- Associated Press - Saturday, October 4, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Jeff Fisher nearly replaced Buddy Ryan when the popular coach was fired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

The job went instead to Rich Kotite, but Fisher’s career turned out just fine.

Fisher returns to Philadelphia on Sunday when the St. Louis Rams (1-2) play the Eagles (3-1). He’s 4-0 against Philadelphia.

“I look forward to it,” Fisher said. “They’re a great fan base and a great city and I have fond memories of my experience there.”

Fisher joined Ryan’s staff as a defensive backs coach in 1986. He became the youngest defensive coordinator in the league at age 30 two years later. Led by Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Seth Joyner, the Eagles had a ferocious defense. But Randall Cunningham and the offense struggled in three straight first-round playoff exits.

After leaving Philadelphia, Fisher had assistant coaching stints with the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco before eventually taking over as head coach with the Houston Oilers. He led the Oilers/Tennessee Titans to six seasons of double-digit wins and one AFC championship victory. He’s still looking for his first winning season with the Rams.

Chip Kelly is eager to match wits with Fisher and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“That’s the fun in coaching, the chess matches that go on, on a weekly basis, and the chess match that goes on within the game,” Kelly said. “You’ve got an outstanding defensive staff there. Jeff is a defensive coach himself. Then you have Gregg Williams and those other guys they have on the defensive side. You’re going up against the best in the National Football League. So that’s a challenge that you get excited about.”

Here are some things to watch for Sunday:

OPEN LANES: Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson returns after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick, bolsters a line that’s missing left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce. The Eagles will have their fourth line combination in five games. The injuries are a major reason why the running game has been ineffective. LeSean McCoy, who led the league and set a franchise record for yards rushing in 2013, is averaging only 2.7 per carry.

AUSTIN’S TEAM: Austin Davis has replaced Shaun Hill at quarterback for the Rams after leading them to a 1-1 record. Davis has 754 yards passing, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. His 72.3 completion percentage leads the league. Davis, in his third year, was cut by the Rams last season and was brought back after Sam Bradford suffered a torn ACL.

“It seems like he’s got a real good knowledge of what they’re doing,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t force the ball. For a guy that’s a younger player in this league, he seems like he’s got a really good grasp of what they are trying to get accomplished. Short, compact motion, athletic, can pull it down and run if he has to.”

RETURN SCORES: The Eagles have five touchdowns on returns. Chris Polk took a kickoff 102 yards for a score and Darren Sproles had an 82-yard punt return for a TD. Fletcher Cox scored on a fumble return. Malcom Jenkins scored on an interception runback. Brad Smith recovered a block punt in the end zone. Three of those returns scores came in last week’s 26-21 loss at San Francisco.

BIG FOUR: The Rams have four No. 1 draft picks on their defensive line, but only one sack in three games. Chris Long hurt his ankle in Week 1. Robert Quinn is off to a slow start after a franchise-record 19 sacks last year. Aaron Donald, a first-round pick this year, has the lone sack. Michael Brockers has just four tackles. The front four isn’t getting to the quarterback or stopping the run. The Rams are allowing 155 yards rushing per game, third most in the league.

TIME OF POSSESSION: The Eagles are last in the league in time of possession at 24:22. An up-tempo offense is a major reason for that, but the defense didn’t help itself last week by extending four drives with third-down penalties. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis said he’s never talked to Kelly about slowing down things so his unit gets some rest.

“Nobody can help our defense get off the field but us,” Davis said. “If we put a bunch of three-and-outs up there, we are not on the field for that many snaps. We can be a better defense by being a more consistent defense.”

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_RobMaaddi

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