Five Things to Watch For: Eagles/Jags

Eagles fans, the wait is over. Sunday afternoon, the Birds take part in meaningful football, hosting the Jaguars as a kickoff to the 2014 season.

FOLES' HIGH EXPECTATIONS

Let's get it out of our heads that '27 and 2' is a possibility to happen again. Nick Foles had a magical year last season, and it was the catalyst for the Eagles' incredible second-half surge that makes Philadelphia the class of the NFC East. Twenty-seven touchdowns and two picks are an incredible feat (indeed, it set an NFL ratio record), but it won't happen again.

It remains possible that Foles, in the midst of a three-or-four touchdown day Sunday (not a prediction, just theorizing), could chuck an interception into the mitts of Paul Posluszny or Jonathan Cyprien. The fact that Foles would be halfway to his season interception total from a year ago would make good misleading fodder for WIP jocks to bray about, but it won't mean much, unless he throws three or four in a game.

How Foles plays Sunday will say a lot. If he's smooth in his motions, and comfortable in the pocket, he'll be able to play up to his emboldened confidence from last season. How he looks will be more telling than what his box score looks like.

EAGLES SECONDARY VS. BRAND NEW RECEIVERS

The Eagles defense gave up their share of third-and-longs last season, a combination of the defense being worn down in fourth quarters, and Patrick Chung displaying some of the worst safety work this side of a blindfolded Izell Jenkins. If the defense is going to improve, more consistent secondary play is where it starts. Signing Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll is a good show of faith in that direction, certainly.

One snag the group may hit Sunday comes in the form of opponents they don't recognize. Aside from preseason, there's no film on rookies Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and potential sleeper Allen Hurns at the professional level. We've seen what virtual unknowns can do to teams at times, and this trio has an opportunity to land some haymakers.

As it stands, the main four corners are all healthy (Carroll with Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Week 17 hero Brandon Boykin), and veteran safeties Jenkins and Nate Allen should be able to hold their own. How the Eagles depth in the secondary holds up will be partially contingent on this next point.

CAN THE EAGLES PASS RUSH BE EFFECTIVE?

The Jaguars pass protection was an unmitigated disaster in 2013. On the whole, they allowed 50 sacks (second-most) and threw 21 interceptions (third most). Chad Henne, Sunday's starter, is an upgrade over Blaine Gabbert, but that's the same as saying, "modest competence is better than a dumpster fire."

For the Eagles, whose 3-4 scheme struggled to bring a consistent pass rush last year (37 sacks, slightly below the league average), Sunday's a chance to find a groove against a team whose offensive line situation, while in better shape than last year, is far from optimal.

The Jags regain Luke Joeckel from a season-ending foot injury, and he mans the left side with former Broncos-grinder Zane Beadles. The good news seems to end there, as center Luke Bowenko is a sixth-round rookie, and right guard Jacques McClendon has been waived more times in the last year than Michael Gasperson was in his Eagles 'tenure'. Only right tackle Cameron Bradfield played more than five games for the team last year (11), and continuity can't possibly exist. If the Eagles can't generate a rush here, they may be in Dutch for the season.

PARKEY'S DEBUT

It's put-up-or-shut-up time for the new toe-to-leather savior in Philadelphia. Cody Parkey bombed two lengthy field goals in that third preseason game, effectively booting Alex Henery out of town. Henery had been an object of fan derision for nearly his entire Eagles tenure, so Parkey's something of a superhero for ending the 'injustice' that was Henery's tenure at kicker.

Parkey, as has been shown, is far from perfect himself. Despite the long makes and the touchback prowess, the rookie only hit 74% of his kicks in college, and even missed an important boot for Auburn in the BCS Title Game in January. Such as it was, Florida State only won by three points.

Parkey's job is secure, but the jury's still out on his NFL career. It will take more than one marvelous August night to exorcise the demons of Henery's inconsistency, and plant some assurance around the position.

HOW OFTEN WILL SHADY RUN?

I noted earlier this week that of the ten running backs that ran for 70+ passing yards on the Jags last season, none of them had more than 22 carries. At LeSean McCoy's 5.11 YPA clip last season, 22 carries would give him 113 rushing yards on Sunday.

The Jaguars are working to remedy their below-average run defense, installing Chris Clemons and Red Bryant as defensive ends to try and shore up the edges. It's not a defense that you can run on with every single play, but it's not exactly Gus Bradley's old Seahawks defense either. There are still a number of points that are as strong as balsawood.

With Darren Sproles to change the pace, and with Jacksonville's pass defense still not proven worthy of fearing, Foles seems more inclined to throw to Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, as even average tight ends performed great against the Jags last year. McCoy may not get the lion's share of carries, but he should remain effective with what he gets.

Follow Justin Henry on Twitter


War Nest Top Stories