Eagles Opposition Report: Rams Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Rams Defense

The Rams defense made strides in their second season under head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The former Eagles' assistant and disciple of the late, great Jim Johnson believes in the same blitz-heavy philosophies, which is precisely the area where Michael Vick struggled the most last season. St. Louis ranked seventh in the NFL with 43 sacks in 2010, so this will be a huge test for an offensive line that has undergone major renovations.

LDE Chris Long
When the Rams selected Long second overall in the 2008 Draft, they were hoping on a player who would come in and instantly give their defense credibility. It wound up taking a few years, but it appears the son of the great Howie Long is finally ready to take the next step.

After disappointing four and five sack campaigns in his first two seasons, the Virginia product stepped it up last year with 8.5. He got off to another slow start, but racked up eight of those quarterback takedowns over the final 12 games, not to mention  all three of his forced fumbles.

Long will be matched up on Todd Herremans, who is making his first start at right tackle this season. While Herremans was a tackle in college, and has played on the outside a handful of times at the pro level, many are expecting it to be a big adjustment for the longtime left guard. He'll have his hands full with Long, who is a tenacious attacker just now coming into his own.

RDE James Hall
Of course, it would be remiss not to bring up the Rams' leader in sacks last season. The former Detroit Lion has been an afterthought for much of his 11-year career, but is coming off his best season since '04. Hall came from nowhere to collect 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2010. It will be interesting to see whether he can pick up where he left off against Jason Peters on Sunday.

Hall is 34 years old, and is battling a back issue. He is listed as probable this week, but we should also see some of Robert Quinn, the Rams' first round pick out of North Carolina. Peters has been a force at left tackle, so it should be a learning experience for the rookie defensive end.

DT Fred Robbins
With all the changes along the Eagles' offensive line, particularly on the interior, at least one of the St. Louis defensive tackles figures to be a factor. That would most likely be Robbins, as the rest of the group combined for one sack in 2010.

If Robbins' name sounds familiar, that would be because he spent six seasons with the Giants from 2004 to '09, which included some of his best efforts. He may only be getting better with age though, setting a career high in sacks with six last season. As long as the O-line can contain Robbins, the rest of the unit doesn't pose much of a threat, so figure plenty of Jason Kelce-Kyle DeVan double teams for the 34 year old.

MLB James Laurinaitas
Laurinaitas may be the best middle linebacker nobody is talking about. Entering his third season, the second rounder out of Ohio State is a consistent tackler who has the size and athleticism to make plays both when rushing the passer or in coverage. With so many quality MIKEs in the NFC (Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher the most visible), it could be awhile before Lauinaitas gets his proper due from league observers. His opponents cannot afford to make the same mistake.

CBs Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher
If Vick has time to set up in the pocket, the Rams could be in serious trouble. While he's been the starter for the last four years, Bartell has failed to record an interception since the 2008 season. Nnamdi Asomugha doesn't put up big numbers either, but Bartell doesn't exactly have the same reputation. Fletcher, a third-year player out of Iowa, had four picks last season starting opposite Bartell.

St. Louis obviously was not thrilled with the unit as a whole, going out and adding Al Harris off of the scrap heap after nickel corner Jerome Murphy hit IR. Harris was on his last leg two years ago, which tells us the situation must be getting dire. When DeSean Jackson and this deep group of wide receivers comes to town, the defense better bring some quality DBs to the party.

FS Quintin Mikell
I'm actually sort of happy for Q. He landed in a system he's familiar with, on an up-and-coming team that will compete for a playoff spot. He has a chance to put up some nice seasons in St. Louis. What I'm not as happy for is Q lining up for the Eagles' Week 1 opponent. He had the advantage of practicing against the Birds' offense for the past eight years, so you better believe he knows some of its tendencies, and will create his share of opportunities to make big plays.

We also know what Mikell's weaknesses are though, specifically in coverage. He's simply not super-athletic, and relies more on recognition and putting himself in good positions. That can be difficult when the passing attack operates more like a track meet. Expect Mikell to roam the middle of the field and aggressively fly to the ball, but Michael Vick will be able to take his shots deep.

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

Eagles Mailbag: Bennie Logan, top WRs in draft, Jeremy Maclin return?

There hasn't been much Eagles talk recently. The last few weeks have been pretty dead. 

That's about to change soon enough. Next week, the football world will take over Indianapolis for the combine and just after that, free agency will begin on March 9. After that, the draft isn't too far away. 

So let's jump into your mailbag questions: 

Yeah, I think there's a real chance Bennie Logan isn't an Eagle next year. Howie Roseman has been pretty consistent in saying he wants Logan to return, but it's fair to wonder about the price. Logan has now proven that he can play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme, so there will be plenty of teams interested. 

If the Eagles lose Logan, their defense will take a big hit. There's not really a way around that. He's a good player and has been an important part of the line. But with a ton of money devoted to the defensive line over the next few years -- even assuming Connor Barwin isn't back -- will the Eagles pay another? I'm not so sure. 

And I agree that Logan was really good against the run last year. But I think his real value is in being great against the run while also being able to generate some pass rush. I think Beau Allen can be a decent run-stuffer, but he's clearly not the same player as Logan. 

I can't give a real answer here. Sorry. While I don't wholeheartedly agree with the best player available notion, the Eagles also can't prioritize one need over the other in this scenario. There will be either 13 or 14 picks before the Eagles are on the board. 

Really, it's going to depend on which players are left. Are Mike Williams and Corey Davis on the board? How about the top corners? There's a lot of them. If the player the Eagles really want at one of those positions is off the board, they could look elsewhere. And it's not automatic they'll take a receiver or a cornerback. What if they opt for an edge rusher? 

But getting back to corner vs. receiver, there are a couple thoughts: 

1. They'll pick a corner because receivers are far from a sure thing. Roseman made it a point to talk about how the 2014 draft changed expectations for rookie receivers. And the Eagles haven't had much luck recently drafting receivers in the first round. And Roseman has also said that while it might make sense to grab a first-round corner in the second round because of depth, there's often a run at positions where a draft is strong. It would be better to just get the best one. 

2. On the flip side of that, maybe they'll pick a receiver with the idea that at least one really good corner will be on the board in the second round. That would maximize value, especially if they get the receiver they want in the first round. 

That's a long way to say: I don't think it'll be about position as much as it will be about the specific player at 14 or 15. 

This is a tough one. I really think the margin separating these two is so close that the combine could flip them for me. But for now, I'm going with Mike Williams. 

Clemson listed him at 6-3, 225 and I think he's going to come close to that at the combine. And he might not have Corey Davis' speed or quick twitch, but he makes up for it. I really want to see how he performs at the combine; I expect it to confirm my belief that he's the top receiver in the draft. Davis will reportedly not run at the combine because of an ankle injury. 

It's possible a team like the Eagles could fall in love with Davis' deep threat ability. That's clearly what they value right now. But ultimately, I think Williams is the top guy. 

I don't think Ryan Mathews will be back next season. He's 29, coming off a serious neck injury and is way too expensive. The Eagles can save $4 million by cutting him. I expect that to happen and for the Eagles to try to find some younger, healthier talent. 

Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy! Let's get the band back together! 

I understand why the Maclin questions are rolling in. An ESPN column recently suggested that the Chiefs could cut the former Eagle. Maclin is familiar with the Eagles' offense and Doug Pederson, which means the move would make some sense. 

But from a football standpoint, Jackson would give the Eagles what they need more than Maclin. Over the last couple years, Maclin has really been utilized in the slot, which happens to be where the Eagles' only decent receiver plays. Sure, Pederson will move around his receivers, but there are probably better fits out there for the Eagles than Maclin. If he does become a free agent, though, it's at least worth inquiring. 

Former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans joins 49ers coaching staff

Former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans joins 49ers coaching staff

About a year ago, while in Indianapolis for the combine, the Eagles cut veteran linebacker DeMeco Ryans. 

Ryans has finally found his next job ... as a coach. 

The 32-year-old former linebacker has been named a defensive quality control coach on Kyle Shanahan's staff in San Francisco. Shanahan was on the Texans' staff for the first four years of Ryans' pro career. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was also on that Houston staff. 

After the Eagles cut him last Feb. 24, Ryans was out of the league in 2016 after 10 NFL seasons. He played the first six years of his career in Houston, where he was a two-time Pro Bowler, before joining the Eagles through a trade in 2012. 

While the Eagles cut Ryans after the 2015 season to save $3.5 million in cap space, they made a point to go out of their way to praise him on his way out. He was very well-thought of in the locker room and throughout the building. 

While Ryans played one season under Andy Reid, he quickly became a favorite of Chip Kelly, who frequently called Ryans the "Mufasa" of the Eagles' defense. 

Kelly didn't forget about Ryans when he went to San Francisco to coach the 49ers for the 2016 season. In fact, in Kelly's questionnaire in the NFL's 2016 information guide, Kelly listed Ryans as a player who'd make a great head coach.