Every week I’ll give you a short preview of the Eagles’ opponent in their upcoming game. In week one, the Eagles play the St. Louis Rams, last year’s runner up in a historically awful division. Let’s take a look at some of the Rams strategic tendencies.
Take all of the offense tendencies with a grain of salt, as the Rams have a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. Last year’s OC, Pat Shurmur, has left to coach the Browns.
Statistical analysis shows that running the ball in short yardage situations (3rd & 1 or 4th & Goal…situations like that) is more likely to yield a first down than passing. Despite that, the Rams only ran the ball 50% of the time in these situations, 5th lowest in the league. Beware of Play Action fakes in these short yardage spots.
Actually, beware of Play Action fakes all game. The Rams used play action on 24% of their pass plays last year, 4th most in the league.
Quarterback: Last year’s #1 overall pick, Sam Bradford, is the real deal. Very conservative, Bradford only averaged 5.5 yards per pass last year. One thing to watch for is Bradford’s performance in the second half. Bradford was much worse in the second half of games last season (5 TDs, 11 INTs) than he was in the first half (13 TDs, 4 INTs).
Running back: Steven Jackson is one of the NFL’s most talented running backs and the Eagles defense is exactly the kind of defense he excels against. He’s a tackle breaking machine against a team that has, in the past, struggled to tackle soundly. Do you trust the likes of Casey Matthews or Moise Fokou to tackle the Predator? Nor do I. He will be trouble.
Receivers: You might remember these guys. Danny Amendola was once cut by the Eagles and Brandon Gibson was traded from Philly to St. Louis in a minor trade before last season. Amendola is Bradford’s security blanket and was tied for first in the NFL in red zone targets last year. He’ll play a Wes Welker-like role in Josh McDaniels’ offense. Mike Sims-Walker was a free agent signing from Jacksonville who is the team’s most physically gifted pass catcher. You night have heard that the Eagles have good corners to shut these guys down.
Offensive Line: The Rams offensive line is pretty good, but not as good as they should be when you consider the resources that have gone into the line’s construction. Both tackles, Roger Saffold and Jason Smith, were high draft picks. Jason Brown was made the highest paid center in league history in 2009 and guards Jacob Bell and Harvey Dahl were upscale signings as well. On paper the line is great but it hasn’t lived up to expectations, especially when it comes to run blocking.
Rams head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree. More accurately, he comes from the Jim Johnson coaching tree. “Spags” was once an Eagles’ defensive assistant coach and has taken Jim Johnson’s blitz-happy playbook with him to St. Louis. The Rams rushed 6 or more defenders 17% of the time last year, second most in all of football. Many of those blitzes are of the Zone Blitz variety, where a defensive lineman drops into coverage.
Defensive End Chris Long is the best player on the team. Hell, he’s probably the best player in his entire division. He’s primed for a year that will garner him Defensive Player of the Year votes. Long had 8.5 sacks last year, an above average mark. He also had 42 QB hurries, where he either forced the QB to get rid of the ball or throw it away. He hit the QB just after the ball was thrown another 16 times. That’s almost 70 plays Long disrupted over the course of the season. Teams know how good Long is, so they’ll double team him with multiple blockers (look for Brent Celek to stay home and chip) leaving one on one matchups for the guys on the rest of the line.
Long’s success is a key to the Ram defense. If QBs have plenty of time to throw, they’re going to pick apart St. Louis’ lousy secondary. The Rams’ best defensive back is former Eagle Quintin Mikell. Mikell is very good but will be avoided by the Eagles passing attack. Why throw near Mikell when all sorts of lousy corners can be picked on instead?
What I expect:
The Eagles take advantage of Chris Long’s aggressiveness and throw a bunch of screen passes to his side of the line. When they aren’t doing that, they’ll double team him or chip him with a back or tight end. If that works and Mike Vick stays upright, he’ll have time to find holes in an overmatched Rams defense. The Eagles win a shootout, 27-24.