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.

10 observations from Eagles-Colts

10 observations from Eagles-Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- There wasn’t much not to like Saturday night.
 
There was Nelson Agholor. And Cody Parkey.
 
And that may be it.
 
The defensive line was unstoppable, Sam Bradford was razor sharp, Josh Huff made a bunch of big plays, the secondary got another takeaway, Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner ran the ball with authority, the first offensive line looked solid and even Chase Daniel threw the ball around pretty well.
 
The usual caveats apply. Yes, it’s only the preseason. Yes, the Colts were missing half their defense. Yes, we all know what happened after Green Bay last year.
 
Still. Looking good beats looking bad. Especially in the third preseason game. And the Eagles in just about every phase looked very good in their 33-23 win over the Colts (see Instant Replay).
 
So let’s dive into my 10 Instant Observations at Lucas Oil Stadium.
 
1. We got a nice, extended look at the Eagles’ defensive line against a real offense, and it was one heck of a dominating performance. That group, with everybody rotating in, generated tremendous pressure on Andrew Luck, didn’t allow anything against the run and really controlled the football game. Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and of course Fletcher Cox all played at a high level, with Cox even lining up at defensive end on occasion. This group is the strength of the football team, and judging by the way they played Saturday night, it is quite a strength. They were tremendous.
 
2. I felt like this was really an important game for Nelson Agholor. It’s not like he’s going to get cut. As a first-round draft pick a year ago, he has some built-in protection. But with the Colts missing half their secondary, it seemed like a real opportunity for Agholor to shine, to build up some confidence and make some big plays down the field. Which we’ve been waiting for since he got here. Instead, he booted the only ball thrown his way and it turned into a Colts interception, big return and three points. Bradford never threw his way again. We keep waiting for Agholor to show up, and it just isn’t happening. What a disappointment so far.
 
3.  On the other hand, there’s Josh Huff, who showed exactly why the Eagles feel he can be such a weapon. The former third-round pick, such a disappointment the last two years, had a tackle-breaking 38-yard catch and run, a 22-yard catch and a nine-yard touchdown run. When Huff isn’t doing something stupid, he can look downright electrifying, and that’s the Josh Huff we saw Saturday night. Can he do it in the regular season? I still think he can. He’s teased us before and maybe that’s what Saturday night was. But it was certainly encouraging to see.
 
4. Green Bay last year, I know, I know. Still, Bradford was exceptionally sharp and really looked in command of the offense. Yes, the Colts were missing a bunch of cornerbacks – six defensive backs in all and a seventh got hurt during the game – but Bradford distributed the ball, showed good pocket presence, used a bunch of different weapons and most importantly put points on the scoreboard. Bradford was 17 for 20 for 167 yards with two TD passes and an INT off Agholor’s hands. He should have had just two incompletions. Bradford engineered touchdown drives of 63, 71 and 68 yards in addition to a 54-yard field goal drive. (For those of you who care about these things, Bradford’s career Week 3 preseason stats as an Eagle are 27-for-30 for 288 yards with five touchdowns and one INT and a passer rating of 132.4)
 
5. Haven’t said much this preseason about Ryan Mathews, but he looks terrific running the football. Mathews only got three carries Saturday night but ran for 31 yards. He’s turned 10 carries this preseason into 64 yards – a 6.4 average. We all know his injury history, but with Barner also looking sharp – 6 for 39 Saturday night, 19-for-115 (6.1 average) – hopefully the Eagles can limit Mathews’ carries, keep him healthy and get good production from both backs. With a handful of carries per game from Darren Sproles as well.
 
6. I didn’t mention Beau Allen earlier in my post about the defensive line, but the former seventh-round pick, now in his third year with the Eagles, made a couple big plays with the first unit Saturday night and has quietly had an impressive preseason. The 330-pound defensive tackle isn’t  just earning a roster spot, he’s earning playing time.
 
7. A few words about Trey Burton. Has this kid ever dropped a pass in his life? Five catches for 35 on Saturday night and they aren’t huge numbers, but he’s just smooth and consistent and steady. Burton was just a special teamer last year and obviously Zach Ertz and Brent Celek are going to be the top two tight ends in most situations, but I still think a kid with the combination of speed, size and hands that Burton has is too valuable to get rid of, and hopefully the Eagles find a way to use his talents on offense.
 
8. You don’t want to get too carried away with preseason, but interesting to note that the Eagles’ defense has allowed just one touchdown and has nine takeaways. I don’t care when the games are, that’s impressive. I’ve been impressed not just with the takeaways but with coverage, tackling, speed, angles to the ball. They just look disciplined, smart, fast and athletic.
 
9. Cody Parkey of 2014 vs. Caleb Sturgis is a no-brainer. You keep Parkey. But this isn’t the same Cody Parkey as the record-setting 2014 Pro Bowler. Maybe he’s not totally recovered from the groin injury that derailed his 2015 season. Whatever it is, Parkey is not the same guy who made 89 percent of his field goal attempts as a rookie. Sturgis has routinely out-performed Parkey in training camp, and the disparity between the two was on full display last night, with Sturgis easily making both his field goal attempts – a 32-yarder and a 47-yarder – and Parkey missing a PAT. Parkey has only attempted one field goal this preseason – he made a 40-yarder in Pittsburgh last week – but right now the Eagles really have no choice but to keep Sturgis, who made an unspectacular but acceptable 82 percent of his field goals last year. Parkey may have more upside and maybe he’ll regain his form somewhere else. But the Eagles can’t afford to wait.
 
10. Chase Daniel has put together a couple nice games in a row. Yes, working against scrubs, but his performance in the preseason opener vs. Tampa Bay was so bad it’s encouraging to see Daniel functioning like a real quarterback. He followed a 10 for 16 for 82 yards in Pittsburgh with 9 for 12 for 104 yards and a sharp 28-yard TD lob to David Watford in Indy. Considering Sam Bradford’s injury history, it’s a little reassuring to see some solid quarterbacking from Doug Pederson’s hand-picked backup.

Instant Replay: Mets 12, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Mets 12, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson’s string of strong starts ended Saturday night in the Phillies’ 12-1 loss to the New York Mets.

The Phillies had just three hits and were overpowered by Mets starter Noah Syndergaard.

Hellickson was tagged for five runs, the most he’d given up in a start since June 10, in just four innings. All the runs came on a pair of homers.

The Mets have clubbed eight homers – good for 18 runs – in the first two games of the series.

Phillies starting pitchers have had a poor month of August. They have allowed 92 earned runs in 114 innings for a 7.26 ERA and given up a majors-high 33 homers.

The Phils have lost 13 of their last 17 at Citi Field. They are 9-21 against the Mets the last two seasons.

Starting pitching report 
Hellickson entered the game with a 2.60 ERA in his previous 11 starts. He was victimized by the long ball in this one. All five of the runs he allowed over four innings came on home runs, a two-run shot and a three-run shot.

Hellickson is 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts this season.

By the way, Hellickson is staying for the remainder of the season. According to a baseball source, he was claimed on waivers this month and pulled back, making him ineligible for a trade.

Syndergaard’s fastball reached triple digits. He held the Phillies to two hits and a run over seven innings. He struck out seven. He is 12-7 with a 2.55 ERA.

Bullpen report 
David Hernandez relieved Hellickson and pitched two scoreless innings, but Michael Mariot was tagged for six runs in the seventh, four when he served up a grand slam.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis’ solo homer in the third inning was the Phillies’ offense.

Asdrubal Cabrera belted a two-run homer for the Mets in the third inning. Yoenis Cespedes smacked a three-run homer on a full-count pitch in the fourth. Cabrera has three homers in the first two games of the series.

Kelly Johnson cracked a pinch-hit grand slam to give the Mets a 10-run lead in the seventh. Neil Walker homered in the eighth.

Ellis arrives
A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade, joined the club before the game. The veteran catcher is ready to offer some wisdom to the Phillies’ young pitchers (see story).

Up next
The series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) pitches against Mets right-hander Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00). Gsellman will be making his first big-league start.

Instant Replay: Eagles 33, Colts 23

Instant Replay: Eagles 33, Colts 23

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS – Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Eagles looked really good in the all-important third preseason game.

The offense hummed, the defense stuffed, and the team took down Andrew Luck and the Colts, 33-23, at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night to improve to 3-0 this preseason.

Now, take that with a grain of salt. Heck, take it with a shaker of salt. The fan base was fooled last year when Sam Bradford and the Eagles looked Super Bowl-bound with a Preseason Week 3 win over the Packers. Cue up The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Still, the Eagles’ starters were impressive against the Colts on Saturday night on both sides of the ball.

Sam the man
Just like he did in this game last year, Bradford was extremely efficient. He completed 17 of 20 pass for 167 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception – and the interception wasn’t his fault.

Give credit to the first-team offensive line too. Despite the shuffling on the line, Bradford was kept pretty clean most of the night, was sacked just once.

Wideouts look like wideouts
The Eagles’ wide receivers caught footballs on Saturday night, an important check mark on the “are we a real team yet?” list. Josh Huff came to play on Saturday night and had an impressive game; he had a 38-yard catch in the first half. Huff is still dangerous when the Eagles can get the ball in his hands.

Perhaps the one play that will have Eagles fans most excited was a fade from Bradford to newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham for a four-yard touchdown. The Eagles tried a fade to DGB earlier in the game, but it looked like he weirdly stopped on the route.

One negative was Nelson Agholor’s drop in the first half. Bradford hit him in the hands and the second-year wideout popped it in the air for an interception. Rueben Randle didn’t get much work with the first team.

We also saw plenty of three-tight end sets, a sign of things to come. Trey Burton continues to catch everything, which included a touchdown pass on Saturday night.

Doug gets creative
The Eagles’ first touchdown came on a 9-yard jet sweep carry to Huff. We’ve seen the Eagles work these plays in during practice, but it finally happened in a game. While many fans have been rightfully frustrated by Huff, his versatility remains the big reason why he’s probably on the 53-man roster.

Dominant D-line
The Eagles need their defensive line to be the catalyst for the defense and it was on Saturday night. Connor Barwin, Beau Allen and Bennie Logan had first-half sacks. And they weren’t the only ones causing pressure. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Taylor Hart also caused trouble.

A couple times, Jim Schwartz lined Cox up as a defensive end and Curry inside at tackle. Cox crushed Luck on one of those plays.

Keeping Luck in check
The Eagles held Luck to 134 yards and no touchdowns, while the Colts first-team offense had just 129 total net yards and was 2 for 7 on third downs. Luck made a few solid throws, but didn’t do too much damage.

Rest of the D
The rest of the defense certainly benefitted from the strong play up front. Mychal Kendricks didn’t stand out good or bad in his first game of the preseason. The team worked in undrafted rookie C.J. Smith with the first team to get an extended look at the youngster.

Nolan Carroll missed a tackle in the second half that led to a big gain. Carroll did start the game with Leodis McKelvin, completing his ascension to starter over Ron Brooks. A little later on that same drive, Carroll picked off a pass to end a long drive from the Colts. It was the Eagles’ eighth interception of the preseason and third in the red zone.

Kicker battle
Caleb Sturgis already appeared ahead of Cody Parkey for the kicker job and Saturday certainly didn’t do anything to change that. Sturgis hit a 32-yarder and a 47-yarder, while Parkey missed an extra point.

Injuries
Curry left early with a knee injury and didn’t return – although he wasn’t expected to continue to play anyway. Wendell Smallwood and Chris Pantale left the game early to be evaluated for head injuries. Pantale did not have a concussion and returned. Hart left the game with a knee sprain and didn’t return.

Several Eagles were ruled out earlier in the week and didn’t play: Carson Wentz, Jordan Matthews, Aaron Grymes, Mike Martin, Alex McCalister, Hunter Sharp, Joe Walker and Isaac Seumalo.

Up next
The Eagles wrap up the preseason next week, when they host the Jets on Sept. 1. After that, they’ll have a little over a week to prepare for the season opener at home against the Browns on Sept. 11.