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Chargers-Eagles Game Preview

Posted Sep 11, 2013

The Eagles and Chargers both jumped out to big early leads in their season openers on Monday Night Football, but only the Eagles were able to hold on to begin the 2013 season with a winning record. After the Monday night doubleheader, Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense became the talk of the NFL while the Chargers were left licking their wounds after surrendering a 21-point lead and losing at home to the Houston Texans on a last-second field goal. Like the Eagles, the Chargers have a new head coach this season in the person of former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. After shutting down the vaunted Redskins' rushing attack last week, the Eagles defense turns its focus to a balanced passing attack stewarded by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

Meanwhile, the excitement in Philadelphia was only increased following the opening night fireworks. The rowdy Eagles fans figure to give the Chargers a proper Philadelphia welcome in the home opener at Lincoln Financial Field. What will we see next from the dynamic, warp-speed Eagles offense? Can the pace really move that much quicker? We'll find out Sunday at 1 PM. Until then, here's what you need to know about the Week 2 matchup.

Last Time They Met:
November 15, 2009 -- Eagles 23, Chargers 31

A late Eagles comeback fell short as Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson led the Chargers to a home victory in a battle of two eventual playoff teams. Rivers threw for 231 yards and two touchdowns while Tomlinson rushed for 96 yards and two scores himself. Trailing by seven points, Donovan McNabb moved the offense down to the Chargers' 34-yard-line on the final drive before time expired.

When The Eagles Have The Ball

After the Eagles offense sprinted its way to 31 points and ran the Washington Redskins defense ragged with an up-tempo, high-octane attack that was as advertised and more, it is already time to think about what the unit will do for an encore. The San Diego Chargers come to town after a devastating 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans on a field goal as time expired, which only came after the Chargers squandered a 28-7 lead. .

The offensive line of Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson was masterful overall in the season opener. As run blockers, the unit paved the way for LeSean McCoy to rush for 184 yards (one yard shy of his career best) and a touchdown on 31 carries, while Michael Vick ran nine times for 54 yards and Bryce Brown carried the ball another nine times for 25 yards. In total, the Eagles racked up 263 rushing yards on 49 attempts (including a bunch of Vick scrambles), their most in game since posting 50 on October 10, 1997, also against the Redskins. As pass blockers the offensive line allowed three sacks but often gave Vick a clean, comfortable pocket and enabled him to go through his progressions.

LeSean McCoy

Vick himself was a calming influence, expertly executing the offense and throwing darts all over the field, to the tune of 15-for-25 for 203 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.6 quarterback rating. He made plays with his legs when he had to and even threw a few blocks when McCoy cut back to open space. Vick's favorite target was DeSean Jackson, who finished with seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, as the two continued their sublime chemistry from Training Camp and preseason. Fellow starting wide receiver Riley Cooper played all 80 snaps against the Redskins and, though he only recorded two receptions for 14 yards, demonstrated his value by making a number of tremendous downfield blocks that helped spring both McCoy and Vick on long runs. Jason Avant remains the primary slot receiver, while Jeff Maehl played a mere two snaps and Damaris Johnson just one. It appeared in Training Camp as if Chip Kelly had big plans for Johnson in this offense, so he is still a player to keep an eye on despite his ephemeral usage against the Redskins.

At tight end, Brent Celek was the team's second-leading receiver against the Redskins, with two catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. He showed the hands, toughness and after-the-catch ability that have made him such a key member of the Eagles offense over the years. Rookie Zach Ertz recorded his first career catch, for 11 yards, on three targets, and figures to have an ever-expanding role in the offense moving forward. James Casey is lying in wait, ready to show the Swiss Army knife talents that made him the Eagles' primary target in free agency.

Facing the Eagles offense is a Chargers defense that played excellent football for the first three-and-a-half quarters against the Houston Texans but faltered down the stretch, en route to allowing 24 total points (the Texans' other seven points came courtesy of an interception return for a touchdown) and 449 total yards on 75 plays (an average of 6.0 yards per play; the Eagles averaged 5.8 yards per play against the Redskins).

The Chargers employ a 3-4 scheme led by defensive end Corey Liuget, a first-round pick (18th overall) in 2011 who had a breakout season in 2012, when he recorded 51 total tackles, 7.0 sacks and one forced fumble. In addition to his rare physical and athletic gifts, Liuget shows supreme awareness by getting his hands up in passing lanes. He ranked second behind only J.J. Watt among defensive lineman with nine passes defended in 2012. Cam Thomas is the nose tackle and Kendall Reyes is the other defensive end.

Behind the defensive line is a quartet of linebackers led by two veterans on the outside in future Hall-of-Famer Dwight Freeney, a free agent signing during the offseason who showed against the Texans that he is still a seriousthreat as an edge rusher, and Jarret Johnson, whom the team signed as a free agent in 2012. They bookend inside linebackers Donald Butler and Bront Bird, who filled in admirably for injured rookie Manti Te'o against the Texans and led the team with 14 tackles. Bird stands 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and, after being one of the team's final cuts in 2012, was brought back later in the season and ingratiated himself to the coaching staff by showing he can be an impact player at the NFL level. Te'o missed the opener with a sprained foot and his status for Sunday's game is still up in the air.

The  Chargers secondary is led by one of the NFL's premier safeties in Eric Weddle, an adept playmaker (16 interceptions, two forced fumbles and five sacks in his first six seasons) with excellent instincts and range, who teams with third-year pro Marcus Gilchrist as the Chargers' last line of defense. They are flanked by cornerbacks Derek Cox, who came over from Jacksonville as a free agent, and Shareece Wright, who is in his third season with only 18 games of experience but won the starting job in Training Camp and preseason. Veteran Richard Marshall handles the nickel responsibilities.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Mike Vick DE Cedric Thornton
RB LeSean McCoy NT Isaac Sopoaga
TE Zach Ertz DE Fletcher Cox
WR Riley Cooper ROLB Trent Cole
LT Jason Peters MLB Mychal Kendricks
LG Evan Mathis MLB DeMeco Ryans
C Jason Kelce LOLB Connor Barwin
RG Todd Herremans LCB Brandon Boykin
RT Lane Johnson RCB Cary Williams
TE Brent Celek S Nate Allen
WR DeSean Jackson S Patrick Chung


When The Chargers Have The Ball

In the Chargers' Monday night opener, things started out swimmingly for the offense. On their very first play from scrimmage, Phillip Rivers hit running back Ryan Mathews on a wheel route for a 14-yard touchdown. As expected, Rivers took charge of the offense, throwing for three first-half touchdowns and leading San Diego to a 21-7 halftime lead over the Houston Texans. Less than five minutes into the second half, Rivers had thrown his fourth touchdown pass (and his second to Eddie Royal) and the Chargers held a commanding 28-7 lead. It was all downhill from there, though, as the Chargers squandered the lead and ended up falling to 0-1 on a last-second field goal.

Expect a heavy dose of passing from the Chargers against the Eagles. Their running game was virtually nonexistent in their opener. Mathews gained just 33 yards on 13 carries, and while former Eagle Ronnie Brown pitched in with 27 yards, San Diego accumulated just 80 yards on the ground as a team. After shutting down Washington's Alfred Morris, the Eagles defense will once again be primed to shut down the opponent's running attack. The Chargers offensive line is also a question, as just one starter (center Nick Hardwick) returns to the same position that he was in last year. Former Eagle King Dunlap and first-round draft choice D.J. Fluker start as the bookend tackle, but neither covered himself in glory in the season opener.

This means that Rivers may have more opportunities to spread the ball around. Despite throwing four touchdown passes, Rivers was highly inconsistent against Houston, completing 14 of his 29 attempts (48.3 percent) and throwing an extremely costly interception to Brian Cushing that was returned for the game-tying score. The Eagles defended the pass extremely well against the Redskins for the first three quarters, which included two interceptions (one each from Brandon Boykin and Cary Williams), but the unit struggled in the second half as the Redskins went into desperation mode. Robert Griffin III ended up throwing for 329 yards and completing 61.2 percent of his passes. After throwing for only 195 yards against the Texans, expect Rivers to come out firing to test the Eagles secondary.

Even though San Diego is without wide receiver Danario Alexander, who tore his ACL during Training Camp, they maintain an impressive list of weapons at Rivers' disposal. On the outside, Malcom Floyd and his 6-foot-5 frame will pose a challenge for Cary Williams, who was excellent in his first game as an Eagle. Opposite Floyd stands Royal, a smaller, speedier receiver who caught two touchdown passes on Monday night. Moving inside, Antonio Gates remains a threat at the tight end position. Now 33 years old, Gates has compiled nine straight seasons with at least seven touchdowns and he and Rivers have combined for the most touchdowns ever for any quarterback-tight end tandem (56). Gates will end up in Canton one day, and Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and the rest of the linebackers will have a difficult challenge defending the Kent State product.

Chargers Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Philip Rivers RDE Corey Liuget
RB Ryan Mathews DT Cam Thomas
WR Eddie Royal LDE Kendall Reyes
WR Vincent Brown OLB Dwight Freeney
LT King Dunlap ILB Bront Bird
LG Chad Rinehart ILB Donald Butler
C Nick Hardwick OLB Jarret Johnson
RG Jeromey Clary RCB Shareece Wright
RT D.J. Fluker SS Marcus Gilchrist
TE Antonio Gates FS Eric Weddle
WR Malcom Floyd LCB Derek Cox


Players To Watch

RB LeSean McCoy

McCoy seems like an easy selection as far as players to watch go, but it will be very interesting to see how often McCoy is used after carrying the ball a career-high 31 times against the Redskins. Chip Kelly said that he and the coaching staff need to do a better job of getting Bryce Brown and Chris Polk carries, so McCoy's playing time could slightly decrease. The Chargers gave up a combined 120 yards on the ground to the Texans, but held Arian Foster to just 3.2 yards per carry.

P Donnie Jones

No typo there. Donnie Jones, yes the punter, is a player to keep an eye on for the Eagles. The 10th-year punter out of LSU was flat-out phenomenal in his Eagles debut, placing four of his six punts inside the 20-yard line, including a booming 61-yarder. Eagles special teams ran into trouble last year, but they looked crisp in their 2013 debut. Jones has been a key factor in this improvement. He has proved that he can change field position by kicking the ball as far as he can, yet he can also has the invaluable ability to pin the opposing offense within the shadow of their own goal post.

Chargers safety Eric Weddle

FS Eric Weddle (No. 32)

Weddle is the heart and soul of the San Diego defense, as he has been anchoring the backline of the unit for the past seven seasons. He was voted by his teammates as the Chargers Most Valuable Player in 2012 after leading the team with 111 tackles. Weddle is a sure tackler, but he also has a knack for taking the ball away. His 10 interceptions in the last two seasons (seven in 2011) rank him third in the NFL during that timeframe. Michael Vick committed just one turnover in the Eagles opener, which came on the batted backwards pass that was returned for a touchdown. Weddle will be on the lookout to take away anything that comes his way.

RB Danny Woodhead (No. 39)

The diminutive back was brought to the Chargers to be a change-of-pace player who would come in on third down, play in the slot at times, and catch some passes out of the backfield. Woodhead made quite a name for himself in New England doing just those things, but he was quiet against the Texans on Monday, catching just two passes for 16 yards. Woodhead could have a much larger role against the Eagles, and it will be up to defensive coordinator Bill Davis to find a way to handle him.

Key Matchups

Eagles Offensive Line vs. Chargers Front Seven

Whether the Eagles go with a traditional configuration or unbalanced offensive line, like they did a number of times against the Redskins, one thing is clear – the unit's collective athleticism and ability to block in space makes it an ideal fit for Chip Kelly's scheme. LeSean McCoy will consistently see huge holes and have plenty of room to run. The offensive line also played well in pass protection against the Redskins and gave Michael Vick ample time to go through his progressions and find open receivers.

Next up for the quintet of big men for the Eagles is a test against a Chargers 3-4 front seven that is highlighted by the disruptive duo of Corey Liuget and Dwight Freeney. While it's no easy task, if the Eagles offensive line can control the line of scrimmage again, the offense's success will continue.

Eagles OLB Trent Cole vs. Chargers LT King Dunlap

King Dunlap left Philadelphia for San Diego as a free agent after five seasons in Philadelphia, signing a two-year contract with the Chargers to protect quarterback Phillip Rivers' blind side. On Sunday afternoon, he will return to Lincoln Financial Field and attempt to prevent former teammate Trent Cole from getting to Rivers. Cole was ubiquitous in game 1 and looked rejuvenated, making his impact felt immediately as he forced a fumble on the defense's first snap of the season and took his first steps in silencing those who doubted he could make the transition to outside linebacker in Bill Davis' scheme. In addition to the forced fumble, Cole finished the game with eight total tackles and one quarterback hurry.

Chargers QB Phillip Rivers vs. Eagles Secondary

Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers is one of the league's most dangerous passers, and he can burn defenses with his pre-snap recognitions, quick decision-making and laser throws. While his stable of receiving weapons is not what it once was, he still has the old dependable Antonio Gates at tight end and a host of wide receivers who can make plays. Rivers will go against an Eagles secondary that showed up in a big way against the Washington Redskins, with Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin each intercepting Robert Griffin III. With Bradley Fletcher going through the post-concussion protocol, Brandon Boykin could be in line for a start on the outside. The depth of the position could be tested in a group that includes rookie Jordan Poyer, veteran Brandon Hughes and newcomer Shaun Prater.

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