Eagles Gameday: Four Downs With the St. Louis Rams

Eagles Gameday: Four Downs With the St. Louis Rams

Kickoff, finally.  At 1 p.m. today, the Linc rocks.  The Eagles are back.  Can you feel it?

1. Is Orlando Pace Healthy?

No player is more vital to the Rams success than Pace, not Steven Jackson, not even Marc Bulger.  The All-Pro left tackle suffered a season-ending injury in the opener last year, leaving the offense in shambles.  While Jackson's production remained steady, the loss severely crippled their passing attack.  Despite missing 4 games, only three quarterbacks were sacked more often than Bulger, and his completion percentage was 5 points lower than his career average.

Pace already aggravated his bum shoulder in practice and skipped the final two preseason games, so it will be interesting to see if he is ready.  When he is healthy, the pass protection instantly becomes better, and the QB suddenly has time to stretch the field.

2. Eagles Pass Rush

Whether or not the Eagles can take advantage of the Rams potential weakness is another story.  The biggest question mark heading into this season is the front four's ability to rush the passer.  Jim Johnson's schemes are always able to generate pressure, but often leave the secondary vulnerable against a veteran quarterback.

Someone needs to step up along the defensive line and expose the Rams Achilles' heel.  If that group is able to get to the QB on its own, the Eagles can sit back and eliminate vertical threats Torry Holt and Randy McMichael.  Once the big plays are taken away from the passing game, the cornerbacks can take some chances and make plays on the ball.

3. Eagles Passing Game

The good news for the Birds is the Rams secondary is not a strength, and even without Curtis and Brown, Donovan McNabb should be able to find open targets.  Andy Reid will use Westbrook, Buck, and Booker in the passing game to spread the linebackers in coverage and open up the middle of the field.  The Eagles will likely call L.J. Smith's number early and often, while the receivers work the slot for a few nice gainers.

The Rams must also keep a close eye on DeSean Jackson.  The rookie figures to be heavily involved in the Eagles attack, and where he is on the field will dictate much of the coverage.  It's up to the other receivers to take advantage of one-on-one situations and find holes in the zone.

4. How Many Touches For Steven Jackson?

Jackson is one of the league's elite runners, a big bruiser who will pick up tough yards between the tackles, and at the same time, a do-it-all weapon who can catch the ball and get into the open field.  The Eagles run defense should be up to the test, but there is no way they are going to shut down a back this good.  The question is whether he will be involved enough in the contest to alter the final.  Jackson held out most of training camp, and some teams will ease a "rusty" player back into the lineup.

I expect Jackson to see plenty of work early on, but if the game starts to slip away, his day might end in the 3rd quarter.  Obviously, in a close game he could see a full load upwards of 30 touches, so it's important the Eagles get on top and stay on top.

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Even though they are coming off a 3-13 season, the Rams are not to be taken lightly.  The offense has the playmakers to put points on the board, and if the line improved, they could conceivably compete for a playoff spot in the West.

Unfortunately for St. Louis, they start the season against a much more well-rounded team.  The Eagles have the personnel to limit the Rams in the passing game, who really only have one good receiver at the moment.  Steven Jackson is going to pick up his yards, but as long as they keep him from taking over the game, it's not enough.

The offense, even without both starting wide receivers, has too many weapons for the Rams to match up with.  The key to the game will be the Eagles dynamic trio of runners.  They will flex the defense and create space for the receivers to work against a set of average corners.

And then they will run the ball.  The Rams have done a nice job of beginning to rebuild their front four, but the bigger offensive line of the Eagles can still dominate them at the point of attack.  Look for Brian Westbrook to get off to a great start, running for 100 yards on fewer than 20 carries, and leading the team to a big victory on opening day.

Final: Rams 17, Eagles 34



National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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USA Today Images

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.