Eagles-Rams: 5 things to focus on

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Eagles-Rams: 5 things to focus on

The Eagles lost last week and fell to 3-1. They didn’t look great on offense. Nick Foles missed quite a few throws. The line, even with Lane Johnson back, is still a question. And LeSean McCoy has been absent in the first four games. But hey, turn that frown upside down. You know what’s good for your mood when you’re feeling blue? The Rams. The Rams are the NFL equivalent of a pep squad. They might as well do spirit fingers.

It may not seem like an important game, but it is. Win this one and the Eagles chances of making the (shhh, say it quietly) playoffs increase considerably. Here are five things to focus on in the game:

5. Big plays
Surprisingly, the Rams have the ninth-ranked passing offense this year. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s the Eagles’ maddening tendency to surrender big plays to the opposition through the air. A year ago, the Eagles gave up nine plays of 40 or more yards. All season. This year, they’ve surrendered five of those plays. In four games. Not good.

The Eagles haven’t been much better on plays that go for 20 or more yards. The Eagles call them x-plays. They’ve given up 12 of those already, six of which came in the loss to San Francisco last Sunday.

“When you keep those down or don’t have many of them at all,” Bradley Fletcher said, “then your chances of winning just goes way up.”

Indeed. Fletcher speaks truth. Which brings us to the next issue …

4. The cornerbacks
Again, there’s not much to fear from the St. Louis offense. The Rams are 23rd in rushing and 27th in scoring. If they can beat the Eagles anywhere, it will be through the air. That is where most teams have found success so far. The Eagles are 23rd against the pass and 28th overall in defense.

That has quite a bit to do with the corners. According to ProFootballFocus, Cary Williams and Fletcher are the 67th and 69th ranked cornerbacks. They have been victimized for several of the aforementioned x-plays. It’s not surprising, then, that teams have thrown at the two of them so often. Williams, in particular. According to ESPN, Williams is the most targeted cornerback in the league since 2011.

They’ve faced some good receivers so far this year: Michael Crabtree, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, among them. That’s not this weekend’s competition. Brian Quick leads the Rams with 235 receiving yards in three games. No other Rams have more than 180 receiver yards. And after Quick, the team’s second-best pass catcher has been Jared Cook. He’s a tight end. This should be a better game for the corners. Should be.

3. Lane Johnson
The right tackle returned this week after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Getting him back is obviously a big deal for a unit that has been underproductive and ravaged by injuries. Johnson’s backup, Allen Barbre, is out for the season. Guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce are out indefinitely. The Eagles have already used nine different linemen this season. With Johnson back, the Eagles will have three-fifths of their projected starting offensive linemen on the field.

A year ago, Johnson started 17 games for the Eagles. The question is how much he can immediately contribute. During the suspension, he wasn’t allowed to be at the team facility or participate in practice or film sessions. He spent most of his time working out in Dallas, but he admitted that isn’t the same thing as working out with other NFL players each day for four weeks. There will be some rust.

“As far as conditioning, I don’t care what people say,” Johnson explained. “The only way you can get in football shape is by playing football.”

2. Nick Foles
Foles is fifth in the NFL in passing yards. But in three of four games, his passer rating has been below 100. That only happened twice last season. And you already know that he has six giveaways (four interceptions, two fumbles), which is two more than he had all of last year.

But the real issue, the genuine cause for concern, is how Foles has looked on deep passes. He’s missed quite a few. On throws of 20 or more yards, Foles has completed just 23.7 percent of his attempts. Of the 27 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 10 of those throws, he ranks 23rd. Against San Francisco, he connected on only one of his 12 passes that went 20 or more yards. Well, he connected on three if you count the two interceptions. That has to change. If they can’t stretch the field, it’s going to be even easier to load the box and stop the run. Which reminds me …

1. LeSean McCoy
OK. This is it. If he can’t get going against the Rams, then you can panic. McCoy is coming off the worst two-game stretch of his career, and he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. But St. Louis represents a big opportunity. The Rams allow 155 rushing yards per game. Only two teams have been worse. They gave up more than 100 rushing yards to DeMarco Murray. They gave up more than 100 rushing yards to Bobby Rainey (!). They gave up more than 100 rushing yards to Cordarrelle Patterson, and he’s not even a running back. Now or never for McCoy.

Eagles propose four rules to be considered by NFL next week

Eagles propose four rules to be considered by NFL next week

Next week, when the NFL convenes for its owners meetings in Phoenix, there will be 15 proposed rule changes under consideration by the competition committee. 

While the one proposed rule change would cut regular-season overtime from 15 to 10 minutes (see story), there are 14 others up for discussion. 

Of those 15, seven were submitted by NFL teams. And of those seven, four were submitted by the Eagles

Three of the four rule proposals from the Eagles are safety related. 

Here are the four from the Eagles, per the NFL: 

1. Gives additional protections for long snappers on kick plays. 

2. Prohibits the “leaper” block attempt on field goal and extra point plays. 

3. Expands the “crown of helmet” foul to include “hairline” part of helmet. 

4. Amends the challenge system by granting a third challenge if a club is successful on at least one of its initial two challenges, and expands reviewable plays outside of two minutes of each half.

The first proposed rule would offer long snappers -- Jon Dorenbos included -- some extra protection. It would add this language to Article 6, Unnecessary Roughness: "When a team is in scrimmage kick formation, a defensive player may not initiate contact with the snapper until one second has elapsed after the snap." 

The second proposed rule change is one of the proposals that has garnered the most attention. Basically, the league now allows players to leap over the line of scrimmage on kicks as long as they don't touch anyone. This new rule would completely outlaw the process of leaping over the line. 

It seems like this rule change is likely to happen. The NFLPA has previously asked for this rule to be changed. 

"So the inevitable is going to happen, and just hearing from the players association, Philly now proposing it is really in the best interest of the game," former Eagle and league football operations director Troy Vincent said on a conference call Thursday. 

The next rule does pretty much exactly what it says: it expands the area that is considered to be the "crown of the helmet." 

Here's the new language that would be added to Article 8, Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet: "Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the crown or 'hairline' parts of the helmet against any part of an opponent shall be considered a foul even if the initiating player's head moves after initial contact and the majority of contact occurs with the side or front of the helmet."

Finally, the last proposal isn't a safety one. It's about replay and is pretty self-explanatory for the most part. 

The reasoning given for this rule change on the proposal: "Provides coaches with a greater opportunity to correct subjective officiating errors, but excludes those fouls that have a minimal opportunity for reversal."

NFL owners mull cut of regular-season overtime to 10 minutes

NFL owners mull cut of regular-season overtime to 10 minutes

NEW YORK -- NFL owners will consider proposals next week to cut regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10; eliminate players leaping over the line on kick plays; and expansion of coaches' challenges and what can be reviewed by officials.

In what promises to be a busy annual meeting next week in Phoenix that will include discussing the Raiders' potential relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, the 32 owners also will vote on changing the mechanics on replay reviews and other items intended to reduce downtime during games.

The Eagles proposed four rules changes, including abolishing the leaping techniques that league football operations director Troy Vincent said Thursday "don't belong in the game."

Seattle and Buffalo co-authored a proposal allowing a coach to challenge any officiating decision, whether a foul is called or not.

"That is a significant change to our current replay rule and it is something that will be on the floor and will be debated next week," NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino said.

Another major change would be the reduction of overtime in-season; the extra period in the playoffs would remain at 15 minutes. The powerful competition committee, of which Vincent and Blandino are members, believed it's a player safety issue, noting that number of snaps for games going to OT -- especially deep into the overtime -- is excessive. Especially if a team has a quick turnaround.

"We don't know where a team is going to be playing the next week, it could be four days later," said committee chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We felt we should put an end to it. We don't think it will lead to more ties. Could it? It could, but we are not concerned with that."

As for changing the format of overtime to ensure both teams always get a possession -- a popular topic after how the Super Bowl ended -- Blandino said the league's wants to keep the element of sudden death in the extra period.

The "leaper rule" has taken some priority among competition committee members, the players' union and coaches. Vincent said coaches have begun scheming how to defense it, which can "create a real safety issue."

"It is really in the best interest of the game" to outlaw leaping on kicks," Vincent added.

McKay noted that the NCAA is in the process of passing a similar ban on the technique.

During the meetings that run from Sunday to Wednesday, the teams will be shown plays the competition committee believes should result in suspensions or ejections. Game officials already have had the leeway to eject players, but it rarely has happened; there were three in 2016.

"They don't happen very often, let's give the players credit," McKay said. "We have 40,000 plays in a year. We'll show a tape that will have four or five plays that would warrant suspension. This is not a widespread situation."

Added Vincent, a former NFL defensive back: "When you see the plays, they are catastrophic. We had two players who did not return for the season. They are high-impact plays that belong out of the game. It will be a real point of emphasis this season."