The Philadelphia Eagles open up the regular season in St. Louis to face off with the Rams. The Rams are coming off a solid campaign in 2010 where, despite a 7-9 record, they nearly won the NFC West. The Rams looked poised to take control of a very wide open race in the West.
The Rams have added Mike Sims-Walker and drafted Austin Pettis to give them more depth in their receiving core. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford clearly lacked a true depth threat last season, but was still able to throw for over 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
It's never easy to win on the road in this league and the Super Bowl hopeful Eagles will get a good test early on in 2011. The Rams aren't exactly a Super Bowl contender quite yet, but they are a quality team that plays very well at home. They finished with a 5-3 record at home in 2010.
Chris Long is ready for a breakout season at defensive end. His sacks have gone up in all three seasons in the league, including last season, when he finished with nine sacks. Long is the left defensive end for the Rams and will most likely be going up against the Eagles' right tackle Todd Herremans.
Herremans was moved from left guard to right tackle just two weeks ago and will get a tough early test against Long on Sunday. Herremans is more of a natural tackle at 6'6", 320 pounds. Herremans has five career starts at right tackle, most recently in 2009.
Long is poised for the first double-digit sack season of his career. The Eagles offensive line is in a bit of a rebuilding mode right now, with four of the five starting positions being manned by different players than last year. The Eagles are also running a different blocking scheme under new offensive line coach Howard Mudd this season.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has proven that he can pick apart any defense if he has time in the pocket. If the Eagles are to start on the right foot in 2011, the offensive line will need to give Vick plenty of time.
The Eagles made it a mission this offseason to improve their pass rush. They signed defensive ends Jason Babin and former CFL Star Phillip along with defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. The Eagles also hired the best defensive line coach in the business, Jim Washburn. Washburn has a very aggressive line scheme; his linemen are asked to attack the backfield rather than just cover up gaps.
The new-look Eagles pass rush will get a good test from one of the best offensive tackle duos in the game. Left tackle Rodger Saffold and right tackle Jason Smith don't have much experience—just three years between them—but boy can they play. The Rams gave up just 34 sacks in 2010; that number should get even better as both their tackles should make even bigger strides in 2011.
A quiet day from both Trent Cole and Jason Babin could go a long way in the Rams pulling off the upset in Week 1. Give a quarterback time to throw and he will find open receivers, no matter who your cornerbacks are. The Eagles pass rush will be crucial to pulling out the victory on Sunday in St. Louis.
Quintin Mikell didn't want to leave Philadelphia, but after the Eagles drafted three safeties in the last two drafts, it was apparent that he wasn't a part of their future plans. Now, Mikell is a Ram and will go up against his former team right off the bat.
Mikell will be looking to show the Eagles that he isn't past his prime quite yet. He mentioned that the Eagles never called him about playing with the team this season.
He spent his first eight seasons with the Eagles after being undrafted out of Boise State. I'm sure Mikell has plenty of good memories playing with the Eagles, but on Sunday he will be looking to create some at the expense of his former team.
It's no surprise that Rams running back Steven Jackson will be the focal point of the Eagles defense on Sunday. Jackson racked up 1,241 rushing yards and an additional 383 receiving yards in 2010.
The Eagles defense showed us it is very vulnerable against the run during the preseason. The Eagles gave up 378 rushing yards during preseason and the linebackers struggled to make an impact against the run. It doesn't matter how great your secondary is, if you can't stop the run, you will struggle to beat anybody.
The Eagles will need a big effort from both defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon. Mike Patterson made his impact in the preseason when he rejoined the team following a seizure scare in the third week of preseason. Patterson and the rest of the Eagles defense will help keep Peyton Hillis and the rest of the Cleveland Browns' rushing attack in check. The Eagles will need another effort like that to keep Jackson from having a big game.
At times in 2010, Sam Bradford looked like a five-year pro at quarterback in his rookie campaign. Bradford threw for over 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns despite not having a true deep threat to lean on.
Bradford won't have to throw for over 350 yards on Sunday to put the Rams in position to succeed, but he will have to take care of the football. The Eagles offense is already potent enough. Giving them a short field or defensive touchdowns will spell doom for anyone.
If Bradford can manage the game and convert some critical third downs, the Rams will stay in this game. Turnovers and settling for field goals in the red zone could turn this one into laughter before we get to halftime.
A good game by Bradford usually leads to a win for the Rams. They were 3-0 when Bradford threw for at least 250 yards in 2010.