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Monday, September 12, 2011

Eagles Beat Rams for Opening Act


          Only time will tell if the Eagles season opening 31-13 victory came against a good St. Louis Rams team or something less than that. For now, it looks like a solid but not great “W” to start the season.

          The first couple series were less than promising. The Eagles offense featured a run by Michael Vick followed by some “trick runs.” I guess beggars shouldn’t be choosers – at least Andy Reid was running the ball.

          His decision to hire Jaun Castillo seemed a lot more damaging than his typical pass high offense after the Rams took over at midfield on their first offensive series. Steven Jackson took a handoff 48 yards for a touchdown. In fact, any success that followed for the defense has to be tempered by the fact that Jackson would leave the game on the next Rams offensive play from scrimmage with an injury.

The Eagles second offensive series likely offered a glimpse of what’s to come this season. The first ridiculous timeout of the season was called to avoid a delay of game penalty before first play of the series. Vick faced plenty of pressure, and threw two questionable passes, including a jump ball that DeSean Jackson caught despite his size, and the drive ended with a touchdown on a screen to LeSean McCoy.

I found it interesting that the color commentator for Fox, Brian Billick, pointed out that the Eagles being in shotgun formation a lot may have put extra pressure on their young center trying to make the line calls. The line was the biggest issue going into the game and certainly proved why during the game. Now, possibly Reid felt like the shotgun gave Vick more time to react, but it’s always interesting to hear other coaches pick up on details the Eagles seem to miss.

The Eagles defense got a huge break on the next series when Rams quarterback, Sam Bradford, fumbled a handoff attempt. Jucqua Parker scooped it up and ran for a touchdown. Prior to that the Eagles were struggling with the Rams no-huddle offense. It will be something to watch to see if other teams employ the no-huddle to test Castillo as a coordinator.

But give the “D” credit. They only gave up a field goal in the rest of the half after a questionable pass interference call. A handful of drops from Rams receivers were helpful throughout the game.

On offense, the Eagles continued their tradition of burning timeouts. Their final one came with 3:34 left in the half. One of Vick’s better drives included what might have been a long touchdown to Jackson had he caught a pass that seemed to go through his fingertips. It would have been a great catch to be fair to Jackson. Vick later kept the drive alive with some good runs and two very nice throws. But a sack for a fumble ended the drive.

Their final series of the half featured a McCoy screen and a 3rd-and-long that Vick converted with his legs. Jackson had a chance for another very nice catch in the endzone but the Eagles settled for a field goal to push their lead to 17-10.

          St. Louis started the second half strong despite a long return negated by a holding penalty. They needed some trickery and a roughing penalty to keep the drive going a couple times, but they were also running the ball well. Ultimately, the defense held them to a field goal attempt that was missed.

          Possibly the Eagles best drive of the day began to put the game away. Two very nice runs, followed by an 18-yard Vick sprint, set up a Jackson run-after-the-catch that put them deep in Ram territory. A Wildcat play with Ronnie Brown proved the Eagles still can’t run that formation. But a roll out by Vick that I’m still not sure was designed as the broadcast suggested – Vick seemed to be running from pressure – ended with a nice floater to Jackson for a touchdown.

          A converted 4th-and-1 and a questionable pass interference call on Nnandi Asomugha put the Rams on the goal line. But a false start helped the defense hold them to a field goal.

          An eventual punt by the Eagles despite a nice run by Vick to save a sack on the next drive gave the Rams some life. Despite another 4th-down conversion, a sack by Jason Babin and what the broadcast called the sixth drop by a Rams receiver helped the Eagles stopped them.

          From there, McCoy sealed the game with two nice runs followed by a 49-yard touchdown run.

          Rams quarterback Sam Bradford eventually left the game with a finger injury. That brought Mr. I-just-wannabe-a-backup A.J. Feely into the game for mop up duty.

          It wasn’t a spectacular performance by the so-called “Dream Team,” but a surprisingly balanced offense and a very mobile Michael Vick have the Eagles 1-0 on the season. McCoy’s 122 yards rushing is a little misleading, but it might actually be a good sign that just maybe the Eagles will run the ball a little more under Andy Reid.

          Vick’s 98 yards rushing is not a good sign. I love that he does take off when necessary, but it seems like it will be far too necessary at least early in the season with this offensive line.

          The defense caught a huge break when Steven Jackson went out of the game after just two carries. Drops aren’t listed as a stat, but Rams receivers helped out the Eagles all day with their sloppy play.

          It’s unclear if they will get a stiffer test next week in Atlanta against a Falcons team that was thumped in Chicago.

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