Opening day is finally here! In Week 1, the St. Louis Rams face off in a home match-up with the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Rams are coming off what can be seen as a successful year compared with past years, and are looking to make a name for themselves, the Philadelphia Eagles aka the "Dream Team" have loaded up on talent in hopes of making a run at a Lombardi Trophy. The Rams had a great overall showing in preseason, especially against the Colts and Chiefs, showing a renewed vigor and ability in running the ball. They also showed just how much of a potential threat rookie TE Lance Kendricks will be. Will we see that in this first game?
While the Rams remained somewhat low key with their free agent signings, the Eagles made room for players such as DT Cullen Jenkins, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, RB Ronnie Brown, and even trading for CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, all who were starters for their respective teams last year. Everyone seems to be overlooking the Rams in this game, although Team Spags has built a solid defense centered around MLB James Laurinaitis and DE Chris Long. The free agents brought in on defense were signed for their ability to help stop the run, but will our cornerbacks be able to keep up with the likes of the speedy wideouts Desean Jackson and St. Louis' own Jeremy Maclin? Will our linebackers be fast enough to contain the threat that is Michael Vick?
As always, here's three things to watch for:
Containing Vick-ster the Trickster
The most arduous task the defense has today is stopping Michael Vick. Although he has aged some from his Atlanta years, he is just as fast, and even more dangerous. He's more dangerous because Any Reid has finally taught him how to be a quarterback first before running. Vick is finally taking time to go through his progressions before he chooses to run. With possibly the strongest arm in the league, and two receivers who run 4.3 40 times, it becomes very easy for the Eagles to stretch the field and allow him to take off running.
The Rams have...HAVE...to maintain their gap assignments. In the past years, our linebackers have been known to over-pursue a play, allowing the cutback side of the field to be wide open for running. If that continues in this game, the team could be in trouble. The defensive must continuously bring pressure from Vick's front side and force him to his right, where he isn't as dangerous throwing the ball. Look for a linebacker, or even possibly a third safety to come down into the box and shadow Vick at certain points in this game.
The only other weapon we've faced that is as dangerous as Michael Vick on the ground in recent years is Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans, and we are a much better defense now. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Establish the Run
If there is anywhere the Eagles are weak, it's in their linebacking corps, where rookie Casey Matthews looks to start at middle linebacker. The Rams must put their new free agent guard Harvey Dahl to use and attack this weakness with Steven Jackson all game. Jackson has looked especially productive running behind Brit Miller on the right side of the line, where Dahl and Jason Smith are blocking.
The other benefit to establishing the run is keeping the Eagles high powered offense off of the field. The Eagles have the ability to score in quick strikes, so keeping them off of the field, and tiring their defense out with long drives like we saw against the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason would do wonders for the Rams success in this game. In addition, Steven Jackson is like a juggernaut, in that he only gets stronger the more carries he gets. Keep pounding the rock and let him beat up on those defensive linemen and linebackers.
Establishing the run might also open up some space to throw through play-action. The Eagles field the best combination of cornerbacks in the NFL in Asomugha, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Asante Samuel. Any advantage they can gain in passing is one they need to jump on, because the passing game may not be there for most of this match up.
Heart. You've Got to Have Heart
If anything, this matchup will give a good gauge as to whether this team is ready to match up against the big boys, or whether the first 7 weeks of the season are going to be very long. The last game of last season showed a team that simply was just not ready to compete on the big stage both talent-wise, and mentally. Is this team there yet? The Rams brought in a lot of older veterans, who have all been there before. A number of them have Super Bowl rings, including CB Al Harris and LB Brady Poppinga. These older veterans have to support this team if they get down by some points, and keep them fighting until the end, because this game is winnable by all standards.
They Rams must show they have the gumption, the heart to compete against the big boys, and this first game is a step in that direction.
Prediction: I think this game will go down to the wire, and I really think the Rams establish the run and take this game from an Eagles team that will struggle to find themselves in the early parts of this season (a la' Miami Heat). Rams win 24-21