Overall, the Eagles played as well as could be expected in their week 1 game against the Rams. However, improvement is needed if this team wishes to compete against the big boys in the NFC.
There were plenty of positives from Sunday’s game, including the defensive line play as well as performances by Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.
But there were areas for concern. We also have to keep in mind that the Eagles were playing a team that, while on the rise, isn’t exactly a powerhouse. The Rams also had several injuries to key players which turned an average opponent into a weak one.
With that said, here are my top five things that need to improve based on Sunday’s game.
1. The Run Defense
The Eagles defense gave up 169 yards rushing on 25 carries by Rams running backs. That equates to an unacceptable 6.7 yards per-rush average.
The Rams’ first play from scrimmage was a 47 yard run for a touchdown by Steven Jackson. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s “wide 9″ scheme seemed a little too wide for my liking.
At one point, it was so bad that I wondered why the Rams were even bothering to pass the ball. They could have just run it down the Eagles’ throats at will. 116 of the Rams’ 169 rushing yards came in the first half.
Much of the poor run defense had to do with the play of the linebackers. This is a weak area of the Eagles defense and can be exposed in this manner.
The young crew of Moises Fokou, Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney routinely overran plays in the first half which allowed for gaping holes for Rams running backs to exploit.
In Washburn’s scheme, the linebackers are even more important for gap assignments to fill running lanes. Hopefully the young LBs improve as the year goes on.
The defense tightened up a little bit in the second half but at that point the Rams were getting further behind which meant they had to pass more…which isn’t their strong suit.
Regardless, the Eagles better tighten up their run defense if they want to compete in January. They can’t afford to allow good teams — playoff-caliber teams — to control games by running the ball.
2. Defensive Penalties on 3rd Down
This drove me nuts yesterday. There were three occasions where the Eagles defense stopped the Rams on third-down and should have forced a punt.
Yet, they committed a penalty to give the Rams a first down and allow them to keep their drive alive. One of those three ultimately ended in three points for the Rams (and could have been more if it weren’t for two big drops by wide open Rams receivers).
What was even more annoying about the three penalties was that none of them actually impacted the outcome of the play.
The first one was illegal use of the hands by Jason Babin, the second one was illegal contact by Asante Samuel (away from play), and the third was roughing the passer on Trent Cole.
Penalties are part of the game but you can’t afford to give up big first downs like that. Had the Eagles been playing a better offensive team, these could have been back-breaking mistakes.
Imagine giving Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees a fresh set of downs on three separate occasions. That would spell disaster.
3. The Offensive Line
Overall, I actually think the offensive line played okay. They did better than I thought they would, given the circumstances.
The first half was shaky. They were getting blown-off the ball by the Rams defensive line and couldn’t open any running lanes for the the Eagles running backs. Prior to the fourth quarter, LeSean McCoy only had 27 yards on 11 rushes.
They also allowed two first-half sacks and several pressures of Michael Vick. If it weren’t for Vick’s scrambling ability, it would have been much worse.
However, they tightened things up in the second half and provided some nice pockets for Vick and good running lanes for McCoy.
For this being the first time these five guys have played together, it wasn’t bad. But there is obviously room for improvement, especially when they face better defensive teams.
4. Delay of Game Issues
You would think this is an easy one to correct, but maybe it isn’t? These types of issues have haunted Andy Reid’s offenses over the years.
I used to think it was more because of Donovan McNabb but maybe it has more to do with the preparedness of Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. In any case, it needs to be fixed.
There were five times in yesterday’s game where the offense was late in getting the play off. On three of them, they were penalized for delay of game. The other two times they had to burn time-outs to avoid another penalty.
Off the top of my head, at least one of those penalties appeared to kill a drive.
I realize that the Eagles were playing in a loud dome and had new group of offensive linemen, which could have affected the communication between Vick and the sidelines, but five times? That’s a bit much.
Plus, it’s not like this is a new issue for an Andy Reid team.
5. Get Brent Celek More Involved in the Passing Game
This will go hand-in-hand with the improvement in the offensive line play. All of last season and in the game yesterday versus the Rams, Celek has been kept in to block much more often.
Celek had exactly one catch for 13 yards against the Rams. He was targeted on two other occasions but wasn’t the first option for Vick.
In 2009, he showed what he can do when he caught 76 passes for 971 yards and eight TDs. He was a legitimate threat in the red zone and could still be if given the opportunity.
Reid and Mornhinweg need to devise more plays for him. He’s an extra-added dimension that they seem to have forgotten about. Either that or they just don’t want to only have five guys for pass protection.
Andy Reid needs to follow his own advice and put this player in a better position to make plays.