The Philadelphia Eagles face off with the St. Louis Rams in Week 1 on Sunday. It's a big game as both teams have high expectations. The Eagles have brought too much talent to be knocked out of the opening round of the playoffs for the third straight season while the Rams are the early favorite to win the NFC West.
The Eagles are coming off their biggest offseason ever. The Eagles made major upgrades at defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback and the offensive line. For a team that was so close to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl champions last season, making major upgrades at key positions has certainly raised the stakes in Philly. It's Super Bowl or bust. Anything less would be a major disappointment.
The Rams don't quite have the same expectations, but are expected to compete for a division title in a very soft NFC West. They were in position last season for a division title but clearly lacked a go to receiver for rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Now Bradford has a year under his belt and a proven veteran receiver in Mike Sims-Walker.
Both teams are looking for a positive start to the 2011 season and both teams will get a good early test to see exactly where they stand.
A lot of concern is being brought up about the Eagles run defense, and for good reason. The Eagles defensive line won't do the linebackers any favors against the run. The new defensive line scheme calls for the linemen to attack the backfield rather than cover up gaps. That means that linebackers will have to fend of 300 pound linemen at times.
Most of the concern came from the second week of preseason, where the Eagles gave up 144 rushing yards. However, most of those yards came int he first half as the defense settled in as the game went on. The Eagles were also without both starting defensive tackles, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon in that game. Both players make a huge difference against the run.
Don't be surprised on Sunday if the Eagles run defense is actually stout. Patterson and Dixon will be starting and both are more than capable of stuffing the run. The Eagles also have three very athletic linebackers that should be able to contain the outside runs.
Even if the front seven fails to get the job done, the Eagles can bring up an extra safety or two for run support without getting burned. The Eagles have three outstanding corners that can man up against any receiver on the Rams roster.
Sam Bradford had a good start to his career in 2010. He threw for over 3,500 yards and had more touchdowns (18) than interceptions (15). He will get a good test early on in his second season as he faces arguably the best secondary in the NFL.
The St. Louis Rams mediocre receiving core of Danario Alexander and Mike Sims-Walker will go up against the likes of Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha. It won't be easy to move the ball through the air on Sunday for the Rams.
Last season Bradford threw for under 200 yards seven times last season. With the Rams still lacking a true go to receiver, look for Bradford to struggle early and often.
The Rams like to utilize the short passing game, but eventually will have to complete some passes down the field in order to compete with the Eagles on Sunday.
The Eagles defensive line will be relentless and at times unstoppable against the pass. The Eagles have nine capable pass-rusher on their roster and at least eight will get consistent reps on Sunday in St. Louis.
Trent Cole and Jason Babin are the starts at defensive end but will get plenty of breathers from reserve ends Darryl Tapp and Juqua Parker. All four players could start for a number of team at defensive end and will be a force in the pass rush all year long. With all the rotations that line coach Jim Washburn will utilize throughout the game, expect a much fresher line for four quarters.
The Rams aren't exactly a poor pass blocking team. Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith are solid offensive tackles, but they havn't seen as much depth at defensive end as they will see on Sunday.
Expect the Eagles to get after Bradford, they will get creative with their blitzes as well. Defensive coordinator will send both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha on blitzes to throw off the Rams offense.
It could be a very long day for Sam Bradford and his offensive line.
Riley Cooper did have a very impressive rookie season in 2010, but he showed in preseason that he is ready for a breakout season. With Eagles receiver Steve Smith most likely to be inactive while his knee is still recovering, Cooper has a chance to make an impact on an already loaded offense.
Cooper proved that he is ready for a big year early on in preseason. During the Eagles opening game in preseason against the Baltimore Ravens, Cooper rose above future Hall of Famer Ed Reed for a 42 yard reception. The catch proved that Cooper has learned how to better position his body and make plays over smaller defensive backs.
The Eagles have lacked a true red zone threat, but Cooper's 6'3" 220 pound frame should be a real asset in 2011. Look for Michael Vick to throw a fade or two Cooper's way when the Eagles get inside the 10 on Sunday against the Rams.
The Eagles passed on Plaxico Burress this offseason. The Eagles need Riley Cooper to be that type of receiver in the red zone in 2011.
The Rams are a good young team on the rise, but the Eagles have way too much talent for the Rams to handle. The pass rush is fierce, the secondary is loaded and the offense is absolutely dangerous.
The Rams just don't matchup well versus the Eagles. The Eagles have three studs corners while the Rams lack a true go to receiver. The Rams have a good four man front but lack the talent in the secondary needed to keep a very deep receiving core in check.
The Eagles will go deep early and often. They also have two Pro Bowl caliber running backs to hand the ball off to as well in LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown. The Eagles backups could form a pretty good team themselves with guys like Vince Young, Brown and Steve Smith. It's hard to argue against that much depth.
The Rams are in position to have a pretty good year in 2011. They are the favorites in the NFC West and should win at least eight or nine games. They just have the misfortune of running into a pretty stout Eagles team in Week 1.