Monday, September 8, 2008

Key Contests Recap: Week 1

I watched all of Eagles' 38-3 slaughtering the Rams Sunday, even though the game was essentially over after the first quarter. I couldn't watch the Cowboys-Browns game, because 4:00 am on a work night was late enough (reminder, I'm in Shanghai, China), but caught the highlights on NFL Gameday. A couple observations...

First, the NFC East is set to be a three-way battle this season. The Eagles looked nasty, completely dominating the Rams in every facet of the game. Donovan McNabb looks rejuvenated and ready to roll, and his WRs look to be on the same page. Even without starters Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, the Eagles owned the Rams' secondary, which looked lost: McNabb threw for 361 yds and 3 TDs, and connected on a number of deep passes, including a 90 yd TD to WR Hank Baskett. 3 Eagles receivers had more than 100 yards catching the ball.

On the other side of the ball, one is quickly reminded of where Coach Spags draws the inspiration for his stellar defensive system. Jim Johnson's defense was smothering, owning the line of scrimmage, pressuring Marc Bulger non-stop and stuffing the Rams' running attack all game long. The Rams punted on 11 of their first 11 possessions, I believe. Setting all of this up was some outstanding special teams play on both returns and coverage.

Hmmm...big-play offense, dominant D, and solid special teams play...that sounds like Coughlin's wish list at the beginning of training camp.

In game 2, the 'Boys stomped the Browns, prompting Rich Eisen to recall Denny Green's famous breakdown cry, "They are who we thought they were!" Much like the Eagles, solid QB play and stout defense; much like the G-men, a beastly running attack. Next week, worlds collide in the second NFC East showdown of the season, Philly at Dallas on Monday Night Football. Somebody's gotta lose...

Now, watching the Rams' miserable performance, my mission to scout out next week's Giants opponent was occasionally lost in the all-consuming dominance of our division rival. Putting aside the Giants-Eagles comparisons though, I managed to make a few observations about what could be one of this season's weakest teams:

  • First, to answer Key Q #1 from the last post:
    "No, regardless who's healthy, the Rams will still be terrible this season."
    With or without Pro-bowl left tackle Orlando Pace, this offensive line has some major issues to deal with. Not only do they struggle in protection, but they commit penalties like they get points for it. The weak line play leaves QB Marc Bulger susceptible to punishment from any defense with a pass rush. Without comfort in the pocket, Bulger struggles to lead the offense down the field.
  • Stephen Jackson was a non-factor in the offensive scheme and the game.
  • Third, the whole team played without any passion or fire to speak of on Sunday. Without that intangible, the Rams aren't going anywhere.
  • Finally, the St. Louis defense failed to get any momentum established in the game, as the Eagles made play after play against a confounded St. Louis secondary. Against a strong O-line, the front seven didn't fair much better against the run.
The similarities between the Giants and Eagles and the apparent futility of the Rams make week 2's match-up look pretty promising for Big Blue. If the G-men can make the necessary adjustments on offense and special teams from Week 1, Coughlin's crew should be able to build some early season momentum.

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