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.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).