This post is, what we call in the blogging world, late. It is behind. It is after deadline. It is tardy, overdue, delinquent. So in lieu of a life-changing intro, let's just get into the first half of the preview.
St. Louis Rams, 0-0, t-1st - NFC West
Philadelphia Eagles, 0-0, t-1st - NFC East
*Statistics won't be available until week 2 of the regular season
PHI pass - N/A
STL pass D - N/A
We know what we're facing here. Michael Vick. DeSean Jackson. Jeremy Maclin. This is not the Seahawks' offense. And yet, in the last regular season game this team played, the Rams lost to the Seahawks. So let's be honest. What is an appropriate benchmark for the 2011 Rams' defense against a passing offense of this stature? Winning in and of itself doesn't speak to a defense (see either team from last night).
So what of our pass defense? What do we need from Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher and the safeties when playing the pass? First and foremost, we can't afford a DeSean Jackson game-changing TD. This defense has to keep the game in front of them. And when Vick escapes the pocket, they have to maintain coverage. It's a tall order for a defense that didn't face an overwhelming number of mobile quarterbacks in 2010. Often last year, we were left criticizing our OLBs. That in and of itself says something about the secondary. They need to avoid the pointed fingers tomorrow night.
PHI run - N/A
STL run D - N/A
This is the big wild card, IMO. With Vick on the move and DeSean Jackson looking to get deep, the Rams can't afford to have to spend extra focus on closing down the Eagles' run game. LeSean McCoy topped 1,000 yards last year and have added Ronnie Brown and rookie Dion Lewis to keep him fresh. Of course, the main reason Philadelphia led the league in yards per carry was the necessary level of effort required to deal with Michael Vick. That's where our linebackers come in.
Let's be straightforward. The play the Rams got from their OLBs last year was deficient and required immediate change. Calling Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga. In cutting Zac Diles, this FO and coaching staff made it apparent that technique and experience were more valued than athleticism or potential. The first test of that theory comes Sunday. Will Leber and Poppinga be disciplined and aware enough to keep Vick inside? The resume is inspiring, but forgive me if I don't crown us champions yet. In the run game, the linebackers have to seal the outside consistently. Force the ball toward Fred Robbins and James Laurinaitis. Don't allow backs to find one-on-one lanes against cornerbacks. It's a tall order, but beating the Eagles will require a few.
PHI O-line - N/A
STL D-line - N/A
Here's where things turn toward the Rams' favor. The Eagles' line isn't overwhelmingly impressive, and the end results bear that out. Philadelphia allowed the league's fourth-highest sack total, despite having one of the most elusive quarterbacks in NFL history. Football Outsiders ranked them fifth-worst in pass protection last year. With their size and power, though, they're certainly capable of mauling their way into creating open running lanes.
On the other side, you have a head coach who made his name at the NFL level in creating pass-rush machines that apply pressure from all across the defensive line and using comprehensive blitz packages that include the three other defensive units. So what will we see from the Spags/Flajole defense on Sunday? How will the defensive end trio of Chris Long, James Hall and rookie Robert Quinn fare? And what of the defensive tackles? Can they occupy enough space in the running game to clog the middle and collapse pockets in front of Vick in pass defense? Suffice to say I'm optimistic...and anxious.
The offensive preview will be up tomorrow morning. College open thread coming up ASAP.