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Deep ball an important element for Rams, Eagles

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The rushing attacks of the St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles are supposed to be the foundation for what both teams want to do offensively.

When the teams meet on Sunday afternoon, there's little doubt that the running game will play a major role in the outcome. But the numbers for both teams show that this one could really come down to which team is able to hit more big plays down the field in the passing game.

Through three games, the Rams have not been shy about taking their shots, especially with Austin Davis at quarterback. Davis leads all quarterbacks with a 72.3 percent completion rate but has also had his share of success throwing deep. He's attempted 20 passes traveling 15-plus yards in the air and hit on 12 of them, a 60 percent completion rate which also ranks No. 1 in the league. His quarterback rating of 99.7 on such throws is tied for third in the NFL.

Not many young quarterbacks trying to get their feet wet in the NFL would be so willing to go deep early, but Davis apparently has different wiring.

“We’ve always thought he threw the ball well down the field," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "He’s as comfortable as I’ve ever been around a guy that gets thrown into that situation. He hasn’t blinked from day one and again, I think this just speaks to the confidence we have in him. I think he knows the group trusts him and believes in him but he hasn’t hesitated or blinked at one time from the moment he went in and had to play in the first game. I think that’s a tribute to him.”

Philadelphia has also been susceptible to the deep pass. The Eagles have allowed opponents to complete 12-of-25 passes traveling 15-plus yards in the air for 389 yards and two touchdowns. Opponents have a QBR of 98.4 on those attempts, which ranks 25th in the league.

On the other side, there's no team in the league that likes throwing the deep ball more than the Eagles and quarterback Nick Foles. His 52 pass attempts on throws 15 or more yards down the field are clearly the most in the league. Much of those throws come off of play-action passes, but just because Foles and the Eagles like to throw deep doesn't mean they are always successful.

On throws of 15-plus yards, Foles is 16-of-52 for 409 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions for a QB rating of 74.0, which is 24th in the league. Last week, Foles attempted 10 passes traveling 20 or more yards downfield, did not connect on a single one and threw a pair of interceptions. Since ESPN Stats & Info began tracking such things in 2006, that's the most attempts without a completion in a game.

But the hit-or-miss nature of those passes doesn't mean the Rams expect the Eagles to stop throwing deep.

"This is the biggest vertical passing game that we’ve faced all season so for us, just making sure we are staying on top, getting pressure on the quarterback, getting him off his spot and that all goes in hand with each other," safety T.J. McDonald said. "That’s the plan."

The deep passing game hasn't been something the Rams have seen much of in the first three games. In a clear effort to negate the Rams' pass rush, opponents have tried just nine passes 15 or more yards in the air, the fewest such attempts in the league. The Cowboys hit one for a 68-yard touchdown in Week 3 game but overall, opponents are 5-of-9 against the Rams in those situations.