- to help with his 4-3 “under” defense. Those guys aren’t exactly young, but I wonder if Bradley looks at right tackle Allen Barbre and sees a weak spot on the Eagles line.
I know it was only a preseason game, but I also recall the Birds o-line having problems with the Jags’ alignment up front last year. Do you think Jacksonville can pressure Nick Foles or do you think Kelly is ready to unleash a 2.0 version of his offense that will simply destroy the unsuspecting Jags the way he did in last year’s opener vs. the Redskins?
Zach Berman: I don't want to inflate the Jaguars, but the Eagles are fortunate this game is in September and not December. Jacksonville improved as last season progressed, and I anticipate the same this season. You bring up a good point about Jacksonville’s defense, and Bryant will be a difficult matchup for Barbre. But I think the Eagles have too much firepower for the Jaguars. Jacksonville will not be unsuspecting, but there are dynamics in this offense such as Darren Sproles and Jeremy Maclin that will be unleashed in the regular season after a veiled preseason. Even if the Jaguars have two of Seattle’s ends from last season, they don’t have the Seahawks secondary. The Jaguars’ defensive backfield lacks depth, and the Eagles are equipped to play with a quick-strike offense to help alleviate the pass rush. This is not a game where Foles might have significant time to sit in the pocket, but it won’t be a particularly daunting challenge.
McLane: I’m probably more inclined to take the Jaguars and the points than predict a straight-up upset, but I still think the Eagles offense may need a few series to figure out Bradley’s game plan. The lynchpin on defense is middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. The former Penn Stater (full disclosure: I’m a fellow alum) will turn 30 in October, but he’s still a tackling machine. If the Eagles interior line can take him out at the second level -- and Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are certainly capable -- then I think LeSean McCoy will have the space he needs to do this thing. OK, enough about the Eagles offense-Jags defense matchup. Does Jacksonville have enough fire power on offense if Foles and company go off? Chad Henne is just a meh quarterback. I don’t think running back Toby Gerhart scares a run defense that was fourth in the NFL in yards per carry last season? What say you?
Berman: Jacksonville does not have enough firepower to hang with the Eagles. That’s what the Vegas oddsmaker likely realized. Gerhart is a fine rusher, Henne is an OK quarterback, and their receivers might be intriguing next season. But unless the Jaguars’ defense keeps the Eagles under 20 points, then their offense will not be able to keep pace.
It will be interesting to watch rookie receiver Marqise Lee. I incorrectly predicted him going to the Eagles in my mock draft. The Eagles passed him at No. 22 when they traded back, and then also at No. 26. Jacksonville had a first-round grade on him, and Kelly said this week that the Eagles gave Lee a “very, very high grade.” You never how the picks would have fallen, but I’ve been curious how the Eagles’ offense would have looked if they could have come away with Lee in the first round and Jordan Matthews in the second round. I understand that the pass rushers dropped off after the second round and the Eagles seemed determined to take Josh Huff, but if they wanted to reconfigure their receiver position, Lee and Matthews would have been pretty dynamic.
When the Jacksonville offense is on the field, I’m curious to see what kind of pass rush the Eagles can produce. Luke Joeckel is almost like a high-profile newcomer to the line, considering he was the No. 2 pick last season and played only five games. Zane Beadles was an interesting signing at left guard, and the two should make bolster the left side of the line. The right side is inexperienced and an area the Eagles could exploit. If the Eagles cannot apply pressure this week, then this could be a long season for the pass rushers.
As for the Bortles/Henne debate, it’s similar to the one Sixers fans have with Sam Hinkie. I understand Jacksonville’s strategy to sit Bortles, especially while they upgrade the line and develop the skill players. But with the way Bortles looked in the preseason, it must be tough for fans to know he’s holding a clipboard.
McLane: Well, I think you covered the limitations on offense for the Jaguars. I’m curious to see the Eagles defense with another offseason and the addition of Malcolm Jenkins. I still have reservations about the pass rush and lack thereof, but I think Bill Davis has a few more tools in the toolbox -- to steal a Chip phrase. Nolan Carroll will allow him to sprinkle in some dime on third and long and get DeMeco Ryans off the field. And I expect him to have more variety with his blitz packages with Mychal Kendricks and Jenkins getting ample opportunities.
Before I ask for your prediction of the game, I did want to get a few other predictions for the season. Like:
Who will be team's MVP?
Who will break out?
Who will take a step back?
Who will surprise?
Who will disappoint?
When will Philadelphia erect a statue to Chip?
You first …
Berman: Thanks for letting me go first, because we might overlap.
Who will be team's MVP? I'm going with Jason Peters here. If you look at the Eagles record books, it’s not just 2013 that stands out for offense. It’s also 2010 and 2011. The absence of 2012 is noticeable. Obviously, other offensive linemen missed that season. But Peters is that good. He’s critical for the success of Foles and McCoy.
Who will break out? Here’s an original answer -- Zach Ertz. I’m obviously not going on a ledge here, but Ertz is a talented route runner who is a mismatch with size or speed in most situations. The last eight games last season were a sneak preview. He won’t be at the Pro Bowl level yet, but he’ll be in that next tier.
Who will take a step back? Trent Cole. I give credit to Cole for how long he’s been effective, and those eight sacks in eight games last season can encourage some. But I don’t think he’s a standout pass rusher anymore. If he’s playing 73 percent of the defensive snaps, that could be a problem. He might be better in a situational role.
Who will surprise? I don’t know if Darren Sproles is a surprise, but I do think he plays a major role in this offense. I’ve heard some concern that his production could be waning, but don’t be surprised if he leads the team in catches -- and has more carries than catches this season.
Who will disappoint? I think Nick Foles will be very productive, but he’ll disappoint those expect an upper-echelon quarterback. It should not be disappointing if he does not duplicate the 27-touchdown/2-interception pace from last season, but if he does not make strides in key areas, it would be a disappointment relative to the progress he showed last season. So the answer depends on what the expectations are. If fans are OK with a 28-to-32-touchdown, 10-to-14-interception season, then it’s not disappointing. If fans are expecting Foles to be considered among the NFL’s best quarterbacks, it will be a disappointment.
When will Philadelphia erect a statue to Chip? I watched a lot of Kelly’s Oregon teams, and I’ve been impressed with his coaching ever since a 2009 win over USC on Halloween. I think he’s an awfully good coach, and he’s done much that deserves praise in Philadelphia. But the Seahawks, 49ers, Packers, and Saints all have good coaching, too. This is still a talent-based industry, and I don’t think the Eagles roster is at the level of the final four teams of the NFC last season. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. They play three of those four in the regular season, and I wish I could watch an Eagles-Saints game. That would be great theater.
This is a long way of saying, no statue this year.
What do you think?
McLane: Whew. Nice job. I’ll keep mine short, because I know our readers want to get back to work.
MVP? I got to go with McCoy. I think he may find the end zone more this season.
Breakout? I’ve been touting Ertz since May.
Step back? Cole is a good choice. I think Brandon Graham may take some of his snaps as the season progresses. How about Bradley Fletcher? He had a decent 2014, but I think these new rules will really hinder his game and Carroll is knocking at his door
Surprise? Trey Burton. I think the undrafted rookie will dress on game days and that Chip has some special plays drawn up for the TE-HB.
Disappoint? I think Jeremy Maclin is a very good receiver, but he’ll disappoint those who think he can step in and be the No. 1 WR DeSean Jackson was last season.
As for Chip’s statue, I believe a few members of the media in this town have already begun laying the foundation.
Back to the game: What's your prediction? I got the Eagles 30, Jaguars 19.
Berman: Eagles 34, Jaguars 16. It’s a happy Monday morning in Philadelphia, although fans should savor the win while they can. A visit to Indianapolis next Monday won’t be easy.