Something for Foles' detractors to knead in their clutches: only once last season did Foles light up a team with a Defensive Passer Rating better than 84.0: the Arizona Cardinals. On December 1, Foles threw for 237 yards, three touchdown passes, and no picks, completing almost 62 percent of his throws (21 of 34) for an even 112.0 rating. Considering that the Cardinals were tied for fifth in most INTs in 2013 (20), Foles' performance was especially impressive.
Aside from that game, and Foles' carving-in-relief win over the underated Giants pass defense in October, there weren't many good pass defenses on Foles' hit list. Hideous pass defenses dotted Foles' resume, from Oakland (seven TDs for a perfect passer rating) to Green Bay (three TDs in 12 completions) to Tampa Bay (three TDs, 71 percent of passes completed).
In other words, Foles has yet to truly be tested by a hellish pass defense.
One way Jacksonville will test the Eagles is through edge-setting. Incoming veterans Chris Clemons and Red Bryant are all too familiar with Gus Bradley's methods of disruption, and the onus will be on them to take LeSean McCoy out of the equation.
Only four times in 2013 did the Seahawks allow a running back to average 5.0 YPA on 17 or more carries. That list includes some less-glamorous names like Mike James and an aging DeAngelo Williams, so McCoy has good odds (especially behind his offensive line) of keeping the run in play against Bryant and Clemons.
The key match-up will be left tackle Jason Peters taking on presumably Clemons (Bradley is known to rotate his defenders in a variety of sets) at right end. Foles was sacked three or more times in six games last season, as the line provided a dichotomy: great in the run, spotty in pass protection. In preseason, that line (with Allen Barbre filling in for Lane Johnson), allowed only one sack in 49 dropbacks for Foles. A small sample size, yes, but watching Peters swat Cameron Heyward around a couple weeks back equates mid-season form for the multi-time All Pro.
The screen game is vital to the Eagles passing game, and would be an effective neutralizer if Jacksonville's run-stopping unit forces the throw. Of the Eagles 115 gains of 15+ yards on pass plays last season, 16 of them were were six or less yards to gain for a first down. Foles not only throws darts in more-prone running situations, but maximizes McCoy's capabilities as well; 'Shady' had ten gains of 15+ yards on passing plays, and eight of 20+ yards a year ago.
A year ago, the Jaguars owned the fifth-worst defensive third down percentage on the road, a whopping 44.88% fail rate (16 game average: 42.48%). With Clemons and Bryant in the fold, the thinking seems to be that the renewed rush will make things easier on now second-year defensive backs Jonathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz. Jacksonville only accumulated 31 sacks (tied for worst) and 11 picks (tied for fifth worst), so the rush and the coverage still need to find that working balance where they can benefit each other.
Given that Jacksonville gave up 22 pass plays of 30 yards or more last season, Foles has the capacity to pick the entire defense apart. Five of those pass plays went to tight ends, and four different TEs caught 70 passing yards+ against the Jags' D. Brent Celek and Zach Ertz could find themselves sleeper fantasy studs in those parameters.
LeSean McCoy vs. Jaguars Run Defense
Aside from shoring up the edges with Bryant and Clemons, it's virtually same run defense from last year. Geno Hayes, Paul Posluszny, and Laroy Reynolds (now starting over hastily-retired Russell Allen) fill out the linebacking corps, while Sen'Derrick Marks and Roy Miller work the middle of the front line.
Jacksonville's yards-per-run allowed wasn't terrible; a mediocre 4.23 YPA (good for merely 12th worst). However, opponents also ran more against the Jaguars (507 attempts) than any other team. The Dolphins had the second most runs against their defense, distant at 484 attempts.
The YPA may be stunted by opponents taking knees or running simple dives to kill the clock in blowout wins, as the average opponent beat them by about 13 points (28.1 to 15.4 on the year).
Seven opponents put up a combined 150 rushing yards last season against Gus Bradley's defense, each on 30 or more attempts (Buffalo and Tennessee each ran 44 times), so the D's been hard to respect. Interestingly, only two individual players ran for 100 yards on the Jaguars a year ago: Darren McFadden (129) and Ryan Mathews (110).
Will this deter the use of McCoy any? It's doubtful; eight other backs recorded at least 70 yards on the ground on them in 2013, and none of the then ran more than 22 times (Chris Johnson). That speaks to the fact that passing offenses pillaged whatever they needed, and the run was simply a compliment.
Does that hold true in 2014? The Eagles have a versatile enough offense to where Foles can spread the ball around, adding dashes of McCoy and Darren Sproles just to keep them on their toes. To put it another way, Jacksonville has yet to prove they can stop the run, but Philadelphia seems to have their pick on how they're going to dissect the D.
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