Editor’s note: Staff writer Steve Fini breaks down the offensive and defensive matchups and offers his prediction for today’s game.
The Rams run a 4-3 defense and that in a lot of ways is similar to the Jim Johnson defenses that Eagles fans are familiar with. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo was an assistant under Johnson and coached the Giants dominant defense when they stunned the Patriots in Super Bowl a few years back. He loves to blitz and play press coverage with his secondary.
Looking at the Eagles offensive skill positions and how they matchup with the Rams defense, the Eagles appear to have a significant advantage.
Vick, if he gets time, and that’s a big if, can single-handedly take over a game and put a team on his back (see Giants, New York). If he’s not harassed all game he can pick apart an improved, but vulnerable St. Louis secondary.
The Rams don’t have anyone capable of covering either Jackson or Maclin with single coverage, but most teams don’t. Their secondary is adequate, especially with the addition of long time Eagle Quintin Mikell, but it’s nothing spectacular. You can bet the house that Mikell had a lot input this week with his defensive coaches in creating a game plan to take away Jackson deep, so Andy Reid will have to figure out other ways to get the ball in his hands.
Running room for Lesean McCoy and Ronnie Brown might be tough to come by in the early going. The Rams have a strong, but young, front seven. Chris Long played like the real deal last year, and rookie Robert Quinn brings an athletic push off the edge. James Laurinaitis is a good middle backer who doesn’t get a lot of attention because of where he plays, but Ben Leber and Bryan Kehl could be taken advantage of. Screens and swing passes to McCoy and his ability to pick up the blitz will be more important in this game than his rushing totals.
The Eagles offensive success will depend upon how their much maligned offensive line responds to pressure. We know the story already. The key will be communication. The Rams were in the top half of the league in blitzes last year and that doesn’t figure to change this season. Having Jason Kelce call the right protections and Evan Mathis and Kyle DeVan be able to be more than just road graders could mean the difference between a comfortable win and a nail biter.
Like the offense, the Eagles have a clear advantage on the outside with their defense. Nmamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel against Mike Sims-Walker and Brandon Gibson is a clear advantage for the Eagles. Danny Amendola, who was a pass-catching machine for the Rams last season, might give the Birds some problems in the slot. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is athletic enough to cover anyone in the league, but he’s never played the slot before, so covering Amendola will be an interesting test for him.
The safety position has to be a bit of a concern in this match up. Jarrad Page will start alongside former seventh round draft pick in Kurt Coleman. Don’t look for them to be tested too much deep, but run support and covering tight end Lance Kendricks could be causes for concern.
The Eagles linebackers are a young group with ability, but lack experience. Jamar Chaney is the best coverage linebacker Philadelphia has had since Carlos Emmons. His matchup with Kendricks will be one to watch. Casey Mathews, who got physically beaten in the preseason and had trouble getting off blocks, will have his hands full trying to stop the powerful Steven Jackson. He loves running between the tackles, so Mathews is going to have to show those great instincts and fly to the ball.
The defensive line should stack up well against the Rams offensive line. On the outside, the Rams are stacked with two high draft picks. Roger Saffold is one of the best young offensive linemen in the game, but Trent Cole should have some success here. On the right side is former second overall pick Jason Smith. Big and athletic, Smith hasn’t developed quite like Saffold, but will provide a formidable test for Jason Babin . Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, and Antonio Dixon could have a big day up the middle and they’ll need them to eat up blocks to let Mathews roam free. Look for Jenkins to have a big day.
The Eagles may start off the year a bit slow. They have a lot of new parts that need to learn how to play together. The secondary, offensive line, and linebackers are each totally revamped units. Don’t be surprised (or frustrated) if this is a close game in the fourth quarter. The Eagles are built for the long run, but it’s probably going to take some time during these first few weeks to get their footing. Expect the Eagles to show they are the better football team as the game wears on. Ultimately, the Eagles have more experience and possess superior talent at the skill positions, which should be enough to escape St. Louis with a win.
Eagles 23, Rams 17