Here's a look at some of the St. Louis Rams' key offensive players ahead of this Sunday's Eagles opener. We'll try to do some iteration of this before every Birds game this season.
RB Steven Jackson
SJax is ready for another bell cow season in StL, where he's topped 1,000 yards in each of the last six campaigns. Unfortunately, the Eagles face the Rams before Jackson's annual spate of injuries has set in, and he could be a handful on Sunday. The emergence of Sam Bradford and implementation of new OC Josh McDaniels' offense should help lift the boulder off of Jackson's shoulders in time, but he'll still get plenty of touches both rushing and receiving, particularly early on before the Rams have had time to implement a new offense with a second-year QB. Jackson poses a matchup problem for the weakest element of the Eagles defense and could rattle off a few long carries or YAC after dumpoffs when Bradford is blinded by the site of the Birds' swarming secondary (and hopefully the pass rush). Despite his usually pass-heavy attack, McDaniels will probably look to get Jackson rolling early in hopes he'll keep the Mike Vick and company off the field.
The Eagles did shut down Jackson in the 2008 season opener, but that was an entirely different defensive unit and a different Rams offense as well. Jackson is backed up by Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood this season, and we're somewhat interested to see how they mix them in after seeing 39 dominate the St. Louis backfield for so long.
QB Sam Bradford
The face of the franchise and 2010's first overall pick broke the NFL's rookie records for pass attempts and completions, and with Bradford under center, the Rams moved from a putrid 1-15 record to a 7-9 mark that was nearly good enough to make the playoffs. Bradford enters his sophomore season hoping to be the next QB to thrive in the McDaniels offense, and while the names on the backs of most of his targets' jerseys aren't exactly household, they should be good enough as a unit to put together a few scoring drives against a talent-heavy defense that is nonetheless on the field for the first time in its current iteration.
Bradford's protection kept him upright last season, when, according to Football Outsiders, they allowed the team's lowest sack total since 1999. Sounds like a good test for the Eagles' new pass rush, who will have the benefit of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie blanketing Bradford's receivers.
WRs Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola
Victims of the Eagles' depth at the WR position over the past few seasons, Gibson and Amendola are talented if lesser known receivers, and while the Rams offense has run though Steven Jackson for years, these guys are examples of a deeper unit that can hurt defenses in a variety of ways. Amendola caught a lot of balls in 2010, and that was before the slot-loving McDaniels came to town. It will be interesting to see how Juan Castillo sets up his DBs against this unit, which also includes the former Jags #1 below.
WR Mike Sims-Walker
Cut loose from Jacksonville, MSW is a boom or bust deep threat that could find new life in McDaniels' offense, not unlike Brandon Lloyd did in Denver, where he came out of nowhere and led the league in receiving yards last season. Or, MSW could be just another 700 yard/5 TD guy at best, a chirpy injury casualty at worst. For Sunday's sake, he's going to draw some heavy coverage no matter which weapon Castillo puts on him. We'd be surprised if the Eagles can't neutralize the Sims-Walker, who managed only 34 yards against them in week 2 last season, albeit in a decidedly different offense. Then again, we were surprised when Lloyd topped 100 yards in the Broncos' 2010 season opener and five other times over the course of the season. None came against Oakland, interestingly enough.
TE Lance Kendricks
Raise your hand if you've seen the Eagles' D get gashed by some middling tight end or have cold sweats when you hear the name Jason Witten. Over the last two seasons, no team has given up more fantasy points to the TE position than the Birds, who were #1 in that distinction in 2010 and #2 in 2009 according to FantasyGuru.com's calculations. Last year, three tight ends topped 100 receiving yards against Philly, and three others topped 60. The Eagles gave up 11 TDs to TEs, including a pair of two-score performances.
Forty days into his second offense as a pro, Bradford will need to rely on his short and intermediate guys, and rookie Kendricks was a prime target in the Rams' preseason action, finishing sixth in receiving yards and touching pay dirt three times, per Matthew Berry of ESPN. Kendricks is a big target at 6-3, 247, and the Rams selected him out of Wisconsin with their second round pick. McDaniels doesn't involve the tight end as much as some other pass-happy offenses do, but at least early on, Kendricks looks to be active here. With the big 3 likely focusing on Amendola, MSW, and Gibson, the task of containing Kendricks will fall mainly on the linebackers and safeties.
As you can see, the Rams have some talent on the offensive side of the ball this season, as well as a new coordinator who knows how to put defenses on their heels. But while the same can be said of Castillo's defensive unit, this offense hasn't had much time to gel, and it's led by a second-year starter under center. It's easy to get caught up wondering who will cover whom, but it will take some solid scheme work on the part of Castillo in order to close all the windows listed above.
Kulp will be up next with a look at the Rams' defense, which will obviously have its hands full. How many of the guys listed above would you rather have over their counterparts in Midnight Green?
Photo: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE