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Rams brace for Eagles' blitzing attack
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Last week in Arizona, the Cardinals blitzed early and often against St. Louis.
With the Rams starting two inexperienced offensive linemen, plus a quarterback (Chris Chandler) who threw six interceptions the week before, doing so made all the sense in the world.
The Rams offense ran 51 plays, and by unofficial count, the Cardinals blitzed 26 times. On 20 occasions, the Cardinals sent five pass rushers. On six occasions, they sent six.
This week, Marc Bulger is back at quarterback after missing most of the past three games with a bruised throwing shoulder. Veteran Tom Nutten is back at left guard, after sitting out the Cardinals game because of a sprained knee.
But Monday's opponent, Philadelphia, is perhaps the best blitzing team in the NFL - under veteran defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. What the Rams faced against the Big Red may seem like child's play compared to what Johnson & Co. may throw at them in the Edward Jones Dome.
"They do so many different things, it's almost difficult to stick with your (protection) rules," Nutten said. "But you have to. But besides the scheme, they have very good players. They don't have so many guys going to the Pro Bowl for nothing. But if we stick to our calls, and everybody's on the same page, we should be OK."
Four of the Eagles' league-high nine Pro Bowlers are defensive players.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "It's a challenge."
Martz is 2-1 against the Eagles as the Rams' head coach, defeating Philadelphia in the 2001 season opener 20-17 in overtime, and winning that season's NFC championship game 29-24.
In 2002, the Rams lost 10-3 at Philadelphia in the game that precipitated the first "Brenda-gate" controversy. Kurt Warner played and struggled in that game with a broken hand, an injury that was undiagnosed at the time.
Martz always has looked forward to the challenge of going up against Johnson, who played quarterback at the University of Missouri from 1959-62, and was an assistant coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986-87.
"He does a great job of personnel matchups and attacking weaknesses in your protections," Martz said. "He understands protections, and how to handle them, better than anybody in the league."
The Eagles don't always choose to blitz, and could be vanilla in scheme against the Rams because they've already clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But if they choose to get after Bulger, they are capable of coming from all directions at all times.
"They're real disciplined in what they do," said Bulger, who faces the Eagles for the first time in his career. "They do a lot. Bring every safety and every linebacker. They bring corners. So you can't take any plays off, or any series off."
Illustrating Bulger's point about the Eagles sending pass rushers from every angle is the fact that a franchise record 16 Eagles have at least one-half sack this season.
Defensive end Jevon Kearse, a former Tennessee Titan, has a team-high 7 1/2 sacks. But seven Eagles have three or more sacks, including safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Sheldon Brown.
"You know the school-yard (pickup game) where they pretty much bring everybody and cover the three wide receivers one-on-one?" Nutten asked. "You always talk about it, but the Eagles actually do it. And they do it quite a bit."
So how can the Rams possibly hope to handle the Philly blitz after they had a tough time handling Arizona's?
"The mistakes we made (against Arizona), I don't think they were due to blitzes specifically," quarterback Jamie Martin said. "Maybe one or two, but I think as far as the pickups that our offensive line made, they did great in most of the blitz pickups."
The Cardinals had success overloading the left side of the Rams' offensive line with extra pass rushers early in the game. And despite Martz's stated concerns about using rookie running back Steven Jackson on blitz pickup in the game, Marshall Faulk had a couple of rough moments himself.
On the Big Red's second sack of Chandler, Faulk blocked to his right even though the Cardinals were clearly overloaded with potential rushers on the left. Later in the game, blitzing Arizona safety Adrian Wilson pushed Faulk back into Martin, resulting in a sack fumble. (The Rams recovered the football.)
On paper, the Eagles should present a much stiffer blitz challenge.
"They're a really aggressive team," right tackle Blaine Saipaia said. "They'll gamble a lot. We've just got to give Marc some time back there to pick them apart."
Monday marks Saipaia's fourth NFL start, and he'll be matched up most of the time against Kearse, a three-time Pro Bowler. The addition of Kearse has helped the Philly defense remain among the NFL's elite, despite a slow start.
After Philadelphia's only loss of the season, on Nov. 7 in Pittsburgh, the Eagles ranked only 24th in total defense. But Jeremiah Trotter moved into the starting lineup at middle linebacker the following week against Dallas, and the Eagles' defense took off.
The Eagles have allowed only 11.8 points per game since Pittsburgh, and have skyrocketed up to 10th in the league in total defense. So meaningless game or not to the Eagles, moving the football against them may be easier said than done Monday
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Re: Rams brace for Eagles' blitzing attack
My wife and I went to that game. It has been a great source of entertainment for me with her that we won.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
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