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



Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

There are good penalties. And bad penalties. And penalties which aren’t even penalties.

The last one would perfectly describe Radko Gudas’ hip check on Miles Wood that was whistled as clipping by referee Dan O’Halloran in the second period.

Even Wood was laughing as Gudas went to the box, realizing what a break he had gotten – a power play for nothing.

“He’s a pretty quick D-man,” Wood said. “I don’t think it should have been a call, but it was a good hit by him.”

That gave the Devils a power play. Then, when Wayne Simmond argued the call with O'Halloran, Simmonds drew two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting 5-on-3 New Jersey power play saw the Devils score to break a 1-1 tie.

Minutes later, the Flyers had a bad line change and it was 3-1. Game over. The Devils would go on to win, 4-1 (see game story).

Bottom line? The Gudas call changed everything.

“I was really surprised,” Gudas said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty at all.”

Is this oversimplifying the game to say everything changed with that one call?

“Are we really simplifying it?” Gudas asked. “I think that after those calls we have to get together as a group and make sure we kill these off. Unfortunately, we let them score on that power play. It was just unlucky.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol called it “an excellent hit” by Gudas. He wouldn’t go deeper than that.

The six muffed power plays gave him enough reason to believe the Flyers could have gotten back in it. His Flyers are 3-9-3 since winning 10 games.

You can’t underestimate how those two calls turned the tables on the Flyers in this game.

“Everyone has their own opinion on the hit and we were obviously frustrated on the hit,” Travis Konecny said. “We thought it was a clean hit and we reacted to it. We have everyone’s backs.

“We have all had the one’s where we are angry with the ref and the one who made a hit like that. There is a time for that moment there.”

Goalie Michal Neuvirth thought it was a difference maker.

“Oh, absolutely, we were playing better in the second period,” he said. “I thought we had a momentum. You know stuff like that 5-on-3 for two minutes, it’s tough to defend.

“I think it’s taking way too many penalties lately and you got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).