Chip Kelly has Eagles fans thinking Super Bowl
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Chip Kelly took the Philadelphia Eagles from worst to first in the division in one year, raising expectations to championship-or-bust levels in a city starved for a Super Bowl victory.
There hasn't been this much excitement surrounding the Eagles going into a season since Terrell Owens was catching passes from Donovan McNabb a decade ago. The Eagles went all the way to the Super Bowl in 2004 before losing to New England 24-21.
Fans are counting on Kelly, the offensive mastermind who brought his unique coaching philosophy and up-tempo offense to the NFL after turning Oregon into an NCAA powerhouse.
The Eagles haven't won a championship since 1960, but many die-hards in Philadelphia expect Kelly to finally deliver that elusive Vince Lombardi trophy.
Here's five things to watch for from the Eagles in 2014:
FLUKE OR FRANCHISE QB: Nick Foles had one of the best statistical seasons in NFL history while leading the Eagles to an NFC East title in his sophomore year. Foles replaced Michael Vick in October, went 8-2 as the starter and finished with 29 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 11 starts, including a playoff loss to New Orleans. He set an NFL record for best TD/interception ratio and his passer rating of 119.2 was the third-highest in NFL history. Foles already threw more picks (three) in the preseason that all of last year, but he can step forward in his development without equaling or surpassing his stats from 2013.
''Happy with where he is, but he'll be the first to tell you he needs to continue to get better,'' Kelly said.
THE NEW NO. 81: Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews is wearing T.O.'s old jersey number, but he has a tough job replacing the most recent No. 81, Jason Avant. Matthews, a second-round pick, was the talk of the town because of his impressive practices and the way he carries himself. He's being counted on to take Avant's spot in the slot and help fill DeSean Jackson's shoes after the three-time Pro Bowl wideout was released.
''Every hurdle we've given him as he prepares himself for the season, he's done a great job of jumping over,'' offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. ''He just continues to get better and better every day. Just like all our players, we have high expectations for him.''
WELCOME ABOARD: Two of Philadelphia's biggest offseason additions were former Saints. They signed safety Malcolm Jenkins to solidify a position that's been a revolving door in recent years. Then they acquired running back Darren Sproles in a trade. Jenkins has quickly become the leader of the secondary and a strong veteran presence on defense. Sproles gives Kelly another versatile weapon to help replace Jackson. Sproles can spell All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy or team up with him in the backfield to create coverage mismatches.
''Those are two great space athletes that are difficult to cover. I'm glad we have them and don't have to defend them,'' Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said.
DAVIS' DEFENSE: The defense came a long way playing in Davis' 3-4 scheme for the first time last year. After an awful first month, the defense improved significantly and had a stretch of nine straight games allowing 21 or fewer points. Jenkins is the only new starter, but Davis expects the group to get better because it's their second year playing in his system. The 6,304 yards the Eagles gave up in 2013 were 15th-most in NFL history and the 4,636 yards passing were fifth-most.
''I think the guys' comfort zone in the defense and in familiarity with it will help them cut it loose more,'' Davis said. ''I think our guys will shine this year.''
KICKING GAME: The kicking situation is unsettled heading into the final week before the season opener. Alex Henery is battling newly acquired rookie Cody Parkey for the job after missing two of his three field goals in the first three preseason games and coming off a poor performance in the playoff loss to New Orleans. Henery was 23 of 28 last year, but had a costly miss from 48 yards in a 26-24 loss to the Saints. He has also struggled with kickoffs.
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