This weekend's opening game against the Eagles represents a big test for Coach Spagnuolo's rapidly improving Rams. However, the reverse is true as well -- the suddenly more-potent Rams have the capability to put the Eagles' preseason "Dream Team" hype as championship contenders to the test as well.
This was the surprising theme that came out of our Q&A session with Thomas Jackson of EaglesEyeBlog.com on the Bloguin network.
RamsHerd: Now that this is "Michael Vick's team," have you seen Andy Reid unveil any new wrinkles to the Eagles' offense to take further advantage of his skills?
EaglesEye: If anything of a "new wrinkle" nature is being planned to showcase Michael Vick's arm and legs, I haven't seen it.
I think the main idea this season is to keep Vick in one piece, perhaps even to dial down his spontaneous playmaking decisions into more of a ball-control offense with a lot of underneath stuff...more involvement by the tight ends and running backs on screens and sweeps.
RH: The Eagles are being widely trumpeted as a Super Bowl contender this year. Are you on the bandwagon or are you playing it cautious?
EE: The "Super Bowl" hype is insane... Only 2 out of 32 teams survive the long season to even get there for the chance to lose the big one... so many things have to go right and fall in place for that to happen. Right now the Rams have as much chance of making the Super Bowl as the Eagles. That's the way a serious football fan has to look at it.
I think the Eagles players are focused enough to know you don't get an advance reservation for the Super Bowl. It's really about getting a little better every week, adjusting to losses along the way, minimizing key injuries, and peaking late... just as the Packers and Steelers did last year.
RH: Few teams were more active this offseason than Philly. Which addition to this team, whether via free agency or the draft, will have the biggest impact in 2011?
EE: In my estimation, adding Nnamdi Asomugha as a premier lockdown corner is NOT the biggest impact acquisition for the Eagles... the most noticeable impact will come from defensive tackle/end Cullen Jenkins (former Packers FA) and from 4th-round draft pick Casey Matthews (middle linebacker)... The Eagles just got a whole lot better in pass rush and intermediate pass coverage with those two guys.
RH: Aside from Trent Cole, the Eagles didn't appear to generate much pass rush last year, which could bode well for Bradford and McDaniels and the Rams on offense. Is this still an area of concern?
EE: The Eagles brought in defensive line coach Jim Washburn from the Titans to improve their pass rush. He has installed a completely new scheme for the Eagles called a "Wide 9" set, where the weak-side defensive end lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. This gives the Eagles DE rotation a chance to play in space and get downfield quicker... something they were not able to do much last year.
Besides Trent Cole, the Eagles have also added former Titan Jason Babin, who had a Pro Bowl year in 2010 in the "Wide 9" scheme. I think you'll see a greater emphasis on the Eagles getting pressure on Bradford and the Rams backfield, whereas last year they'd be content just to absorb blocks and plug holes.
RH: What's your game prediction?
EE: Game Prediction? Wow... first games are tough to call...
I'm sensing there will be a slow start for both teams... adjustments made at the half...Bradford gets hot late... Eagles get a running game going with LeSean McCoy and Ronny Brown... I think this one comes down to which team has the best conditioning and the best field goal kicker performance... I'm calling it Rams 24, Eagles 20... and a major wake-up call for Philadelphia.