Sunday, September 11, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Eagles 31, Rams 13
By Dan Graziano
ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' season-opening victory over the St. Louis Rams:
What it means: The Eagles should be one of the better teams in the league. Sure, some of the issues that came up in the preseason showed themselves -- in particular the defense's susceptibility to the run. But what the Eagles showed off more than anything Sunday was their impressive array of athletic talent. With stars such as Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy on offense and Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha on defense, the Eagles will simply have more talent on the field than the other team most weeks. The Rams are an up-and-coming team, and many picked them to upset the Eagles in the opener. But especially once star running back Steven Jackson went out with a quad injury, they simply didn't have the firepower to keep up.
The offensive line: After all of that hand-wringing about all the trouble Vick was going to be in behind this re-worked offensive line, the results were very good. Vick had plenty of time to throw (with a couple of glaring exceptions we'll get to in a second), and when he did take off running it was generally because the downfield coverage by the Rams limited his options. He had time to decide what to do, though. Sal Paolantonio reported before the game that Vick would be given the responsibility of setting the offensive line protection this year -- something he was not permitted to do last year -- and the early returns on that were good.
However: Vick was sacked three times, all on blitzes from his blind side, and all on plays on which he never looked that way. The first one in particular seemed a bad miss by Vick, as receiver Jason Avant let the blitzing defender go by and was therefore wide open. Vick never looked to the right side, so he didn't see Avant or Chris Long, who hit him. Blitz pickup was supposed to have been an area of emphasis for Vick this offseason.
Best defense may be good offense: Yes, the Eagles look a bit soft in the middle on defense, with the defensive tackles aggressively attacking the backfield and the linebackers looking a little overwhelmed. And no, that's not a sure thing to get any better. But the Eagles got a lot of hits on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford early, and that seems to be part of the plan -- rattle the quarterback, cover the receivers and then score enough points on offense that the other team has to pass instead of run to catch up.
They can control the clock: The Eagles' offense has a reputation as an explosive, big-play operation. But they showed Sunday that they can engineer long drives and work the clock. And McCoy, who was having a mediocre statistical game until his 49-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, is a weapon that will allow them to put away games late -- especially when backed up by Ronnie Brown and Dion Lewis. The Eagles' array of offensive weapons is dizzying.
What's next: The Eagles travel to Atlanta next week for a Sunday night game against the Falcons in Vick's old stomping grounds. The Falcons will be fired up after the thumping they took Sunday in Chicago, and the Eagles would do well to spend the week figuring out how they're going to toughen up in the middle and stop Michael Turner, since they can't count on him injuring his quad in the first quarter.