Eagles Gameday: Four Downs With the St. Louis Rams

Eagles Gameday: Four Downs With the St. Louis Rams

Kickoff, finally.  At 1 p.m. today, the Linc rocks.  The Eagles are back.  Can you feel it?

1. Is Orlando Pace Healthy?

No player is more vital to the Rams success than Pace, not Steven Jackson, not even Marc Bulger.  The All-Pro left tackle suffered a season-ending injury in the opener last year, leaving the offense in shambles.  While Jackson's production remained steady, the loss severely crippled their passing attack.  Despite missing 4 games, only three quarterbacks were sacked more often than Bulger, and his completion percentage was 5 points lower than his career average.

Pace already aggravated his bum shoulder in practice and skipped the final two preseason games, so it will be interesting to see if he is ready.  When he is healthy, the pass protection instantly becomes better, and the QB suddenly has time to stretch the field.

2. Eagles Pass Rush

Whether or not the Eagles can take advantage of the Rams potential weakness is another story.  The biggest question mark heading into this season is the front four's ability to rush the passer.  Jim Johnson's schemes are always able to generate pressure, but often leave the secondary vulnerable against a veteran quarterback.

Someone needs to step up along the defensive line and expose the Rams Achilles' heel.  If that group is able to get to the QB on its own, the Eagles can sit back and eliminate vertical threats Torry Holt and Randy McMichael.  Once the big plays are taken away from the passing game, the cornerbacks can take some chances and make plays on the ball.

3. Eagles Passing Game

The good news for the Birds is the Rams secondary is not a strength, and even without Curtis and Brown, Donovan McNabb should be able to find open targets.  Andy Reid will use Westbrook, Buck, and Booker in the passing game to spread the linebackers in coverage and open up the middle of the field.  The Eagles will likely call L.J. Smith's number early and often, while the receivers work the slot for a few nice gainers.

The Rams must also keep a close eye on DeSean Jackson.  The rookie figures to be heavily involved in the Eagles attack, and where he is on the field will dictate much of the coverage.  It's up to the other receivers to take advantage of one-on-one situations and find holes in the zone.

4. How Many Touches For Steven Jackson?

Jackson is one of the league's elite runners, a big bruiser who will pick up tough yards between the tackles, and at the same time, a do-it-all weapon who can catch the ball and get into the open field.  The Eagles run defense should be up to the test, but there is no way they are going to shut down a back this good.  The question is whether he will be involved enough in the contest to alter the final.  Jackson held out most of training camp, and some teams will ease a "rusty" player back into the lineup.

I expect Jackson to see plenty of work early on, but if the game starts to slip away, his day might end in the 3rd quarter.  Obviously, in a close game he could see a full load upwards of 30 touches, so it's important the Eagles get on top and stay on top.

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Even though they are coming off a 3-13 season, the Rams are not to be taken lightly.  The offense has the playmakers to put points on the board, and if the line improved, they could conceivably compete for a playoff spot in the West.

Unfortunately for St. Louis, they start the season against a much more well-rounded team.  The Eagles have the personnel to limit the Rams in the passing game, who really only have one good receiver at the moment.  Steven Jackson is going to pick up his yards, but as long as they keep him from taking over the game, it's not enough.

The offense, even without both starting wide receivers, has too many weapons for the Rams to match up with.  The key to the game will be the Eagles dynamic trio of runners.  They will flex the defense and create space for the receivers to work against a set of average corners.

And then they will run the ball.  The Rams have done a nice job of beginning to rebuild their front four, but the bigger offensive line of the Eagles can still dominate them at the point of attack.  Look for Brian Westbrook to get off to a great start, running for 100 yards on fewer than 20 carries, and leading the team to a big victory on opening day.

Final: Rams 17, Eagles 34



Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel's tenure in Philadelphia wasn't characterized by a whole lot of winning, but he'll still likely be remembered fondly by Sixers fans as being one of the original members of the process.

It's always an emotional time when a fan favorite departs for another city and a new team instead of seeing the championship aspirations many had for them in Philly through to fruition.

Noel posted an emotional message to his Twitter account on Thursday evening thanking the city of Philadelphia and its fans for the support they showed him through the ups and downs. 

The tweet contained the hashtag #Philly with a couple of exclamation points with a screenshot of a note that read:

What an exciting journey it’s been… To have such an amazing city embrace a kid from Boston coming out of Kentucky the way y’all did, is something I’ll truly never forget. And even through the ups and downs I never doubted the love here and that won’t change. Thank you to everybody that’s believed in me and supported through #TheProcess.

Love! -NN4

Noel was traded earlier in the day to the Dallas Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a conditional first round pick that will likely turn into two second round picks.

Bryan Colangelo will address the media on Friday morning to discuss his rationale behind moving Nerlens.

Related:

>>Every reason why the Nerlens Noel trade was unjustifiable 

>>Video: Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid say their goodbyes 

>>Joel Embiid reacts to Nerlens trade on Twitter: 'Trust it'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”