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Keys to the Game: Philadelphia

Posted Sep 8, 2011

1. Key to “Vick-tory”

The easiest thing to point to when trying to beat the Eagles is how to stop quarterback Michael Vick.

Unfortunately, finding the answer is far more difficult than asking the question.

The Eagles dynamic signal caller is one of the league’s most exciting players, able to make plays on the run and in the passing game.

To slow him down isn’t to stop him for it seems that’s nearly impossible. But the key is to force him to work for what he gets.

Vick has an uncanny knack for the big play and with a group of big play weapons at his disposal, those big plays seem to come in bunches.

In order to contain him, the Rams must find a way to make him work for everything he gets. If Vick throws a touchdown pass, make sure he completed about eight or nine other passes on the drive to get there rather than giving up a big play that goes for 80-yard drives.

By taking away the long ball and forcing Vick to conduct long, drawn out series, you increase the chance of a mistake that could turn the game.

Likewise, getting after Vick and hitting him early and often is an obvious, but preferable tactic.

Vick is playing behind a young offensive line with a lot of new and moving pieces. Despite his mobility, the Eagles gave up 49 sacks in 2010, fourth most in the league.

Getting after Vick and taking away the big play will be imperative for the Rams to get a win.

“He’s a play maker,” linebacker Brady Poppinga said. “He can throw the ball downfield and he’s one of those quarterbacks that can really turn a crap down into a big play for the offense.”

2. The Real McCoy

Lost in the shuffle behind some of his superstar teammates, Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy emerged as one of the league’s best dual-threat backs in 2010.

McCoy presents plenty of problems in the running game, particularly over the left side behind tackle Jason Peters. But he does the most damage when he’s catching the ball out of the backfield, particularly in the screen game.

McCoy had 78 catches for 592 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season.

That puts the onus on the Rams to be cautious with their pass rush and blitz schemes to ensure that McCoy doesn’t leak out of the backfield for big plays, especially on screen passes.

“Their screen game is extremely successful and it’s been that way ever since Andy Reid arrived there,” Poppinga said. “I think they have always been a really good screen team. But he brings an element to that screen game that is extremely potent, explosive because of his ability to be like a jackrabbit. He’s very quick and change of direction and being able to read his blocks and set up blocks. That is an area of emphasis for our defense to prepare for.”

3. Defending D-Jax

When Vick does take to the air in search of a big play, he’s usually looking in the direction of receiver DeSean Jackson.

Jackson is perhaps the game’s biggest deep threat, averaging an astonishing 22.5 yards per catch on just 47 grabs in 2010. He scored six touchdowns and had 21 catches of 20 yards or longer.

Making him more difficult to contain is the additional touches he gets in special teams where he serves as one of the game’s most dangerous returners. He averaged 11.6 yards per punt return last year and is capable of scoring every time he touches the ball.

“He’s explosive,” Bartell said. “He had what 47 catches and over 1,000 yards last year? That’s unheard of. He’s a big play guy. We will definitely have to be aware of where he is at all times.”

4. On the Run

The Eagles spent a lot of currency both in terms of money and in player value acquiring a pair of stud cornerbacks to go with Asante Samuel in the offseason. The result was the addition of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Having that trio of corners gives Philadelphia a leg up on most teams and should make throwing the ball down field even more difficult, especially when combined with talented pass rushers like Trent Cole and Jason Babin.

So, it stands to reason that perhaps the best way to attack the Eagles defense is by grinding it out on the ground.

Fortunately for the Rams, they spent a good chunk of their resources in the offseason bolstering that part of their offensive line by bringing in mauling guard Harvey Dahl.

And, of course, the Rams still boast workhorse back Steven Jackson and brought in complements Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams. That should allow the Rams to keep pounding away on the ground against Philadelphia in hopes of wearing them down and also allow them to mix things up to keep the Eagles off balance. 

“Defensively they throw a lot of different challenges at us,” Jackson said. “We all know about their secondary, three Pro Bowlers…As an offense we’ve got to make sure whatever they throw our way if there’s guys getting open when they pressure us we block all eight or however many they bring. And if it’s the running game, we move the line of scrimmage and for me and the other running backs to be explosive and take full advantage of that.”

5. Matchups in the Middle

If indeed the Rams can get Jackson and the running game going, it should create some openings for the Rams to throw the ball, particularly using the play action pass.

In the third preseason game against Kansas City, the Rams showed how the offense can work if the running game gets going by pounding it with Jackson then hitting the Chiefs over the top with play action passes.

Quarterback Sam Bradford knows he’s got a tough challenge on his hands with the Eagles aforementioned cornerbacks but if the running game is working, it could open some promising opportunities in the middle of the field for the likes of slot receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Lance Kendricks.

The Eagles will likely start Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman at safety. Page is a new addition from New England in the offseason and Coleman was a seventh-round choice in 2010.

In addition, the Eagles are also expected to start a rookie at middle linebacker in Casey Matthews.

Should the Rams get Jackson revved up early; it would open some things up in the passing game.

“They run a lot of post safety coverage but I think the main thing is just playing fast and establishing the run,” Kendricks said. “That’s what coach Spags preaches all the time. I think if we get that done we’ll be able to get the ball wherever we need to get it to.”