Didinger: Eagles-Rams Scouting Report

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Didinger: Eagles-Rams Scouting Report

Sizing up Sundays regular season opener between the Eagles and the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

When the Eagles have the ball

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is one of the NFLs best defensive game-planners. He is very good at identifying and attacking the soft spots in an opponents offense. That will make this league opener a telling one for the Eagles.

If the Eagles have weaknesses on offense and it appears they do Spagnuolo will exploit them. If the pairing of rookie center Jason Kelce and newly-arrived guard Kyle DeVan is not ready for prime time, Spagnuolo will expose them. If Mike Vick still has problems with blitz recognition, well see it Sunday because Spagnuolo will come after him.

It is a game of show and tell. The Eagles will show on Sunday and the Rams will tell them what they really are. This is a dicey opener for an Eagles team that has a lot of talent, but is still piecing things together. The Rams are a hungry bunch, coming off an unbeaten preseason and they would like nothing better than to take down the favored Eagles at home.

The St. Louis defense was much improved last season with Spagnuolo in charge. The Rams finished fourth in the league in fewest touchdowns allowed (32, only seven on the ground) and were seventh in sacks with 43. It still is a young defense that figures to keep getting better.

A lot of attention will be focused on the Eagles O-line, specifically Kelce and DeVan, who replaces top draft pick Danny Watkins, who was benched. Spagnuolo will test them with stunts inside and delayed blitzes. He will move his front seven around and pressure them into making decisions on the fly Who has this guy? I thought you had him? and see how well they communicate in what figures to be a very noisy dome.

Todd Herremans, in his first start at right tackle, will have to block Chris Long, the Rams best lineman. Long is coming off a big 2010 season in which he led the Rams with 8 sacks and ranked among the league leaders in quarterback hurries and knock downs (36). Long is a tireless, high-motor pass rusher, which means Herremans will have his hands full for four quarters.

The key to the game will be the pass protection because if Vick has time to stand in the pocket, he should have a good day. Spagnuolo likes to play his corners one-on-one with the wideouts and if he does, Rod Bartell and Bradley Fletcher will be tested by the speed of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The Rams are vulnerable to the deep ball. They allowed 51 completions of 20 yards or longer last season.

Ex-Eagle Quintin Mikell is playing free safety with the Rams and while people will talk about him picking up clues from the Eagles formations, really, that stuff is overrated. It is a new season with new looks, new audibles, new everything, so there isnt a whole lot for even a shrewd customer like Q to steal.

When the Rams have the ball

The Rams will have a new look on offense with Josh McDaniels replacing ex-Eagles assistant Pat Shurmur (now Cleveland head coach) as offensive coordinator. Look for the Rams to be a more wide-open, push-the-ball-downfield team.

In Sam Bradford, they have a quarterback well suited to that style of offense. Bradford has a strong arm and a willingness to chuck it deep, but last season the Rams were limited by a lack of playmakers. Their leading receivers were two guys who were cut by the Eagles Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson.

The Rams averaged just 9.9 yards per completion last season, shamefully low for a team with a talent like Bradford at quarterback, so they used three high draft picks on receivers tight end Lance Kendricks and wideouts Austin Pettis and Greg Salas and they signed Mike Sims-Walker as a free agent. Sims-Walker had 14 touchdowns the last two seasons with Jacksonville.

Last season, defenses were able to clamp down on the Rams receivers and neutralize any threat on the perimeter, which made things harder for Bradford. This year, the Rams feel the new speed will create more opportunities and while it may not be The Greatest Show on Turf St. Louis fans still grow wistful at the memory of that Super Bowl offense it should be a more explosive and productive unit.

While the Rams clearly want to throw the ball, it will be interesting to see how they attack the Eagles. Will McDaniels have Bradford throwing into that star-studded Eagles secondary with Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel or will he test what appears to be a suspect defense against the run?

If the Rams want to hammer away at the Eagles smallish front seven, they have the hammer in 6-2, 240-pound Steven Jackson. He was injured most of last season (broken finger, groin pull) and still rushed for 1,241 yards. He has topped the 1,000-yard mark six years in a row, the longest active streak in the league.

The Eagles rely on speed up front with a front four of Jason Babin, Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins and Trent Cole with Moise Fokou, rookie Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney at linebacker. The question is, how will that defense stand up to a team that is willing and able to pound away with the running game?

Jackson, a punishing downhill runner, is just the kind of back who could give the Eagles problems. But will McDaniels call enough running plays to find out? The most likely scenario is he will try the run early, see if it has success and go from there. If the Eagles can put the clamps on Jackson in the first series or two, McDaniels may go away from him and turn things over to Bradford.

The Rams O-line is improved with left tackle Rodger Saffold now in his second season and former Falcon Harvey Dahl, a down-and-dirty type, bringing some nastiness to the right guard position. The Rams were the second-worst offense in the league in the red zone last season and improving in that area was a point of emphasis in the preseason.

Special teams
The Eagles took a big gamble going with two rookies, kicker Alex Henery and punter Chas Henry. Things did not go smoothly in the preseason. Henery was erratic and while Henry punted pretty well, his botched hold on a field goal attempt last week was cause for concern. The Eagles cant afford to have two rookies costing them points or field position in the regular season.

The Eagles will have DeSean Jackson fielding punts since he is the only one on the roster with experience in that area. The good news is Jackson is very explosive. The bad news is he could get blown up by some wild-eyed bomb squadder.

The Rams special teams are solid. Kicker Josh Brown is coming off a career year (33 field goals). He has 28 field goals of 50 yards or longer, most in the league since 2003. Donnie Jones is a very good punter, ranking third in the league in net average last season. Amendola handles punt returns and ex-Falcon Jerious Norwood is a threat on kickoffs.

Intangibles

Andy Reid has a losing record in regular season openers (5-7). The Rams were 5-3 at home last season. So why are the Eagles a five-point favorite? The bettors have not yet bought into the Rams. They have bought into the Eagles.

Prediction

This is a tough Week 1 draw for the Eagles. The Rams are a team on the rise and probably will win their division. They will be sky high for their home opener, but the Eagles will finally open their playbook and unleash their offensive weaponry. Vick and Jackson will hit enough big plays against the aggressive Rams defense to get the W.

Eagles 23, Rams 17.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- "We ain't going home! We're not going home!" Stephen Curry screamed at the top of his lungs.

No, his Golden State Warriors are going back to Oklahoma City, after keeping their title reign and the winningest season in NBA history alive for at least one more game.

Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to fire up Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champions staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

"We just did what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to win at home," Curry said. "We know what we still have to do going forward. ... We knew if we didn't win we were going home. There's no other motivation you need."

For all the speculation about the current state of Curry's beat-up body -- that troublesome ankle, sore knee or tender elbow -- he did it all.

"I thought he looked like 91 percent," coach Steve Kerr cracked. "He came out and played a really good game. That's all I can tell you. He's going to compete every night. He had an excellent night and helped us get it done."

Led by Curry, the Warriors looked like their old winning selves again.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"None of us want to go home," Thompson said. "We're having too much fun out there."

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and first championship since moving from Seattle.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

"We have to take that game and travel," Curry said of keeping momentum.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter and hit more big shots late, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

"I liked our will, I liked our fight," Kerr said. "We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games."

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period with an 8-0 burst.

"We didn't shoot a particularly good percentage when we got into the lane and got into the deep paint," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "We had our opportunities."

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. After struggling the past two games, Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds a day after receiving some encouraging words from Kobe Bryant on the phone.

"We really relied on the entire team tonight, which is when we're at our best," Curry said.

Kerr figured his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

He wasn't surprised to see this team respond so well.

"We played with great desperation," Kerr said. "I knew how we would play. This is a championship team."

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

"Their bench came in and made shots, made plays for them," Durant said. "We know we're going home. We can't relax."

Golden State made 31 of 34 free throws.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

"That's who he is, that's what he's done, and that's what's made him a very good player," Donovan said.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).