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Fan-Demonium: Battering Rams

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It was great to finally see the 2011 Eagles play in a real game.  Beating the Rams 31-13 gets the team off to a good start, but there are plenty of areas that need to get better.  I didn't expect the Eagles to look like a finished product.  The team made too many changes in the off-season to be firing on all cylinders at this point.  There will be some ups and downs early on.

There were two main areas of focus going into the game, the offensive line and the run defense.  Let's start on offense.  Protecting Michael Vick will be a huge task for the coaches and players this season.  They can accomplish this task in a variety of ways.  People think it's all about the offensive line, but really there's much more to it than that.  I thought the offensive line actually played pretty well in the opener.  Vick was sacked three times; two times by blitzers.  The third was by a defensive end, but the play was created by a blitzer, who forced Vick to move to escape the sack. This led him into the end, who was there to seal the deal.

Todd Herremans played his first NFL game at right tackle and looked fine.  He was far from perfect, but generally kept Vick's backside clean.  Herremans was beaten a couple of times by inside moves.  He was so locked in on protecting the edge that he left himself vulnerable to the inside.  On one of the plays Herremans recovered and got his hands back on the rusher.  He wasn't flagged for holding, but it sure looked like he could have been.

Kyle DeVan had a couple of penalties and got beaten a time or two, but overall was effective at right guard.  He needs to clean up the penalties.  The rest of the line was good.  Jason Peters had a couple of terrific run blocks.  Evan Mathis actually threw a Rams defender to the ground on one run play.  That was fun to watch.  Rookie Jason Kelce played well.  That dude is so mobile that it really can blow you away at times.

The sacks had one thing in common - they all came on plays when defensive backs blitzed off Vick's back side (the right side).  On the first sack Jason Avant was lined up to the right.  He looked a bit confused at the snap.  I'm not sure if he was supposed to block the blitzer or if he was trying to adjust his route and wanted Vick to see that.  Another sack was caused by definite confusion.  LeSean McCoy took on a blitzer.  Half a second later Herremans was also blocking that player.  Another blitzer then came free off the edge and got to Vick.  Herremans and McCoy need to be on the same page about who to block.  I'm sure Howard Mudd and Marty Mornhinweg will go over that play quite a bit in the film room.  If Herremans takes the inside guy and McCoy the outside blitzer, Vick has a clean pocket and time to throw.

Quintin Mikell ran a delayed safety blitz for a crucial sack when the offense was down in the red zone.  I wasn't sure who was to blame on this play.  It was well designed and perfectly executed.  That may be one of those situations when the offense just tips its hat to the defense and says "Well done".  I didn't see a specific blocker who should have been on Mikell.  The coaches will know exact assignments and grade players accordingly.

When the Rams rushed just four, they didn't generate much pressure. The line pass protected well. The Rams blitz attack got the three sacks, but they also forced Vick to run at times and got some other hits on him. Pass protection needs to be better. I did think the coaches called a good game. They kept Brent Celek and McCoy in to block on plenty of plays. They used formations to slow down the Rams. Protection was a focus of the game plan.

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Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is a finalist for Philadelphia's Most Influential Blogger Award. Vote for him here.

Teams will continue to attack Vick from the backside with blitzing defensive backs until the Eagles prove they can consistently stop it.  Right now this is an issue with the assignments and with communication.  There isn't a lack of talent or a lack of focus placed upon protection.  This is a fixable problem that Mudd, Mornhinweg, and the players will work on as much as needed.

A lot of people were worried about the Eagles run defense going into the game.  When Steven Jackson took off on his 47-yard touchdown run, I think we all had to think gloom and doom in the moment.  The Rams got the ball back and ran well on the next series.  That wasn't good.  Then, the defense seemed to wake up.  The line made some plays.  The linebackers became more aggressive and the run defense was better.

The biggest issue I have with the run defense is that the team lacks a building block.  There isn't one member of the defense that is an impact run defender.  I like the various pieces, but it is nice to have that one guy who everyone knows they can count on to make big plays when the group is struggling.  Someone could develop in that role.  Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou can both be good run defenders.

Casey Matthews was up and down in his Eagles debut, which was what I expected from him.  Rookies rarely get out there and shine right away.  It can take them a while to get going.  I did see some reasons for optimism.  Matthews had some plays in which he made quick reads and got to the ball right away and he was able to shed blocks well on some plays.  These are the traits of a good middle linebacker.  Matthews' problem is that he's inconsistent.  There were some plays when he was out of position.  There were some plays when he was stuck on blocks.

I'm optimistic, however, because he showed the ability to be a good middle linebacker.  The potential is there.  The challenge is for him to eliminate mistakes and consistently make plays.  Having the potential is good, but Matthews must show he can play well on a regular basis to keep his job.  I think the coaches will be patient with him as long as they see progress.

The defensive line will also play a key role in stopping the run.  Remember that Antonio Dixon and Trevor Laws missed lots of practice time this summer.  They are talented players, but are still getting used to the new system on defense.  Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins are veteran players that adapt quickly.  Jenkins was able to get some penetration on run plays on Sunday, and came up with a tackle-for-loss.

It is important for the defensive tackles to not just get upfield, but to be disruptive.  Confuse the blockers.  Throw off the timing of the play.  Force the runner to stop and start, or to change direction.  The line was able to show some of this against the Rams.

The final group that is key in run support is the safeties.  Jarrad Page played well on Sunday.  Kurt Coleman was out of position a couple of times and that hurt the defense.  His job is to help clean up messes.  The front seven won't always be able to make the play.  That's when you need a safety to come in and make the tackle.  I think Coleman was a bit over-aggressive early on.  The excitement of being an opening day starter may have gotten the best of him.  I'm still a big fan of Coleman's and expect he'll play well this year.

Quick Hits

• Nickel linebacker Brian Rolle had my favorite play of the game.  The Rams ran the ball on third and long.  Their center came out to block Rolle.  Instead, Rolle knocked him on his butt and grabbed the running back as he tried to run by.  That was a thing of beauty.

• Jason Kelce snapped the ball directly to McCoy on an early third down. Kelce then pulled and was a lead blocker on the play.  He took out a linebacker and enabled McCoy to get the yards needed for the first.  Kelce is a really unique player.  He's got big time potential.

• Speaking of McCoy, it looks like he's ready for a huge year.  Great start for him.

• I was really excited by how well DeSean Jackson played. He scored a red zone touchdown. If he becomes more of a red zone factor, watch out.

• How fun was it to see the defense pound on Sam Bradford?  They didn't blitz much at all, but got regular pressure.  Bradford was sacked four times and took some big hits.  He left the game and old friend A.J. Feeley came in.  He was sacked once in what looked to be a painful hit.

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