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Friday, August 19, 2011

Scouting Report: Rams Can Beat Philadelphia in Week One

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2011 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge It's a Scout. On a completely off-topic note, I really wish I had one of these.
  • It's a Scout. On a completely off-topic note, I really wish I had one of these.
I admit, I am an obsessive watcher of sports. I love our hometown teams, of course, but I can watch a game I have no rooting interest in almost as easily. In fact, I would say close to 90% of my television viewing is either animated (in the form of American cartoons or Japanese anime), or sporting events of some variety. I am, to put it lightly, a rather appalling sort of nerd. 

So it shouldn't really come as any surprise to anyone that I couldn't help but turn on the Philadelphia Eagles preseason game last night. Nationally televised, it was the Eagles taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a contest of two teams both expected to compete for a Super Bowl this season. The added drama, of course, comes from the hype surrounding the Eagles, who had a magnificent off-season, and was kicked into a fever pitch by Vince Young's comments referring to the Eagles as the "dream team." 

Oh, and did I mention the Eagles just happen to be the Rams' opponents the opening week of the season? Yeah. Kind of makes it even more interesting, doesn't it? 

Anyhow, just a couple quick thought on the team the Rams will be playing opening day after the jump. 

-- Michael Vick threw three interceptions, and there's a lot of focus on that currently, but I wouldn't read too much into it. Vick looked to me like the same quarterback he's always been, for better and for worse. Some nice throws, some outstanding escape jobs, and then a couple of really questionable decisions. Two of his picks were just terrible decisions, and would likely have been interceptions anywhere anytime. The third, though, was a tipped ball on a scrambling throw, and can safely be ignored as indicative of what Vick is likely to do. 

The bottom line on Vick is the same now as it's always been: if you keep him bottled up, he won't beat you with his arm very often. It will be on the Rams' defensive tackles and linebackers to keep containment and force Vick to stay in the pocket while the ends rush him. 

-- That being said, the Philly offense has the potential to be explosive, with both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin having true home-run potential. It's unclear if Maclin will be healthy enough to play week one, but if I had to bet I would say he probably won't play. I could easily be wrong, though. The Rams' two challenges on defense will be containing Vick and avoiding home run plays in the passing game. It wouldn't surprise me to see them go to almost a Cover 2 look to try and keep as many plays as possible in front of the defenders while attempting to force Vick to stay home, though that style of defense doesn't really seem to be Steve Spagnuolo's cup of tea most of the time. 

-- I wouldn't count on being able to attack Philly outside the numbers. While their corners didn't play exceptionally well, they still boast the best collection of talent at the position in the NFL. The Rams and their rotating cast of wide receivers will not likely have a huge day against the Philadelphia cornerbacks. 

-- The weakness of the Eagle defense, though, and it is a rather severe one, is in the middle of the field. Both the safeties and the linebackers look very weak to my eye, particularly the linebacking corps. 

The safeties are an undistinguished group, with Jarrad Page the only out-and-out plus player in my opinion. Jaiquawn Jarret out of Temple has definite potential, but he's a rookie and should be exploitable, if he even plays. 

The weakest link of all to me, though, and what I think will ultimately prove the key to whether or not the Rams can make a serious run at an upset is the Philadelphia linebackers. The Eagles have one of the smallest linebacker corps in football, and not a ton of experience there either. I do like Rashad Jeanty, but beyond him it's a group short on talent, size, and experience. 

If there's any one area of the field the Rams are well-constructed to attack, it is the middle of the field. With a power running game and a passing attack heavy on tight ends, the Rams will likely do everything they can to exploit that advantage. Steven Jackson represents a serious mismatch to any of the Philly linebackers; the only question is whether or not the middle of the Rams' offensive line can get him to the second level. The D-line of the Eagles is strong, but with the upgrade of Harvey Dahl at guard, the Rams just might have the push to get SJax into the linebackers. If they can, he could very well have a huge day. 

I would also expect to see Josh McDaniels' offensive scheme for the game focus heavily on getting tight ends into crossing routes to pound away at the soft middle of the Eagle defense. The linebackers have neither the size nor the coverage skills to stop such a tactic, and the safeties aren't much better. Lance Kendricks, who has already wowed everyone with his work in camp and in the first preseason game, could well prove a huge weapon against Philadelphia.

The one challenge I can really see the Rams facing on offense could well be the blitz. This is still a Philly team which loves to blitz, and while the linebackers are undersized, there is some definite quickness there. The Rams' O-line will need to be vigilant to prevent one of those guys from blowing past them at an inopportune moment. 

-- Watching Philly play, I have to admit I was a little surprised at what I saw. Obviously, I thought they would look better than they did, but I'm pretty sure everyone else did too. And I think they likely will get better as the season comes on. What did surprise me, though, was not that they had some weaknesses, but how glaring those weaknesses were. I don't want this to turn into a column crowing about how overrated the Eagles are; their record will tell us whether or not they're overrated in time. But hey, the Rams are going to have to play this team, and I think there are definite areas they can be attacked.

They are brilliant on the outside of the secondary, and their defensive line is solid, but they are as weak in the middle of the field as the Rams were last season. If the Rams want to pull the upset against the Eagles, I believe the game plan should focus heavily on attacking the linebackers with short and intermediate passes, especially to the tight ends, and power running plays with Steve Jackson between the tackles. Trying to throw outside the numbers or deep probably won't go very far, as you'll just run into Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, not a pair of players you're going to be able to exploit. 

The wild card, of course, will be the Philly offense. They have the potential to absolutely go off, regardless of the defense they're playing, and the Rams will have to work very hard to limit big plays. Avoid the home run, and I think the Rams have a pretty good chance of winning, honestly. Get into a shooting match, though, and I think the Eagles have too many bullets. 

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