September 09, 2015

With the focus finally off the potential No. 3 quarterback, the Philadelphia Eagles now get to see how their new No. 1 will perform in Chip Kelly's system.

Some skeptics wonder if it will take long before they must turn to the No. 2.

The oft-injured Sam Bradford and reigning rushing champion DeMarco Murray formally move into the Eagles offense following Kelly's personnel upheaval, and they'll face a revamped Atlanta Falcons defense led by new coach Dan Quinn at the Georgia Dome on Monday night.

Despite having a new starting quarterback in Bradford, much of the focus in Philadelphia recently was over whether Tim Tebow would beat out Matt Barkley as the third-stringer. It appeared the polarizing Tebow would get the job after Kelly traded Barkley to Arizona, but instead he was cut last Saturday.

Bringing in Tebow was among many headline-making moves by Kelly this offseason after taking full control of personnel decisions from former general manager Howie Roseman. The game-changers, though, were acquiring Bradford from St. Louis in a deal involving former starter Nick Foles and signing Murray after surprisingly dealing away leading rusher LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

"Every offseason there's always turnover on a team," Kelly said, downplaying the roster overhaul of a team that went 10-6 but missed the playoffs. "I don't think turnover when it's finally settled and how many players we have new, it's not really different than any other team. It's just the nature of the business."

Kelly also let his leading receiver walk away again, with free agent Jeremy Maclin joining Kansas City a year after DeSean Jackson was released. Second-year man Jordan Matthews and rookie Nelson Agholor will be the starting wideouts. The biggest move defensively was signing Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell to boost a pass defense which allowed 264.9 yards per game to only finish better than Atlanta (279.9).

Health will be a huge factor in whether the changes work, specifically to Bradford and Murray but also to linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Alonso as they return from serious leg injuries.

Bradford hopes better protection and shifting to Kelly's up-tempo style can revive his career after the former No. 1 overall draft pick sat out last season following his second left ACL tear in a year. Even the much-maligned Mark Sanchez thrived in Kelly's system after replacing an injured Foles last season, posting a career-best 88.4 quarterback rating, and he'll step in if Bradford goes down.

After starting all 16 games during his 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, Bradford played in only 33 of the Rams' next 64 games. He impressed in the preseason, going 10 of 10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns in exhibition game No. 3 against Green Bay.

"Sam is the man," Ryans said. "... He's an outstanding quarterback and we just have to protect him and keep him healthy. But, I think he can really shred some defenses."

So can Murray.

The reigning Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns but also had 449 touches, 76 more than any other player. That came behind what many consider the NFL's best offensive line in Dallas - the Eagles are adjusting to losing starting guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans - and Murray missed nine games due to injuries over his first three NFL seasons.

"I think this is the best we've looked since Chip got here (in 2013), in the preseason," Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters said.

The Philadelphia offense, among the top five in yards and points in 2014, could be tested by a Quinn-led Atlanta defense. After a 6-10 season led to Mike Smith's firing, Quinn takes over the Falcons after turning Seattle into the league's most formidable defense over the past two years.

"A lot of respect in terms of the way they run their system," Quinn said of the Eagles offense. "They play fast-paced offensively, we do defensively as well so a great matchup from that standpoint."

Quinn is implementing a 4-3 scheme hoping to improve an NFL-worst defense (398.3 ypg) which totaled 22 sacks - only Cincinnati had fewer. First-round pick Vic Beasley, linebacker Justin Durant and fellow offseason acquisition Adrian Clayborn could help the Falcons defense take some pressure off Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the offense.

"It's a work in progress," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "But I like where we're going."

Ryan is coming off a fourth straight 4,000-yard season, but he has a new offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan and a suspect offensive line which has struggled to adapt a zone-blocking scheme. Just this month, the Falcons traded for guard Andy Levitre after he lost his starting job with Tennessee, put former starting guard Jon Asamoah on injured reserve and released projected starting center Joe Hawley.

"For the new guys and getting Andy up to speed, the communication... is huge, especially during the early part of the year," Quinn said.

That shaky front could limit Tevin Coleman's production after the rookie was named the starting running back. The third-round pick, who could share carries with Devonta Freeman, was third in college football last year with 2,036 rushing yards.

Jones was the NFL's third-leading receiver with 1,593 yards and 104 catches, earning a five-year contract worth $71.25 million. His matchup with Maxwell should be one to watch.

The Falcons have won the last two meetings - in 2011 and 2012 - as Ryan threw for seven TD passes.

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