The head coach on the opposing sideline Sunday certainly caught the attention of the Eagles' head coach search.
Fans were ready to hop aboard the Gus Bus when it appeared as if the Eagles might be close to a deal with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. That was before Chip Kelly second-guessed his decision to return to Oregon and expressed interest in coming to Philadelphia.
Bradley might have missed out on the Eagles' job, but he was promptly hired by Jacksonville to take over a Jaguars team that has not made the playoffs since 2007. Bradley helped mold the Seahawks' defense into the dominating force it is today and now he is attempting to follow that same blueprint in Jacksonville. The modus operandi for this head coach is to earn the right to rush the passer.
The Jaguars used the third-overall pick in this year's draft on quarterback Blake Bortles, but the team opted to be patient and start Chad Henne. In free agency, Jacksonville signed Toby Gerhart to be the team's running back, replacing Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars didn't go from worst to first like the Eagles did in their first year with Bradley. But with sound defense and a tough running game, the Jaguars are going to be a lot more difficult to defeat in 2014.
Last Time They Met
September 26, 2010 - Eagles 28, Jaguars 3
In his first game since being named the team's starting quarterback, Michael Vick accounted for all four touchdowns as he threw three and ran for another in a 28-3 victory.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin had two touchdowns and 83 yards receiving while DeSean Jackson had the other touchdown grab and 153 yards receiving.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, didn't present much of a threat on offense. Quarterback David Garrard was 13 of 30 for 105 yards with an interception and was sacked six times.
When The Eagles Have The Ball
The Eagles' offensive line remained intact for the entirety of the 2013 season as the same five players started all 17 games, including playoffs. The line will be tested immediately a Jacksonville front seven that is dedicated to stopping the run to unleash its pass rush on the opposing quarterback.
The Jaguars' strength on defensive is in the defensive line with former Eagle Chris Clemons providing the pass rush off the edge from the weak side of the formation along with Andre Branch, a second-round pick in 2012. Defensive end Red Bryant isn't a pass rusher, but a run clogger who funnels the action back the other way. It should be noted that both Clemons and Bryant played in Seattle where Bradley was the defensive coordinator.
Jacksonville helped resurrect the career of defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and hopes to do the same with former first-round pick Ziggy Hood in an effort to bring the pass rush up the middle. Marks and Hood are one-gap penetrators while tackle Roy Miller is the space eater in the middle.
The Jaguars sent a player on defense to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2006 when Paul Posluszny was selected last year. A tackling machine, Posluszny set the franchise record for tackles two years ago and nearly has 1,000 for his career. LaRoy Reynolds is the "Otto" linebacker which is the strongside linebacker, but with the ability to rush the passer as a blitzer.
Last year's third-round pick Dwayne Gratz emerged as a physical cornerback in the mold of what Bradley had in Seattle and Alan Ball had a combined 15 pass breakups and interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnathan Cyprien can play the deep middle, although that's more of fellow safety Winston Guy's spot, but can come down in the box and blitz the quarterback.
When The Jaguars Have The Ball
The Jaguars will be better on offense in 2014 than they were last season. Really, they have to be. In 2013, Jacksonville ranked near the bottom of early every offensive category – they were 31st in yards per game, 30th in yards per play, 31st in rushing yards per play, 30th in passing yards per play, 32nd in third-down conversion percentage, 32nd in red-zone offense, 31st in time of possession and 32nd in points per game.
With that in mind, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell set about addressing the talent on the offensive side of the ball this offseason. In free agency, running back Toby Gerhart was pried away from Minnesota to become the bellcow and former Denver Bronco Zane Beadles inked a free-agent deal to help turn around what has been a porous offensive line. The Jaguars also went heavy on offense in the draft, with two rookies set to start on offense – guard Brandon Linder and either wide receiver Marqise Lee or wide receiver Allen Hurns.
The one rookie who won't start for the Jaguars, though, is third-overall pick Blake Bortles, despite an impressive preseason. The plan is for Bortles to learn from the sidelines first before he's thrust into action. That means Chad Henne will man the reins for the Jaguars on Sunday. Henne has been basically an average quarterback throughout his six years in the NFL. His career quarterback rating is 75.3 and he's coming off a 2013 season in which he started 13 games and threw 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
The Eagles should be able to create some pressure on Henne and the Jaguars against a mostly inexperienced offensive line. Luke Joeckel, the Jaguars' first-round pick in 2013, and Beadles will man the left side and should be solid. But center Jacques McClendon, Linder and right tackle Cameron Bradfield could allow the Eagles' pass rush to get off to a quick start. And though Gerhart will get plenty of opportunities, he'll have his work cut out for him against an Eagles defense that allowed only 3.8 yards per carry in 2013 (fourth-best in the league).
As a whole, the Eagles defense is expected to take a step forward in 2014. After improving throughout the season last year, the defense returns nearly off its parts, including ascending young talent like Mychal Kendricks, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Brandon Boykin. The introduction of Malcolm Jenkins at safety and the improved depth in the secondary with players like Nolan Carroll II also portends for a step forward. But the biggest reason for optimism for the Eagles defense remains the unit-wide comfort in the second season of Bill Davis' scheme. With everyone now knowing where they should be and when they should be there, Davis should be able to introduce some new wrinkles to confuse the opposition.
Jaguars C Jacques McClendon vs. Eagles NT Bennie Logan
It all starts up front for the Jaguars, who are expected to lean heavily on Toby Gerhart in the running game. But the Jaguars offensive line struggled mightily last season and throughout much of this summer's preseason, especially at center, right guard and right tackle. Logan, meanwhile, is entering his second NFL season after a promising rookie campaign. Healthy after a hamstring tweak early in camp, Logan will be asked to disrupt things up the middle. While he and rookie Beau Allen will see the action on first and second down, keep an eye also on Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox up the middle in passing situations.
Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny vs. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy
Posluszny is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, which was probably a long time coming. The rock of the Jaguars defense, Posluszny is one of the league's very best run defenders. He will have his work cut out for him, of course, against the league's reigning rushing champion and the 2013's best rushing offense. The Eagles rushed for 160.4 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, both league highs, while McCoy set the franchise record with 1,607 yards rushing on the year. Rest assured that McCoy will get the ball early and often on Sunday afternoon, with Posluszny doing his best to halt the league's best.
Players To Watch
RT Allen Barbre
All five of the Eagles' starting offensive linemen played all 16 games together in 2013. But with Lane Johnson suspended for the first four games, Allen Barbre, the top backup for the Eagles last year, will start after spending the entire summer working with the first-team offense. Barbre has started seven games in his six-year career, though the last time he did so was in 2009. Barbre has said that he's still getting used to playing on the right side, and he'll be tested by an aggressive and improving Jaguars pass rush.
S Malcolm Jenkins
The Eagles' marquee free-agent addition this year, Jenkins has almost single-handedly changed the look of the Eagles' secondary. For a group that struggled at times in 2013, Jenkins provides a steadiness that was much needed and his presence has created a feeling of depth at the position, with both Earl Wolff and Nate Allen capable of stepping in when needed. Jenkins' first real game in an Eagles uniform will be one to watch.
S Johnathan Cyprien
After the Jaguars selected Cyprien with the top pick of the second round last April, the Florida International product started 15 games for Jacksonville as a rookie, notching one interception and one sack. But those numbers belie the impact Cyprien has on the Jaguars secondary and expectations for him in the organization. Capable of being physical against the run and defending the pass, Cyprien will be tested by the likes of Darren Sproles, LeSean McCoy and the Eagles' dynamic duo of tight ends, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.