ITB Scouting Report: Rams vs. Eagles
The Los Angeles Rams (1-0) make a cross-country trip to Philadelphia this week, after slaying the Eagles’ division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, on Sunday Night Football.
Coordinator Kevin O’Connell’s offense featured a heavy dose of Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers – the tandem combined for 32 carries in the opener – and smart, calculated plays in the passing game from quarterback Jared Goff.
Defensively, the Rams swarmed to the football and generated consistent pressure on Dak Prescott for much of the game.
The Eagles are coming off a stunning loss in which they surrendered a 17-point lead, allowing 27 unanswered points to the Washington Football Team. While the makeshift offensive line shouldered much of the blame for the loss, quarterback Carson Wentz endured his share of second-half blunders and Doug Pederson refused to alter his method of attack.
Philadelphia will get some much-needed reinforcements on the offensive side in running back Miles Sanders and tackle Lane Johnson as they look to pick up their first win of the season.
Eagles To Watch On Offense
C Jason Kelce: There were plays that the center undoubtedly would like to back from Sunday but Kelce will have a redemption chance this week. The All-Pro center will be tasked with keeping disruptive interior linemen Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers at bay while aiding right guard Nate Herbig – who will be making his second NFL start..
TE Dallas Goedert.: Inside linebackers Micah Kiser and Troy Reeder don’t run particularly well and have limited range. In contrast, outside linebacker Samson Ebukam is an athletic edge rusher with a developing coverage acumen. Goedert, the more dynamic of the Eagles’ renowned tight end duo, should exploit a lackluster second level on intermediate and seam routes.
WR Jalen Reagor: Wherever you want to rank Jalen Ramsey among the NFL’s cornerback hierarchy, the Florida State product is a unanimous blue-chip talent. Long, physical, and smart, Ramsey will probably plenty of DeSean Jackson. Ramsey, who uses his hands exceptionally and can flip his hips and run with anyone, could mitigate Jackson’s impact – casting the limelight on Reagor. The rookie, who should draw Troy Hill in coverage, should have opportunities to get behind the secondary. Though the Rams boast rangy free safety John Johnson III, one of the league’s most underrated defensive backs, they don’t have a cornerback equipped to cover Reagor 1-on-1 outside of Ramsey.
Eagles To Watch On Defense
DT Fletcher Cox: Cox had a relatively quiet debut, but if the Eagles plan to slow down the Rams’ diverse offense they’ll need one of their best players to elevate his performance. With the Eagles down Vinny Curry, potentially Brandon Graham, and with Barnett perhaps on a snap restriction, Cox will need to capitalize on his size and athleticism discrepancy against Austin Blythe and Austin Corbett. If he can collapse the pocket and prove disruptive against the run, it shoud be tough sledding for the Rams’ offense.
CB Avonte Maddox: I’m assuming Maddox spends the afternoon matched up against Cooper Kupp, the Rams’ most explosive pass-catcher. Kupp, who garnered just five targets in the opener, should be heavily involved in the game plan. The speedy, 6-foot-2 receiver towers over Maddox and has the skill set to work all three levels of the field. Maddox, who held up well against veteran Dontrelle Inman on Sunday, will be under heavy scrutiny this week.
NCB Nickell Robey-Coleman: With Darius Slay shadowing Terry McLaurin much of last week, the spotlight shined on Robey-Coleman, who was tasked with mirroring Steven Sims Jr. Although Sims enjoyed a decent afternoon, Robey-Coleman aced his initial test. On Sunday, the former Rams corner will be responsible for slowing Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson. Reynolds, who measures 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, is a fourth-year pass-catcher expected to assume the role previously occupied by Brandin Cooks but will split time with Jefferson. Jefferson, a rookie, is a route-running technician who separates at the top of his patterns and possesses terrific body control. Reynolds has a significant size advantage over Robey-Coleman, but the route-running precision and deceptive speed of Jefferson will be a matchup to monitor, as Washington experienced moderate success going to their third receiver.
The Rams boast a relatively inexperienced returner in second-year wide receiver Nsimba Webster. The fleet-footed pass-catcher, who made the Rams’ initial 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent last season, has just seven punt returns and three kick returns over six games.
Last week, Dave Fipp’s special teams unit did a terrific job bottling up Washington’s Steven Sims Jr. on punts, limiting him to 17 yards on five returns. Sims never had a chance on kickoffs due to the booming leg of Jake Elliott.
Third-phase stalwart Craig James was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, so the Eagles will need to find ways to compensate. Still, with Rudy Ford, Marcus Epps, Alex Singleton, and Duke Riley, the Eagles have a stingy nucleus equipped to experience similar success on Sunday.
The Eagles have yielded a 22-19-1 (.536) in the all-time series versus Los Angeles, including 15-8 (.652) in home games.
The Eagles are also 23-9 (.719) at home in the regular season under head coach Doug Pederson, which equates to the fifth-best home winning percentage in the NFL since 2016. On the flip side, Sean McVay is 18-7 (.720) in road games as head coach of the Rams.
Rams TE Tyler Higbee: Higbee hit his stride over the final quarter last season, setting a league record by becoming just the fourth tight end in NFL history to record four consecutive 100-yard games. He turned in a career season with 734 receiving yards and established a rapport with quarterback Jared Goff. While Higbee isn’t the most athletic tight end, he is extremely physical after the catch and was a factor in the screen game. Working in tandem with move tight end and zone-beater Gerald Everett, the pair will have an opportunity to attack a vulnerable second level and act as security blankets for Goff.
Eagles CB Darius Slay: Slay came as advertised in his Eagles debut, allowing just two receptions for 26 yards to Terry McLaurin while primarily matched up in man coverage most of the afternoon. This Sunday, the argument could be made that Slay will face an even tougher test with the Rams’ wide receivers. I envision Avonte Maddox drawing Cooper Kupp in coverage, with Slay matched up against Robert Woods and with Nickell Robey-Coleman pitted against Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson on the inside.
Woods, perhaps the NFL’s most underrated pass-catcher, is a savvy, nuanced route runner who knows how to find soft spot in zone. A pure route salesman, Woods won’t necessarily dazzle with deep speed, but often wins in contested-catch situations and is a challenge to corral after the catch. Kupp garners much of the praise, but make no mistake, Woods is the offense’s engine.
On paper, the Rams have a clear advantage against an Eagles’ offensive line in peril. Lane Johnson will make his season debut but won’t be at full strength. Look for the Rams to test Johnson’s ankle early. Given Jason Peters’ struggles last weeks, Nate Herbig’s inexperience, and a limited Johnson, I expect the Rams to take advantage with exotic looks from defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and by stunting Aaron Donald. In addition to Donald, the Rams feature an outstanding interior run defender in Michael Brockers, and a former first-round pick in Leonard Floyd.
Opportunities will be there for the Eagles to attack the left side of the Rams’ offensive line, which includes 38-year-old Andrew Whitworth. However, the Eagles will be missing some vital pieces of the defensive front, including Vinny Curry and maybe Brandon Graham, so it might not matter all that much.
The return of two prominent fixtures on offense should result in an improved unit. The Rams have the necessary components to counter, but Pederson has had McVay’s number and won’t fall victim to the same mistakes that cost them a Week 1 victory.
Eagles 27, Rams 16
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network.
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