Philadelphia Eagles Week 1 Preview: 5 Keys to Success
Well, the long wait is almost over! In just a few days, all of Philadelphia will be watching their team on Sunday afternoon face off against the St. Louis Rams and begin their quest once more for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Every year has appeared to be the year, but this year somehow feels different. With a new quarterback at the helm, Michael Vick, along with new star additions to the team in the form of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins just to name a few, it would almost appear as if the Eagles are destined to be dangerous in 2011.
The season opener for the birds against the St. Louis Rams may appear to be a cakewalk, but don't be fooled. While the Eagles are clearly the superior team, the Rams do have the capability to pull of an upset if Philadelphia does not bring its A-game on Sunday. In the National Football League, any team can beat any team on any given Sunday.
Beating the Rams will still require determination, maximum effort and a solid game plan. Here are five keys to success against St. Louis.
1) Pressure Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford is a rising star in this league and has already shown that he can not only be a leader, but also move the ball with accurate passing. But Bradford is still only in his second season and has not had the benefit of a full offseason to train and further develop. Therefore, the Eagles must pressure him constantly to get him off his rhythm and force him into poor passes and mistakes.
Bradford has very poor receivers at his disposal, and Danny Amendola and Mark Clayton will find it hard-pressed to be very effective against the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. There will not be a single receiver on the Rams’ roster who will need to be double covered.
With that in mind, any defensive coordinator would be sure to blitz constantly, and that is surely what Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is planning to do. Get as much pressure in Bradford’s face as possible and eliminate the passing game.
2) Stop Stephen Jackson
This will likely be the biggest challenge of the entire game, as Steven Jackson is still among the better running backs in the NFL. And as the Eagles lack good linebackers, it will take a brilliant game plan to slow down Jackson. Jackson could pose the greatest threat to an Eagles' victory, for if he has a big day, that could open up the passing game, allowing Bradford to take advantage of a play-action or complete some quick passes.
But there is enough talent on the Eagles defense to stop Jackson. The Eagles still have superb defensive linemen in Trent Cole, Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin. The linebackers, while not stellar, are still a decent group. And the cornerbacks can all be used in versatile ways, save perhaps Asante Samuel due to his poor tackling abilities.
Castillo will have to play around with his defensive toys and figure out a good scheme and game plan to shut down the Rams’ star running back. If they do that, victory will be halfway won.
3) Build a Big Lead Within 2 Quarters
With the lack of offensive playmakers on the Rams' roster (save their star running back Steven Jackson) and a good young quarterback, the Eagles will need to build a quick and significant lead within the first half. If they can go up by two touchdowns or more, they will be in good shape.
The Eagles defense is built well to maintain a strong lead. With a phenomenal secondary and good defensive ends, if the Eagles are ahead and are forcing their opponents to pass and make big plays, their opponent will be hard-pressed to make a comeback.
Additionally, the Rams in recent history have been a team that has struggled mightily. A quick lead would continue to demoralize them and shake their confidence—especially that of their young quarterback Sam Bradford. And that would continue to force him and the team into mistakes and allow the Eagles to cruise to an easy win.
4) Don't Give Up on the Running Game
The biggest flaw in Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s offensive philosophies is their reluctance to run the ball. Even with LeSean McCoy having a phenomenal and dominant game, they would only give him about 10 touches a game and continue to put the pressure on Michael Vick to produce.
The Rams have a poor secondary and Vick can expect to have a great day against them. But if they game plan for Reid’s pass-happy approach and use their underrated defensive line—consisting of Chris Long and Fred Robbins—against a porous Eagles offensive line, even the best quarterbacks can be thrown off rhythm and frustrated. The Oakland Raiders certainly found a way to do so to Donovan McNabb in 2009, and a defensive guru like Steve Spagnuolo could certainly find a way to do so to Vick.
To avoid this problem, Reid and Mornhinweg must remember not to abandon the running game and to continue to run LeSean McCoy here and then to keep the St. Louis defense honest. Even if St. Louis is finding a way to limit the Eagles’ running game, it cannot be given up on to ensure the fluidity of the Eagles offense.
5) Protect Michael Vick
And finally, the most important key to success in this game, and likely every game of the 2011 season, will be to protect Michael Vick and allow him time to get comfortable in the pocket.
As improved as a passer as Vick has become, he still will need more than three seconds to throw the ball. His legs cannot bail out the offense on every single play, and he would also be risking injury.
The Eagles' offensive line coach, Howard Mudd, must make sure that his line can protect their franchise quarterback. At least ensure that his blindside is stable and that he at least somewhat trusts his protection.
The movement of Todd Herremans from left guard to right tackle should do wonders to improve the pass blocking for the Eagles. Herremans will be counted on heavily if this Eagles offense is going to have enough time for its speedsters, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, to get open and make big plays.