After months of speculation, innuendo, sources, reports and agonizing waiting, we are now only one day removed from watching the Eagles play in a football game that counts. For the first time since 2010, the Eagles will start the year at home, welcoming in the Jacksonville Jaguars and their coach Gus Bradley.
As you no doubt know, Bradley came this close to becoming the Eagles' head honcho before Chip Kelly (probably) showed up at the front door of the NovaCare Complex, (probably) holding a boom box over his head. Apparently Howie Roseman is a Peter Gabriel fan, and hired Kelly over Bradley. And though it rarely works out this way, it seems like the Jaguars and Eagles' hires have been good for both teams: Chip has taken the Eagles' offense to new heights and become the hottest coach in the NFL (just look at those smackers!), while Bradley's energy and vision has reinvigorated a Jacksonville team in desperate need of help.
On the field, though, these two teams are worlds apart. The Eagles, coming off a 10-6 season and an NFC East crown, are a a trendy Super Bowl pick. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-12 season, winning all four of its games in the second half of the season.
With the first week of the season so unpredictable, and with such a large talent gap between these two teams, storylines aren't as easy to come by. But there's still plenty to talk about, so let's get to it:
The Final 53
Now in his second year as head coach of the Eagles, Kelly's roster is showing signs of being "his." While there are plenty of players remaining from the Andy Reid era - it's hard to argue against keeping LeSean McCoy, for example - the roster is unarguably shaped in the mold of its coach. As we've learned over the offseason, those who do not heed Kelly's direction are booted, and the impressive thing is that the players don't seem to mind.
As we head into Year Two of the Chip Kelly Project, we've heard more about players' initial apprehension. After all, with players coming from the world of Andy Reid's Fat Guy Friday lunch buffet (this was a real thing, y'all), it's not hard to imagine players being unsure about the coach that wants to figuratively watch them as they sleep. But the results speak for themselves, and Kelly's methods have already paid dividends.
After some tinkering, the Eagles' final 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad are set for Week 1. While many fans were disappointed to see running back Henry Josey join Jacksonville's practice squad, there are still promising players on whom to keep an eye. Running back Matthew Tucker led the preseason in rushing touchdowns with four, and has game experience. Smart money is on him getting on the 53 at some point this season.
Elsewhere, the Eagles were unable to sign former track star Teddy Williams, instead bringing in linebacker Colton Underwood. The former Chargers undrafted rookie had a sack in the preseason, and showed flashes over the summer. The Eagles are smarting from the loss of Travis Long to an ACL injury, so it was smart to look for a pass rusher to develop.
And I would be
fired remiss if I didn't mention fan-favorite quarterback G.J. Kinne, who makes his triumphant return to the practice squad.
Scouting the Jaguars
When looking at the Jaguars' roster, I am reminded of the immortal words of Pete Campbell: That roster is not great, Bob. Much like our #TogetherWeBuild friends, the Sixers, the Jaguars are building through the draft, bringing in a young corps of players including potential franchise quarterback Blake Bortles and exciting receivers Alen Robinson and Marqise Lee. But like the Sixers' roster, the Jaguars are hurting for skilled contributors.
In a recent BGN poll, you the readers decided that you'd happily take second-year safety Johnathan Cyrpien over any other Jags player, but would also take back Henry Josey over wide receiver Cecil Shorts III or o-lineman Zane Beadles. And perhaps taking Josey over Shorts is a good thing, since the receiver's chronically-injured hamstring seems to be acting up again, leaving his status for Sunday in question.
How High Do They Fly?
The Eagles see themselves as a Super Bowl contender, while most observers see them as the likely NFC East victors. But if you're looking for reasons to be nervous, you're probably looking at one of two areas: quarterback Nick Foles and the defense.
Former Eagles quarterback and current FOX talking head Donovan McNabb made waves this week by saying that he didn't see Foles as a franchise quarterback:
"I really can’t answer that at this particular point," McNabb said. "But if I had to, give or take, I would say no. He won’t do what he did last year. That just won’t happen, 27 touchdowns, two interceptions. I see him being more of a 25 touchdown, maybe eight, maybe 10 interception guy."
McNabb's opinion is certainly not a new one, and regardless of how you may feel about McNabb, this same opinion is shared by plenty of fellow fans. And in truth, it's hard to say where Foles ranks in the oft-debated, impossible-to-quantify echelon of Franchise Quarterbacks. But it's still not Sunday at 1pm, and we all need to pass the time, so let's crunch some numbers anyway.
So far, Foles has appeared in 20 games, starting 16. Let's look at how he performed in his first 16 starts, relative to some other consensus franchise guys, McNabb included:
|Player (First 16 Starts)||Attempts||Completions||Completion %||Yards||TDs||INTs||Passer Rating|
|Nick Foles (2012-13)||520||323||62.97||4125||29||6||100.65|
|Andrew Luck (2012)||627||339||54.07||4374||23||18||76.5|
|Drew Brees (2002)||526||320||60.84||3284||17||16||76.9|
|Donovan McNabb (1999-2000)||508||280||53.94||2753||20||16||70.6|
|Peyton Manning (1998)||575||326||56.70||3739||26||28||71.2|
The purpose of this exercise is not to disparage McNabb or to compare his numbers to Foles; in fact doing so makes no sense. Like most of the quarterbacks on this list, Foles began his career in a different era, and Foles has more offensive talent around him than McNabb ever did. Instead, this list is intended to point out that, at the beginning of his career, Foles has put up the numbers comparable to other franchise-level players. And if his first 16 starts are any indication, he could easily become better than McNabb is predicting.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Bill Davis said this week that he does not expect first round pick Marcus Smith II to see much action in the opener. Instead, Smith II figures to have a "limited role." This isn't surprising, given what we've seen from him throughout the summer.
The Louisville product will likely take some time to adjust to the pro game, and while the Eagles pass rush is certainly not stellar, the defense also isn't hurting to get Smith II into the starting lineup. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will likely handle much of the pass rushing duties on the outside, with Connor Barwin continuing to fill the Jack role. To get on the field, Smith II will have to show that he can play the Jack and continue improving his pass rushing chops. And if he can, it would be a boon to Barwin, who played entirely too many snaps last season.
But hey, enough about that. The Eagles are opening the season against a not-so-great team! They're gonna win the Super Bowl! Yay!
Week 1 of the NFL season is, apparently, the best time to make season-long predictions. And with the Eagles a trendy pick for analysts, you better believe the hyperbole is out there. Just take a look at this take from NFL Network's Marshall Faulk:
If you understand in our league, we've had some great backs. I mean phenomenal backs in our league. I mean they've rushed for 2,000 yards, guys caught 60, 70, 80 balls, 100 balls, LT… but there's only two backs to go for 1,000/1,000. I say LeSean McCoy will be the third running back in NFL history to rush for 1,000, and catch for 1,000, in the same season at the same time.
Scorching! Let's see if anyone at NFL Network can top it. Any takers?
For only the second time in NFL history, three different teams will win at least 14 games this year. […] I'm going to go Denver, Seattle, and Philly.
This generous prediction comes courtesy of Kurt Warner. Thanks, Kurt!
In all seriousness, part of the fun of this team is its unpredictability. Fans only had a vague idea of what to expect from Chip Kelly in Year One, and though we may have some inkling of what's in store this year, you just never really know with Chip. While things could certainly fall apart, I for one don't see the rest of the league suddenly "figuring out" Chip's system, as if it's some math equation where Monte Kiffin solving for x suddenly equals a 4-12 season for the Eagles. It's more likely that the defense will improve with time, and while the offense might miss DeSean Jackson in some capacity, the offense will have no trouble scoring points - especially this week. And those two things, coupled with a few lucky bounces and a healthy team, could spell big things for the Birds this season.
And hey, isn't this why we watch?
Read more: Eagles Bold Predictions: Philadelphia will win 14 games, LeSean McCoy will make history by Brandon Lee Gowton
Read more: NFL Predictions 2014: How far will the Philadelphia Eagles go? by Brandon Lee Gowton