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



Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

The Sixers made some roster tweaks on Wednesday night.

The team waived forward Carl Landry and center Tibor Pleiss, while officially announcing the signing of guard Anthony "Cat" Barber.

The Sixers were expected to cut Pleiss, who was acquired last Friday in a trade with the Jazz. On July 21, Barber and the Sixers reportedly agreed to a partially guaranteed deal.

Landy, a 32-year-old veteran, played one season with the Sixers after being acquired last summer in a trade with the Kings, a deal in which he was essentially a toss-in as it revolved around bringing Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia. Landry, who was under contract for 2016-17 at $6.75 million, battled injury to start 2015-16 and ended up playing in 36 games (12 starts), averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Barber, 6-foot-3, 173 pounds, will fight for a roster spot at point guard during training camp. The 22-year-old went undrafted in June after declaring following his junior season at NC State in which he averaged 23.5 points per game, seventh most in the country and best in the ACC.

Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

usa-ben-simmons-summer-league.jpg

Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

Ben Simmons' fellow NBA rookies may not think too highly of him, but when the best basketball player on the planet is giving him pointers, he must be doing something right.

On Tuesday, a photo of Simmons and LeBron James dribbling side by side started making the rounds on Instagram. That's right. The Sixers' number-one overall draft pick and franchise savior is apparently training with the four-time league MVP and reigning world champion.

#Klutch @klutchsports

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Those workouts continued on Wednesday, when 12-time All-Star Dwayne Wade posted a photo of himself, Simmons and James, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jordan McRae. That's some good company for a first-year player to keep.

Good day of work!

A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

What does all of this mean for Simmons and the Sixers? Hard to say, but it can't be a bad thing that the rookie point-forward is spending time with a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Surely he must be learning something.

That's good news for the Sixers, who hope that Simmons can even come close to living up to the lofty comparisons some have drawn to James already.