Philadelphia Eagles News

2015 Schedule Preview: Games 1-4

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Eagles fans will have to wait one more day for the start of the regular season.

Head coach Chip Kelly's NFL debut came on a Monday night in 2013. He will begin his third NFL campaign on a Monday night, but against a first-time head coach in Atlanta's Dan Quinn.

The Atlanta Falcons stumbled to a 6-10 finish in 2014, but they have some pieces in place that would make other teams jealous. The Falcons have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan. They have a star wide receiver in Julio Jones. Last year, the Falcons got their left tackle in Jake Matthews in the draft.

The question now is whether Quinn, who takes over for the franchise's all-time winningest head coach in Mike Smith, can spruce up the defense to get the Falcons back to the top of what was the NFL's worst division in 2014.

Quinn manned the Seattle Seahawks' defense for the past two seasons. In 2013, the Seahawks were the first team since the 1985 Chicago Bears to lead the league in fewest point allowed, fewest yards allowed and most takeaways en route to the Super Bowl. This past season, the Seahawks led the league once again in yards and points allowed on the way to the NFC Championship. Quinn got to see the Eagles' offense up close last season as the Seahawks beat the Eagles, but it's a much different squad now with Sam Bradford at quarterback and DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews leading the charge out of the backfield.

The Falcons also aren't quite as good on defense as Seattle. Atlanta ranked 27th in points allowed (26.1) and dead last in yards allowed (398.3). Atlanta was also next to last in sacks with just 22. Atlanta has re-tooled by adding pass rushers such as Adrian Clayborn and Brooks Reed. Quinn also brought in linebacker O'Brien Schofield, who played in the Seahawks' system the past two seasons.

There are still holes for the Falcons to fill. They could use another elite pass rusher, but they do have the No. 8 overall pick in next week's NFL Draft. They don't have a clear-cut answer at running back for new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's attack, although this draft is deep at the position.

Ten years ago, the Eagles opened their defense of the NFC Championship on what turned out to be a forgettable Monday night in Atlanta. On September 14, the Eagles will look to spoil Quinn's debut and start their run toward the playoffs in 2015.

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The Eagles will not have to wait long for their first crack at the defending NFC East champions, though they will have to prepare for the year's first division clash on a short week. Following the Week 1 Monday Night Football game in Atlanta, the Eagles will ready themselves for a Sunday afternoon clash against the Dallas Cowboys. What a treat for the Philadelphia faithful in the Lincoln Financial Field home opener.

And what a treat for the league's defending rushing champion, DeMarco Murray, to have the opportunity to face off against the team with which he rushed for a league-best 1,845 yards in 2014.  The team by which Murray was drafted in the third round in 2011. The team that then turned its back on Murray, allowing him to leave in free agency.

The rest of the Eagles roster, meanwhile, will have no lack of motivation as they look to avenge the Week 15 loss to Dallas that spelled doom for their playoff chances. The opportunity to stake an early claim for best in the division won't hurt either. After all, no team has repeated as NFC East champion since the 2003-2004 Eagles.

As for the on-field fireworks, the clash between the Eagles' young, dominant defensive line and the Cowboys' heralded offensive line has been established as the one to watch. Though the Cowboys' group received the plaudits in 2014, DeMarco Murray rushed for under four yards per carry only three times in 2014 and two of those games took place against the Eagles. Fletcher Cox was particularly dominant against Dallas in the two meetings and one of the league's best defensive players will have an early opportunity to prove just how much the rest of the league needs to be paying attention to him.

Meanwhile, in the Eagles secondary, new No. 1 corner Byron Maxwell will be thrown into the fire with a test against one of the league's best receivers in Dez Bryant.

The Eagles offense, meanwhile, will be tested by a Cowboys defense that finished 19th in 2014 (tested is a relative term in this case, since the opening week matchup with the Falcons features the team that finished 32nd in defense in 2014).

The biggest attraction, though, is simply the unveiling of the 2015 Eagles in front of the Lincoln Financial Field fans for the first time in the regular season. With so many new pieces on offense and defense, and an opponent that always stirs emotions, there's no question that the stadium will be rocking. What a way to kick off the year at home.

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The Eagles will make the short, familiar trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to face the New York Jets in Week 3. Just over three weeks earlier, the two sides will have met in the same location, but that will have been the preseason finale. This time, it's for real.

The Jets, under new head coach (and former Eagles defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles, will do their best to do something the Jets have never done before – beat the Eagles in the regular season. The Eagles have come out victorious in each of the nine meetings between the two teams in history, most recently dispatching of the Jets 45-19 in December of 2011.

But the rosters of both teams have changed significantly over the last four years. It's probably fair to say that no two teams saw more roster turnover just this offseason than the Eagles and Jets. You know what the Eagles have done, but the Jets started the 2015 season by overhauling their front office, bringing in Bowles and a new general manager in Mike Maccagnan. The offense now features Brandon Marshall at wide receiver, James Carpenter along the offensive line and a quarterback competition between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.

The Jets defense now features three new cornerbacks, though two are of them aren't exactly new. Both Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie return to the Jets after brief stints elsewhere and they're joined by Buster Skrine in the slot. Marcus Gilchrist was also signed to start at safety. That new-look secondary will be tasked with stopping an Eagles offense that saw its own fair share of turnover this offseason.

In the trenches, this game probably features the two best 3-4 defensive lines in football. Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan star for the Eagles, while Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson star for the Jets. They'll test an Eagles offensive line that will see some turnover with the departure of Todd Herremans.

For both sides, though, the game may come down to the quarterbacks – whoever they may be. Will it be Smith or Fitzpatrick? Bradford or, even juicier for the matchup, a returning Mark Sanchez? Or will one of the teams have a rookie at the position? After all, the Jets do own the sixth overall pick.

One thing's clear. The Eagles will have no fear of MetLife Stadium, having only lost once in five regular season trips to the newer, shinier swampland residence for the Jets and Giants.

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The Eagles' most recent meeting with Washington didn't exactly go how fans had hoped. Entering Week 16, the Eagles were fighting for their playoff lives. They had dropped two games in a row to the Seahawks and Cowboys but they were primed to get back on track against a 3-11 Washington team. But as the saying goes, on any given Sunday (or Saturday in this case), anything can happen.

The two sides went back and forth before Washington jumped out to a 10-point lead as the third quarter came to a close. The Eagles fought back to tie the score at 24 but a late Mark Sanchez interception ultimately helped Washington pull away with a 27-24 victory, all but ending the Eagles' playoff hopes.

But it wasn't all terrible, Eagles fans. Zach Ertz had a career day, catching 15 passes for 115 yards. The 15 grabs set an Eagles single-game record.  Riley Cooper also chipped in with his most productive game of the season, catching two touchdown passes. Sanchez also set a new career high with 374 passing yards.

This time around, the Eagles roster looks a bit different, while Washington's remains mostly the same. Quarterback continues to be a question for Washington. Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy all saw time under center in 2014, but who will get the call this season? Washington owns the No. 5 overall pick in the upcoming draft - could they take a quarterback? If Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota is available when Washington picks, there's a chance that one of the quarterbacks could come off the board.

Washington returns just about all of its offensive weapons from last season. DeSean Jackson had a pair of big games against his former team last season, and Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon have always given the Eagles' defense trouble.

The biggest changes in the Washington lineup will be on the defensive side of the ball. Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo signed with the Titans during free agency, but defensive lineman Terrance Knighton and cornerback Chris Culliver have been added to help bolster a Washington defense that has been lacking for the past couple of seasons.

The October 4th meeting will be the Eagles second NFC East game of the season and the first on the road. The Eagles hosted Washington at home in the first quarter of the 2014 schedule, but they'll be on the road this time around. It will be the Eagles' second road game in as many weeks, but the good news is that the team won't have to travel far either time (at Jets in Week 3).

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