Eagles Opposition Report: Rams Offense

Eagles Opposition Report: Rams Offense

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

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).