Eagles – Rams Preview: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Can Andy Reid make it three in a row with his unique brand of incompetence? Two years ago Reid went into the season with a terrible offensive line that he totally rebuilt in the offseason, only to have to reshuffle it right before the season. Donovan McNabb got hurt in the first game. Last year Reid re-tooled the offensive line again. Kevin Kolb got hurt in the first half of the first game. This year the Eagles will have only one offensive lineman playing the same position he played last year. I’m taking bets Michael Vick gets hurt on the first offensive snap when Reid calls a play-action fake and the Rams defenders don’t buy it, you know, because the Eagles would have to actually run the ball on occasion for the play fake to be effective.

Eagles fans have visions of a “Dream Team” being “All in” on their way to the Super Bowl this season. Unfortunately, they have to play the games before they can hold a parade. The first one takes the Eagles to St. Louis and the Rams dome.

That is significant because an Eagles offensive line that will start a rookie center in between two journeymen guards, along with Todd Herremans making his first ever start at right tackle and Jason Peters, who averages a false start a game under normal conditions, will have to function on silent snap counts most of the game. What could possibly go wrong?

Much has been made of the Eagles offensive weapons, but if Vick doesn’t have any time to find his receivers does it really matter how good they are? And exactly how good are they? DeSean Jackson won’t be going over the middle this season since he’s in the last year of his contract and the last time he wandered over the middle, he ended up with a concussion. Jeremy Maclin is coming back from a mystery illness and Steve Smith is coming back from microfracture knee surgery. I’m not sure if they can provide anything in the first game. It’s a shame, because the Rams don’t have great defensive backs.

What the Rams do have is head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo learned his defense from the late Jim Johnson during eight seasons as an Eagles assistant. When Spagnuolo coached the Giants defense he absolutely owned the Eagles offense run by Reid. Spagnuolo uses that attacking Johnson-style defense to exploit weaknesses in an offense. The Eagles weakness is that O-line. Expect the Rams to blitz all day since Vick proved he couldn’t handle the blitz in the second half of last season.

Good defense have always been able to contain Vick during his career and while the Rams aren’t a great defense, Spagnuolo knows the Eagles offense well enough to devise ways to utterly confuse Vick and force some turnovers.

Since the Eagles never run the football under Reid, Vick will need to find LeSean McCoy on dump-off passes all day to beat the Rams blitz. McCoy led all NFL running backs last season with 78 receptions and he may repeat that feat this season. Tight end Brent Celek might be able to catch a few dump-offs as well if weren’t for the fact that he’ll be blocking most of the day, just like last season.

When the Rams have the ball they probably won’t even bother passing the ball very much. It’s not because they don’t have a good quarterback though. Sam Bradford had a great rookie season last year, when he threw for more yards than Vick. He set the first-year record for completions (354) and passing yards (3,512), but with the Eagles stacked at cornerback, the Rams will attack elsewhere.

Where they will attack is the Eagles sub-par linebacking corps. Casey Matthews is a rookie and he’s got two guys on either side of him in Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou, who are changing positions this season. Again, what could possibly go wrong with that situation?

What could go wrong is that teams somehow saw the tape of the Eagles preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where the Eagles defense and Matthews in particular were absolutely man-handled. Every NFL team doesn’t have the personnel to attack the Eagles in that manner, but the Rams do.

Running back Steven Jackson rushed for 1,241 yards last season, but he did it on a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. He’ll double that yards-per-carry average against the Eagles on Sunday. Also, new Rams offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has been raving about his rookie tight end Lance Kendricks. He plans to use Kendricks the way McDaniels’ former team, the Patriots, used Aaron Hernandez last season to stretch the field. With the lack of experience among the Eagles linebackers and safeties, expect Kendricks to have a big day.

The Eagles entire defense is set up to stop the pass, not the run. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s “wide nine” defensive line setup splits his ends out wide and has them rush the passer. That, added to the fact that the Eagles defensive linemen are on the smaller side, just begs teams to run right at them all day long. The Rams will do just that with Jackson.

While the Rams have two of the best kickers in the NFL in placekicker Josh Brown and punter Donnie Jones, the Eagles will be trotting out two rookie kickers. Again, what could possibly go wrong?

The coaching matchup is more like a mismatch. I already told you that Spagnuolo knows Reid’s offense from his time with the Eagles and knows exactly how to shut it down. On the other side of the ball, new Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will be making his NFL debut as a defensive coach. Did I mention that he was named the defensive coordinator after coaching the Eagles offensive line for over a decade and has never coached defense in the NFL before? What could possibly…..oh, never mind. You get the idea.

I think the Eagles will have a fine season if they can keep Vick from getting hurt behind a porous offensive line, but that doesn’t mean I think they’ll start the season off fast. As a matter of fact, Reid’s history suggests that his teams always start off the season slowly and get better as the season wears on.

The Rams are a better team than anyone gives them credit for. After finishing 1-15 in 2009, they improved to 7-9 last season, including a 5-3 record at home. The Eagles have way too many unresolved issues for them to just walk into an opposing stadium and expect to get an easy win.

I hope I’m wrong, but I see the Eagles losing to the Rams and Reid’s opening day record dropping to 5-8.

Rams 27 – Eagles 24

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