Dave Choate: Chip Kelly has been called everything from a genius to a fraud this offseason. Which one is he, if he can easily be thrown into either category, and why?
Brandon Gowton: Chip Kelly's made his fair share of head-scratching moves, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt for now. He's 20-12 in two seasons after taking over a 4-12 team. Kelly took risks this offseason with the hopes of taking the team from "good" to "great." Of course, it remains to be seen if those moves pay off. Right now, there's reason to be optimistic. His most critical acquisition was obviously Sam Bradford, and the quarterback has looked good this summer. If Bradford stays healthy and is able to lead this team to playoff success, there's no doubt he'll look like a genius.
Dave Choate: This strikes me as a high-powered, balanced offense, one that is going to give even the best defenses fits. Knowing that the Falcons aren't a particularly stellar defense, how do you think Kelly and company will attack this team?
Brandon Gowton: It's all about the run game. The Eagles got away from running the ball efficiently last season, which forced Nick Foles (and later Mark Sanchez) to throw more often than an ideal amount. This resulted to more turnovers. The Eagles are going to get back to the run this year after adding the talented duo of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Darren Sproles is still around as well, though he'll likely be used more often in the passing attack. The Eagles are going to pound the rock in order to open up the passing game for Bradford.
Dave Choate: The defense was pretty great at creating turnovers a year ago. How much of that is due to the talent, who are the players Matt Ryan should be looking at nervously, and are you concerned about possible regression putting a dent in the defense's overall effectiveness?
Brandon Gowton: Regression is always a concern, but a lot of those turnovers were forced by pressure. The Eagles were great at getting to the quarterback last season. Philadelphia finished tied for second overall in sacks. The Eagles didn't lose any of that front seven. In fact, they are arguably better now with the addition of Kiko Alonso. Fletcher Cox should be one of Matt Ryan's biggest concerns. The 24-year-old defensive end is a stud. He might not post big sack numbers but he eats up blocks and clears the way for Connor Barwin to make plays from the outside linebacker position. Speaking of outside linebacker, Brandon Graham could be looking to feast on a shaky offensive line. This is Graham's first opportunity as a full time starter. The former first round pick is really good at generating pressure.
Dave Choate: The Sam Bradford question is an interesting one to me. Obviously Mark Sanchez can run this offense in a pinch, but how concerned about you about Bradford's health, and how scary is this offense without him at the helm?
Brandon Gowton: Bradford's healthy is obviously a big concern, but I don't think worrying about it accomplishes much so it's kind out of mind for now. The Eagles can only cross that bridge if/when they get there, and the team obviously hopes that doesn't happen. For now, all we know is that Bradford looks completely healthy. He didn't miss a rep in practice this summer. There were no setbacks. He even took a couple big hits in the Eagles-Ravens preseason game (including the one from Terrell Suggs) and got back up to lead a touchdown drive. If Bradford manages to stay healthy, Philadelphia's offense could be really, really good. There was already a glimpse of what it might look like against the Packers. His overall talent is a significant upgrade on what Nick Foles brought to the table. Bradford has a strong arm, a quicker release, and better accuracy. It remains to be seen if Bradford can carry the offense by himself but he's going to be dangerous paired up with a top running game.
Dave Choate: I'd love to hear your score prediction, as well as your season outlook.
Brandon Gowton: Being on the road in Atlanta can be tough, but I think the Eagles are simply the better team here. Philadelphia's offense might be too much for the Falcons' defense to handle if it's anything close to last year's unit. The Falcons' offense might find some success against the Eagles' secondary, but Philadelphia's pass rush against a shaky offensive line seems to favor the Birds in white and midnight green. Score prediction: 34-20, Eagles.
As for the season, well ... expectations in the Chip Kelly era have never been higher. Bradford looks sharp, the running game is revamped, the front seven is still strong, and the secondary might be improved to some extent. I have the Eagles going 11-5 and making the playoffs.