Finally it's that time of the year again; the new NFL season has arrived. In Week 1 the NFC West's St Louis Rams will host the NFC East's Philadelphia Eagles at the Edward Jones Dome. With the Eagles having become the most talked about team this offseason many people are already placing a "W" in the books in favor of the Eagles.
But should Eagles fans be more cautious?
Could it be a nervous start for the Eagles and their young side? We take a look at five things we can expect in this matchup which is sure to be a thriller.
After being branded the "dream team" in the offseason, surely coach Steve Spagnuolo and his boys can't spring an early upset on the Eagles in Week 1. The problem is, most people are already writing the Rams off in this one, especially a lot of Eagles fans. I would caution against being so naïve. The Rams have little pressure on them in the opening game—they aren’t splashed all over the NFL homepages almost every day, and they certainly aren’t being closely associated with the Super Bowl.
The Rams are led by a head coach who has already architected defenses to prevent high-scoring teams in the Super Bowl, and their offense is run by the very same offensive coordinator who led the Patriots to their almost perfect season.
I think this one will be a lot closer than most people expect. The Rams know they have a tough schedule, and getting off to a good start, especially in front of a home crowd, will be key to their playoff hopes.
Towards the end of last season, it seemed many teams were starting to realize they couldn’t give quarterback Michael Vick the opportunity to escape the pocket. The key? Effective blitzing. The Eagles have shuffled their offensive line around in a bid to prevent breaches through blitzing, but have they had enough time to make it stick?
In preseason the Steelers created havoc and disarray amongst the Eagles line, and Vick was hurried into mistakes. The Rams’ leading pass rushers, James Hall and Chris Long, combined for 19 sacks last season, and looked just as effective against recently released Jaguars QB David Garrard in the final preseason game. An early sign of things to come? Expect a similar scenario again this week.
During the offseason, head coach Andy Reid crafted a defense with similarities to a Mary Shelley creation. The Eagles pieced together players with numerous talents from a variety of teams in the hope of plugging up last year’s red zone woes.
But a more pressing issue is trying to prevent Steven Jackson from stampeding the Rams to a win in Week 1. Sure, the defensive line has been strengthened by the arrival of Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, but just how effective that will be remains a mystery. Who knows whether the fresh linebacking corps will have the answers as to how to stop the veteran running back? You think coach Spagnuolo doesn’t know this? He’s known Andy Reid long enough to exploit his weaknesses.
He might be young, he might be lacking experience in comparison with Vick, but he still made plays last season. Take note that Bradford has already surpassed Peyton Manning in pass completions for a rookie, and also holds the record for the most consecutive passes without an interception for a rookie (169), so to say he isn’t a threat would be foolish. He has already lifted the Rams from NFC West cellar dwellers to many NFL fans' hot tip to win that division.
However, as he enters his second year, Bradford needs to be aware of the dreaded sophomore slump—where mistakes can no longer be blamed on him being a rookie. Last year, he did average almost an interception a game, and with the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, it is likely we’ll see further growing pains on Sunday.
Bradford is smart enough to know that the Eagles linebacker unit is young too, as are the safeties, so he will be looking to exploit them by targeting new additions tight end Lance Kendricks and wideout Mike Sims-Walker.
Michael Vick has taken hits before, it’s in his nature, so let’s just hope he will come away unscathed this time as well.
After looking shaky against the Steelers in preseason, I am sure, with all his weapons at his disposal, Vick will rally. The Steelers have one of the best defenses in the league, including one of the most feared safeties in Troy Polamalu. Fortunately, these traits aren’t shared by the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams do, however, have a secret weapon up their sleeves. Ex-Eagles veteran safety Quintin Mikell joins their ranks having been picked up in the offseason, and he has already made his mark with an interception. For some reason I can’t help but think he might grab another against his old teammates. And you can also bet that head coach Steve Spagnuolo has picked Mikell’s brain for any insider info, in an attempt to help his team can gain an advantage come game day.