Jaguars-Eagles Preview

September 3, 2014

It's time to begin finding out if Chip Kelly and Nick Foles just caught opponents by surprise last season or if they put the Philadelphia Eagles on the path to a prosperous new era.

As Foles looks to develop chemistry with a new-look arsenal, Kelly will likely rely heavily on reigning NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Philadelphia.

McCoy is taking on a Jaguars defense which was fourth worst against the run last season, allowing 131.8 yards per game as the team finished 4-12 in Gus Bradley's coaching debut. While the former Seattle defensive coordinator seeks a big improvement in his second season - even though first-round pick Blake Bortles won't start just yet - it will be hard for Kelly to do much better in his.

Employing a fast-paced offense proved to be a big hit as Philadelphia led the NFC in total yards and touchdowns en route to a division title, going 10-6 following a 4-12 swan song under Andy Reid. Some wonder if opposing teams having an offseason of watching film and making adjustments to Kelly's up-tempo approach could slow down the Eagles.

"Obviously it's year two and we have a bunch of guys that have been around us and we have been around them so you feel like you're a little bit closer in terms of what we are trying to get accomplished," Kelly said. "But you're excited to get going here. (The games) are for real. They count."

One thing not expected to be duplicated is the astounding efficiency Foles displayed. A backup before Michael Vick got hurt, Foles came on to set an NFL record for touchdown-to-interception ratio with 27 TD passes and two INTs. He threw for 2,891 yards in 13 games - 10 starts - in his second NFL season, and his league-best 119.2 passer rating was third-highest in league history.

It doesn't appear those numbers and the ensuing accolades, including Pro Bowl MVP honors, have gone to Foles' head.

"I haven't earned anything yet," Foles said recently. "It's a week-to-week thing. My job is to go out there and play to the best of my ability."

McCoy feels he's yet to do that despite breaking long-standing franchise records last season with 1,607 yards rushing and 2,146 from scrimmage. The fleet-footed but hard-charging McCoy fit perfectly into Kelly's run-oriented system, but both player and coach feel he can be better in a variety of ways.

"Sometimes I get wrapped up in my God-gifted ability instead of actually doing the fundamental things," McCoy said. "Reading my keys, all the small things that you get away with because of your natural talent. But sometimes if you let the play develop and then use the other stuff, it makes me better."

McCoy is one of the few players remaining from last year's team that Foles will be regularly targeting.

Jeremy Maclin returns from a torn ACL which kept him out last season after being the team's top receiver in 2012, a role he's being counted on to resume after DeSean Jackson was released. With No. 3 receiver Jason Avant gone to Carolina, the Eagles drafted Josh Huff (out with shoulder injury) and Jordan Matthews - the team's leading receiver in the preseason - though Riley Cooper is back after having 521 yards and six TDs during the Eagles' 7-1 finish.

Cooper also scored in a wild-card loss to New Orleans, and it was the Saints who provided Philadelphia with its biggest free-agent acquisitions. Darren Sproles gives Foles another enticing target out of the backfield after McCoy was the only one last year, and safety Malcolm Jenkins joins a defense which was among the league's worst in 2013.

That young unit, which second-year coordinator Bill Davis feels should be better after improving late last season, seemingly can build some confidence in Week 1 against a Jaguars offense which averaged an AFC-worst 293.8 total yards.

Jacksonville traded first-round bust Blaine Gabbert but hopes to have finally found a long-term answer at quarterback in Bortles. The No. 3 overall pick looked very good in the preseason, but veteran Chad Henne remains the starter.

"Gus and I have sat down many times and he said I'm the guy," Henne said. "Until they tell me otherwise, I just go out there and prepare like I'm the starter and play well.

"I understand my spot. If we play well and win games, then (I) stay in. If I don't, then things will happen."

Hurting Henne's cause has been trouble at the receiver position. Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the same reason second-leading receiver Ace Sanders will miss the first four games. Top receiver Cecil Shorts III will sit out with a hamstring injury, a problem which kept rookie Allen Robinson sidelined for most of the preseason. Fellow second-round pick Marqise Lee, though, has looked good and is expected to contribute immediately.

"We feel like we have some talented guys," Bradley told the team's official website. "Now, we're definitely in a race to maturity with those guys to get them reps."

Toby Gerhart will finally see more than his share. The longtime backup to Adrian Peterson in Minnesota is now getting his shot to carry the workload after averaging 7.9 yards in 36 attempts last year.

The Eagles had been 0-3 in this all-time series before winning the last meeting, 28-3 at Jacksonville in 2010 as Maclin caught two touchdown passes from Vick. The Jaguars' only previous trip to Philadelphia was a 13-6 win in 2006.