Finally! The regular season is upon us.
And with it, the storylines that dominated the offseason will begin to unfold.
Head coach Chip Kelly assumed full control of personnel and with it he remade the team in his image. The amount of new players is not noteworthy, but it's the positions that were changed. The Eagles acquired Sam Bradford at quarterback from the St. Louis Rams even though Nick Foles was 14-4 as a starter under Kelly. The franchise's all-time leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, was jettisoned to Buffalo for three-down linebacker extraordinaire Kiko Alonso. Pro Bowl wide receiver Jeremy Maclin signed with Kansas City in free agency, so the Eagles selected Nelson Agholor in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The starting guards along the offensive line - Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans - were both released. Remember, this was an offense that set the franchise record for points last season and ranked third in the league in points and fifth in yards gained.
The back end of the defense was significantly altered after allowing a league-high 72 pass plays of 20-plus yards. Both starting cornerbacks, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, were not brought back. Safety Nate Allen is now in Oakland. The Eagles targeted Byron Maxwell on the first day of free agency to upgrade the cornerback position and his former teammate Walter Thurmond is the new safety opposite Malcolm Jenkins.
How will all of these new pieces come together? The Eagles dominated in the preseason winning the three games that the starters played in including a thorough beat down of the Packers in Green Bay. Again, it was the preseason. Now is when the games count in the standings.
Up first, the Eagles travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Monday Night Football. Head coach Chip Kelly made his Eagles debut on a Monday night in 2013. Atlanta will begin the Dan Quinn era this year. Quinn takes over after two years as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. Quinn may not have the personnel yet to replicate the top-ranked Seattle defense, but with a talented quarterback in Matt Ryan and an elite wide receiver in Julio Jones the Falcons will have a chance to contend for the NFC South in 2014.
- Chris McPherson
Last Time They Met
October 28, 2012 – Falcons 30, Eagles 17
The Falcons will be facing a very different team on both offense and defense than they did in 2012 when they last met with the Eagles. At Lincoln Financial Field in Week 8, Atlanta's first three possessions of the game resulted in touchdowns. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 262 yards against the Philadelphia defense. This was the Eagles' first game with Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator. Following the game, the Falcons were the only NFL team unbeaten on their way to the NFC Championship Game.
- Marissa Fuller
When The Eagles Have The Ball
New faces abound all over the Eagles' offense. With new personnel at running back, wide receiver and a pair of new starters on the offensive line, there's a lot for fans to take in as the offense hits the field.
But, the biggest change and the one that will have the biggest impact on the Eagles' success in 2015 can be found at quarterback. Sam Bradford, the first overall pick from the 2010 NFL Draft, will take the field to lead the Eagles' offense for the first time in regular season action. He looked tremendous in the preseason, but now he'll look to take another huge step in his road to recovery from a twice-torn ACL. With a career completion percentage of 58.6 percent and a 59-38 touchdown/interception ratio, Bradford has shown his ability as a passer at the NFL, but he's never had a surrounding cast quite like this one.
Seeing all the new pieces fit together ought to be a great treat for Eagles fans on Monday night. DeMarco Murray's downhill running style should be on full display as the Eagles look to establish the running game early to open up the passing attack later in the game. This first matchup of the season should also offer fans a glimpse at how the running back rotation with Murray, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles will work out over the course of a 16-game regular season.
On the outside, keep an eye on rookie Nelson Agholor in his first NFL action. In the preseason, the first-round picked lined up both inside and outside, and he will most likely do both at times throughout the regular season. Throw Agholor into the mix with reliable veterans like Riley Cooper and Miles Austin and up-and-comers Jordan Matthews, who proved last season that he can be a go-to weapon, and Josh Huff, who is expected to have a much larger role in the offense than he did as a rookie, and the Eagles' receiving group looks to be in great shape heading into Atlanta.
While it's not the most glamorous position group, keep an eye on the Eagles' offensive line, specifically the guards. Andrew Gardner and Allen Barbre will be the starters, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to playing a full game on the line's interior. Atlanta's defensive line features talented players like Vic Beasley Jr. and Tyson Jackson, both players originally drafted in the top 10 picks of their respective drafts, and Ra'Shede Hageman, taken in the second round in 2014. If the Eagles can win the battle in the trenches, it could be a big night for the offense.
The Falcons' defense struggled mightily in 2014, finishing last in the league in terms of yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 398.3 yards per game. They particularly struggled in the passing game, allowing 279.9 yards per game through the air, again, 32nd out of 32 teams. The Falcons made a huge change by bringing in former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as their head coach, so it will be worth watching to see how much of Quinn's Seattle influence will transfer to the Falcons.
- Alex Smith
*When The Falcons Have The Ball
With a new coaching staff, the Falcons will look to open their season with a strong offensive performance Monday night, relying heavily on quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. However, questions surrounding the strength of the team's offensive line and the debut of rookie running back Tevin Coleman will play a major role in the outcome of the game as well.
The biggest test for the Eagles will be shutting down Jones, who finished third in the league last season with 1,593 receiving yards. He averaged 15.3 yards per catch, scoring six touchdowns in the process. Cornerback Byron Maxwell will most likely be paired against the wide receiver, but the way defensive coordinator Bill Davis plans to cover the Falcon will be highly important. Furthermore, Roddy White is ready to roll after undergoing an elbow scope in the preseason.
In the week leading up to the game, Atlanta also needs to prepare its offensive line. Left tackle Jake Matthews is returning from a Lisfranc injury sustained last season. Additionally, Matthews also suffered a back injury during the third preseason game, which he only returned from on Tuesday. The Falcons will need to integrate newly acquired guard Andy Levitre, whom they traded for the just prior to the 53-man roster deadline, to the line as well and are working out offensive tackle Jake Long this week in an attempt to further improve the depth. Last season alone, Ryan was sacked 31 times.
Ryan is coming off of a successful 2014 campaign. He threw for 4,694 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. While the quarterback has been a constant for the Falcons' offense over the years, the new rookie running back has not. Coleman, a 2015 third-round pick, is slated to start for Atlanta on Monday night. Having only preseason games to watch, the Eagles' defense will need to be prepared for the former Indiana standout. He ranked second in the nation with an average of 142.6 rushing yards per game, as well as 158.5 yards from scrimmage each game.
This game will also mark the first time Brandon Graham takes the field as a Philadelphia starter at linebacker. He had a few bold predictions about his play this upcoming season, but is looking to build on a 2014 season in which he had 5.5 sacksd as a reserve.
- Julie Bacanskas
1. CB Byron Maxwell vs. WR Julio Jones
The first big test of the season for cornerback Byron Maxwell will be defending one of the top receivers in the game, Julio Jones. However, Maxwell is certainly up for the challenge after signing with the Eagles in free agency. In the past two seasons alone, he had 64 tackles, 55 of which were solo, six interceptions and 23 passes defensed. These all came during his time in Seattle, where Maxwell was a member of the 2013 Super Bowl team.
As a top-three wide receiver in the NFL last season behind only Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Denver's Demaryius Thomas in both yards and receptions, Julio Jones is looking to continue his streak of success with a strong performance on Monday night. Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan already have an understanding of the way they play together, and that knowledge is something defensive coordinator Bill Davis and the Eagles will need to prepare to cover. With an average of 15.5 yards per catch a year ago, stopping Jones will be a determining factor of the outcome in this season opener.
2. WR Jordan Matthews vs. CB Robert Alford
Fresh off a dominant rookie campaign, receiver Jordan Matthews is ready to step up even more for the Eagles in Year 2. Last season, he was the team's second-most productive receiver behind Jeremy Maclin with 872 yards and eight touchdowns.
With Maclin no longer in Philadelphia, Matthews is prepared for an increased role and has already found chemistry with quarterback Sam Bradford to help with that process. Of his seven preseason catches, four were from the new Eagles starter. The shortest resulted in a 7-yard gain, while the longest moved the team 27 yards down the field. Don't be surprised if Bradford targets him frequently in the opener.
Matthews will more than likely be going up against Falcons' veteran Robert Alford. The cornerback missed the final six games of the 2014 season, but was a starter in his 10 appearances. During that time, he was still able to accumulate 36 tackles and three interceptions. Nevertheless, standing only at 5-10, Alford will be at a disadvantage in terms of height in the matchup. Matthews' extra five inches should work in his favor out of the slot.
3. LT Jason Peters vs. DE Vic Beasley Jr.
This matchup will be the story of the esteemed veteran against the promising rookie. Jason Peters, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, will need to stop the No. 8 overall pick from this year's NFL Draft in Vic Beasley. The new Falcon had a historic collegiate career, leaving Clemson as the program's all-time sack leader with 33 during his four years. He started all 26 games during his junior and senior campaigns and accumulated 97 tackles, 58 solo, during his career.
In the preseason, Beasley saw limited action. He played in three of the four games, but only notched one tackle. The opener will serve as his first extended NFL experience, and he will certainly be thrown into the fire going against Peters, an All-Pro with 129 career starts.
- Julie Bacanskas
Trends To Watch
1. What Will DeMarco Murray Do?
Before being signed by Philadelphia to a five-year contract this past offseason, running back DeMarco Murray was a star on the Dallas Cowboys' offense. Murray gained 1,845 rushing yards in 2014 and he played in 12 games where he rushed 100-plus yards, tying for the second-highest single-season total in NFL history. By comparison, the Falcons only rushed for 1,498 yards as a team in the 2014 season.
Murray has never matched up against the Atlanta Falcons is his career.
2. Chip Kelly Hasn't Lost A Season Opener
Head coach Chip Kelly is heading into his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has opened with a win in each of his first two seasons. In 2013, the Eagles won Kelly's debut with a 33-27 victory over Washington. Last year, the Eagles rallied to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-17.
3. Kyle Shanahan Vs. The Eagles' Defense
Kyle Shanahan has taken over the offensive coordinator duties for the Atlanta Falcons. The last time he faced the Eagles was in the same role with Washington.
Shanahan's installed the same zone blocking scheme that he's used in Washington and last year in Cleveland, but there has been a lot of turnover along the offensive line. Will Shanahan's offense be able to outdo the Eagles' new and improved defense? The Eagles made some serious changes to the defense beginning with the hiring of Cory Undlin to oversee the secondary along with Matthew Harper.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins will return as a starter and Nolan Carroll earned a starting position at cornerback. Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond are the other two starters. Both were signed in free agency and did very well adjusting to Undlin in the preseason. The Eagles' defense will be more physical and more ready than ever before consisting of man-to-man coverage and passing attacks.
- Marissa Fuller