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Setting the table: Key matchups and players for Eagles-Jaguars

Posted Sep 2, 2014

Senior writer John Oehser sets the table by examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2014 regular-season opener.


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser sets the table, examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2014 regular-season opener at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sunday at 1 p.m.

 

The buzz

The buzz for this one is simple.

This is the regular-season opener. It’s time to get started.

It’s Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley’s second season, the team has embraced his competition/improvement-based approach as its identity and enthusiasm is high – for good reason. The defensive line is improved, and the defense overall is showing signs of being solid.

There are questions offensively. A young line struggled at times in the preseason, and the receiving corps – while talented – is young, too. That youth is one reason veteran Chad Henne is starting at quarterback ahead of rookie Blake Bortles.

The Bortles-Henne conversation dominated the preseason, but the preseason is over. Henne is the starter, and the Jaguars will head to Philadelphia feeling good about their defense and feeling good about the direction of the franchise.

The offseason was impressive. Strides were made.  Now, it’s time to play.

 

The Opponent

The Eagles are the NFC East favorite.

We’ll start there, because they’re the division favorites for a reason – and not just because many believe the division overall is down this season.

The Eagles are talented, particularly on offense. Nick Foles didn’t just “emerge” as the starting quarterback in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach, he owned the role in stunning fashion, throwing 27 touchdowns to two interceptions for a league-best 119.1 passer rating. Foles benefitted from a running game that featured All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing last season and who may be the NFL’s most dangerous offensive player who is not a quarterback and not named Adrian Peterson.

The Eagles released wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and while the receivers feature Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, the loss of Jackson is significant.  The pass rush struggled at times last season and the unit as a whole finished 31st in the NFL. Still, there is talent on a defense that needs to improve to help a dynamic offense take the franchise past the first round of the playoffs.

 

Three matchups

Jaguars defensive line versus Eagles offensive line. The Jaguars deepened this unit in the offseason by signing Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood and Red Bryant, but Sunday is a test the line needs to pass. The Eagles are without suspended tackle right Lane Johnson, but they have left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce and all are very, very good. The Jaguars will struggle if the Eagles’ line controls the game. …

Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny versus Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. It’s not fair to ask Posluszny to stop the versatile, dangerous McCoy solo, but the defense has to at least slow the All-Pro back. …

Jaguars offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Cameron Bradfield versus Eagles linebackers Connor Barwin and Trent Cole. The Eagles’ rushers aren’t generally considered the NFL’s best, but they’re dangerous, with Coles registering eight sacks last season. Bradfield is starting for injured right tackle Austin Pasztor, but a focus for the Jaguars will be Joeckel. He started five games last season, but played just one quarter at left tackle. This could be his first full game at the spot, and he and the offensive line need to give Henne time to throw to young receivers. …

 

Three Jaguars to Watch

*Henne. All eyes will be on Henne Sunday. That’s true of any quarterback, but with rookie Bortles playing very, very well in the preseason, it’s particularly true of Henne early this season. The Jaguars like and trust his experience and leadership, but Henne knows as well as anyone he must continue to earn that trust. …

*Cecil Shorts IIIThe fourth-year wide receiver is fully healthy after missing the first two preseason games with a hamstring injury. His injuries were a major offseason topic among fans, but he’s the team’s most reliable receiver. If he can stay healthy, it’s a major plus for the offense. …

*Toby Gerhart. You have to watch the line, because no back runs without holes. But Gerhart showed good signs in the preseason. His ability to keep the Jaguars on positive down-and-distance situations will be key. …

 

Keep an eye on …

*Jacques McClendon will make his first career start at center on Sunday. He has played nine career NFL games, starting two games at left guard for the Jaguars late last season. Rookie Luke Bowanko will back up the center/guard positions. …

*Fourth-year veteran Cameron Bradfield will start at right tackle Sunday in place of Pasztor, who is out at least the first two weeks of the season with a hand injury. Bradfield struggled at times in preseason, but has started 25 games in three seasons with the team. Fifth-year veteran Sam Young will back him up. …

*Guard Zane Beadles (calf), kicker Josh Scobee (quad) and punter Bryan Anger (groin) are expected to play Sunday after practicing Monday, while rookie offensive tackle Josh Wells (shoulder) is considered more questionable for Sunday than the other three. All missed the preseason finale. …

*Pasztor is out and tight Clay Harbor (calf) also is not expected to play Sunday. Those two missed practice Monday along with rookie running back Storm Johnson (ankle). …

*Rookie second-round wide receiver Allen Robinson is expected to play on a limited basis Sunday after missing four preseason games with a hamstring. Robinson is one of three rookie receivers on the Jaguars’ roster, with him, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee likely among the Jaguars’ top four receivers when all are healthy.

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