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Week One Preview: Eagles defense must contain Toby Gerhart

The NFL regular season will officially kickoff this Thursday night when the Green Bay Packers take on the defending Super Bowl champs the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. However for the Philadelphia Eagles, they, like the rest of the teams in NFL, will have to wait until Sunday to play their first game.

On Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., the Eagles will take on a young Jacksonville Jaguars team to begin their 2014 regular season. For Chip Kelly and company, this will be a test as the Jaguars showed flashes of good football during the preseason. In the offseason, the Jaguars made huge improvements to their offense by selecting quarterback Blake Bortles and wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the NFL Draft. They also improved in the running game as they signed free-agent running back, Toby Gerhart.

Gerhart, who was the backup in Minnesota, will get his chance to be the lead back in Jacksonville as Maurice Jones-Drew is now in Oakland. In terms of the Eagles defense, they must key in specifically on Gerhart to win the game.

Last season, the Eagles defense was shaky at times as they were still trying to find their way through the 3-4 format. After the game in Denver in which they were demolished, the defense slowly got better. It was all about holding teams under 21 points to win, which they did. But coming into this Sunday’s game, the defense has to worry more about the run than the pass as head coach Gus Bradley and quarterback Chad Henne will use it to setup the play-action.

Looking at the Eagles defense last season, they gave up 289.8 passing yards per game which was dead last in the NFL. Hopefully that gets better with the additions of Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll II. When it comes to opponents rushing the ball, the defense only allowed 104.3 yards per game.

We can expect that number to be even lower this season with Vinny Curry getting more snaps and the addition of seventh round draft pick Beau Allen, who has been in regular rotation in the preseason at the nose tackle position. The guys in the middle will be key in collapsing the pocket and breaking through the offensive line to contain Gerhart.

Gerhart was drafted out of Stanford in the second round of the 2010 draft and has had an average NFL career to date. There are not going to be many touches when you have Adrian Peterson in front of you. Over his career, Gerhart has 1,305 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 276 carries.

Last season, Gerhart had 283 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Those are not eye popping numbers, but he is not flash and dash back instead he is a big brushing back. Against teams such as the Seahawks, Packers, and Ravens, he gained over 60 rushing yards. He ran for 67 rushing yards on seven carries against the Seahawks, 91 rushing yards on eight carries against the Packers, and 89 rushing yards on 15 carries against the Ravens. Only once in his career has he had a 100 rushing-yard game which came in 2011 versus the Washington Redskins.

With the type of physicality that Gerhart brings to the table, the Eagles defensive line must be able to with hold and stop him because he won’t gash you for big runs but he will wear your line down. If that happens, your defense now becomes susceptible to the play-action. So for the Eagles it is simple, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox must put a hat on Gerhart. If they don’t, it could be a long Sunday afternoon.

[Photo: Andrew Nelles/Associated Press]