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Eagles-Rams preview: Frauds or legitimate contenders?

Mike Kaye and Dan Klausner preview the Week 5 matchup between the Eagles and Rams.

Dilip Vishwanat

The Eagles are coming off the team's first loss of the season, which has led to a lot of second guessing. The offense had its worst performance in the Chip Kelly Era, largely due to the inept running game and an especially erratic Nick Foles. The end results of the team's trip to Santa Clara were clearly less than desirable, despite the defense and special teams pitching in for three scores.

Following the tough loss, the Eagles face the Rams in Philadelphia on Sunday. Foles and company need to turn the offense around against a St. Louis front seven that's impressive on paper but has only recorded one sack in three games thus far, and the defense needs to hammer a Rams offense that's low on recognizable talent. While this may seem like a winnable game, it likely won't be a walk in the park.

Mike Kaye and Dan Klausner are ready for Sunday's game, but first they have this week's five questions to answer. Let's get to it.

What is your sense of the team after their first loss? Is it time to panic about Nick Foles?

Mike Kaye: Hmmm... I think the Eagles are still going to win the division and are a good team. However, they are far from an elite squad or a Super Bowl favorite. The Eagles have injuries in the worst spots possible outside of quarterback, no run game, stubbornness to play the defensive's best player and a ridiculously inconsistent passer. Still, the team is 3-1 and could easily be 4-0 or 1-3 in that span. (Ed. note: Or 0-4)

It is hard to get a read on where the team goes from here, but I think Chip Kelly will turn things around, especially with starting offensive linemen slowly returning to the lineup. Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy really need to improve immediately, as they are the team's two most important players. If both want to keep those roles moving forward, there needs to be a serious turnaround.

I think the Rams are a very good to team play following the loss on the road. The Eagles will be at home against a team that has struggled against the run and has a relatively-unproven quarterback, who has done well against poor defenses. Austin Davis isn't a slouch but he's not a savvy veteran with quality experience either. There is a reason he was cut several times in his first two years in the league. The Eagles need to take advantage early and often.

Dan Klausner: My sense is this: After three games in which the Eagles put forth inconsistent efforts on offense but managed to escape with wins, they finally crapped out a total stinker against the 49ers and didn't get so lucky. Instead of just one half of incompetence, this time the offense couldn't flip the switch and turn into a dynamic unit for the second. If anything, hopefully this shows them that they can't expect to play the way they have for large stretches of the first quarter of the season and experience success. I also think that at this point, the Eagles are more frauds than they are legitimate contenders to make noise in the playoffs. Some of that has to do with the array of injuries to important players, especially along the offensive line, some of it has to do with regular regression, especially from Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. Both players have been shells of what we saw last season.

Foles' accuracy has been atrocious -- although sprinkled in with flashes of tremendous throws -- and he's exhibiting both tunnel vision and worrisome pocket awareness, frequently seeing ghosts and backpedaling or drifting outside the tackle box instead of stepping up. Whether he's injured (as has been speculated) or simply not the player so many people thought after last season (my opinion), we don't know for sure, but after the most impressive performance of his career against Washington, he served up the second-worst performance of his career against San Francisco (last season's first Cowboys game still holds the ignominious top spot). And before you fly off the handle about the blame resting elsewhere aside from Foles, I'm not going to blame the offensive line for his struggles either, as I think that unit, even while shorthanded, has held up just fine in pass protection. Nick's still holding the ball way too long, except now he's paying the price in terms of getting hit and not making the right reads or decisions.

McCoy simply isn't right. There's no burst, no quickness, no shiftiness. The offensive line is a disaster and there are very few holes to be exploited, but McCoy deserves a share of the blame. He's hesitant and dancing as soon as he gets the ball, and he hasn't been able to turn the corner, especially when reversing field. There's way too much east-west running and not enough north-south. The offense is struggling to gain yards on first down, and McCoy has to be ok taking three or four yards and a cloud of dust to make second and third downs more manageable, instead of trying to hit the home run all the time. On plays where we're used to seeing him gain chunks of yards, he's being stuffed for minimal gain, no gain or negative yards. Between the compounded wear and tear, the turf toe, the head shot he took against Washington, it just feels like there's a synergy of injuries at work here that are exacerbated by the current state of the offensive line, which is getting blown off the ball at the snap with regularity. Perhaps Lane Johnson's return starts to turn the tide.

What we're seeing from both Foles and McCoy is maddening and exasperating, and it must be rectified one way or another for the Eagles to fulfill their goals for this season.

The Rams are coming off a bye following a tough loss at home to the Cowboys. They're rested and have had two weeks to prepare for this game. What about this team concerns you, and which players do you see giving the Eagles trouble on Sunday?

MK: While I think this week's matchup does pose some issues as far as the unknown Austin Davis and the possibility of the Rams pass rush waking up, I am relatively comfortable entering Sunday's game. The Rams have already given up a lot of rushing yards and allow 5.1 yards per carry (third-worst in the league), which could be just what the doctor ordered for the Eagles offensive line and McCoy.

The BYE week does give teams more time to study, but really, I think this is a game that Chip Kelly has to do things differently because the first four weeks have barely worked. I just don't think the Rams are that talented or have very good coaches either.

DK: It's funny and serendipitous to me that the Eagles will face Austin Davis on Sunday, as he was one of my sure-to-go-undrafted prospect crushes in the 2012 Draft. The former walk-on ended up starting as a redshirt freshman and went on to break all of Brett Favre's passing records at Southern Mississippi. I thought Davis had the skills to stick in the NFL thanks to his decision making, quick release, accuracy and deceptive athleticism (not just his mobility, either -- he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2012). To me, he profiled as the perfect NFL backup with the ability to fill in ably as a spot starter when needed, but now he's getting a chance to prove his worth over the course of a full season. Though he doesn't have a huge arm or too many "wow" traits, Davis boasts the best pass completion accuracy mark in the NFL (72.3%) and a 93.1 quarterback rating. His 8.02 yards per attempt ranks sixth, a highly impressive mark when you consider how poor the Rams offense has been for years. Davis leads the league's ninth-ranked passing attack (264.3 yards per game) and is precisely the kind of quarterback who can make opposing defenses pay for not taking him seriously. Hopefully the Eagles are up to the task because I'm having visions of him going 30/40 for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

As for other Rams players who scare me -- Tavon Austin. He has been a disappointment up to this point in his career and has just three receptions and eight total touches on offense for the season, but we all know if there's one team against which he'd break out, it's the Eagles. Brian Quick has finally started to fulfill the promise the Rams saw when they selected him with the first pick of the the second round in 2012, but Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher typically seem to match up well against the taller, more physical types of wide receivers. It's speedy guys like Austin who give them fits. Tight end Jared Cook is probably one of the biggest wastes of freakish talent in NFL history and is directly responsible for the loss to the Cowboys, but he's always a threat to go off at any moment. Zac Stacy carries the load on the ground. He's a power back and pile mover, and while not a home-run hitter, he does have enough elusiveness to make defenders miss.

On defense, there's Robert Quinn, the dynamic pass rusher and 2013 sack-leader who cashed in on a massive contract prior to the second game of this season. He has been quiet thus far and is still looking for his first sack of 2014. He'll be going up against Jason Peters. Lane Johnson, meanwhile, will get William Hayes (filling in for the injured Chris Long) in his first game back after serving a four-game suspension. I don't know if the Rams ever do this, but maybe Gregg Williams flips his defensive ends to get Quinn the more favorable matchup against a rusty Johnson, we'll see. The Rams' rush defense has statistically been a weakness, allowing 155.0 yards allowed per game, while the pass defense ranks third (187.3 in yards allowed per game). Then again, in two of the three games the pass defense has faced Matt Cassel and Josh McCown. Janoris Jenkins against Jeremy Maclin will be a fascinating matchup to watch throughout the afternoon.

Is it time to sit Brent Celek, Riley Cooper and other struggling veterans to make room for younger talent?

MK: I'm not sure it's time to bench anyone, but perhaps rotating in the likes of Chris Polk, Trey Burton, Josh Huff and others may make sense. It's Chip Kelly, he is a super stubborn guy, so you're not going to see that soon. However, the Eagles need to do something after they were "figured out" by the 49ers. I do believe they were predictable against the 49ers and the Rams give the Eagles an opportunity to really get back on track. Burton has been terrific on special teams and showed great hands in the preseason, so I'd like to see what he could in a two-tight end set. Cooper needs to do something productive, but it doesn't seem like Kelly wants to give up his blocking ability on the outside.

DK: This might seem rash on the surface, but Celek and Cooper really seem to be killing this offense. Celek, who's been tasked with helping the battered offensive line block, hasn't had a catch since Week 1 and looks like he'd run a 6.0 40-yard dash right now. He's been open a handful of times but unable to make catches or even get close to the ball. Some of the blame for that lies with Foles, but Celek can't elevate or run under throws anymore (see the 3rd down at the goal line against the 49ers for an example of both). Cooper has dropped multiple sure touchdowns, including one that would've put the Eagles ahead on their second-to-last drive against the 49ers. He's useless at the moment and a detriment to the offense. Like Mike, I want to see Polk get some of McCoy's carries (he's the north-south runner who should be able to get the needed yards on first and second down to ensure more manageable situations), Burton get a look in the regular offense, Matthews to start eating into Cooper's snaps and for Huff to just get on the field, period.

What's one part of this Rams team that fans are underrating?

MK: The run offense. The Rams have two backs that have founds success this season. People forget about Zac Stacy's impressive rookie season where he collected 973 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in just 12 starts (14 games total). He also added another 26 receptions for 141 receiving yards. Stacy is one of the legitimate starting running backs left in a league that is pretty lacking in that area. He is having a very good year so far, as he is averaging 4.3 yards per rush with 181 total rushing yards and a touchdown. When you take into account that the team was trailing a lot during the first two games, that's a pretty nice total.

Stacy is working with a solid offensive line and the underrated Bennie Cunningham behind him. Cunningham has been a talented short yardage back. He is only averaging 3.3 yards per carry but has been  given a lot of work thus far this season. Cunningham is averaging 6.7 carries per game and two receptions per game, which mean he is going to see looks against the Eagles with fresh legs.

The Eagles have allowed 133.3 rushing yards per game and this could be a matchup where the Rams eat them up. If the Rams can get 2nd-and-4 and 3rd-and-2 on a consistent basis with successful early runs, Austin Davis will be able to take advantage and dink-and-dunk his way to the endzone. That will be a nightmare for an inconsistent Eagles team.

DK: The run defense. Despite its ranking at the bottom of the league in total yards and yards per carry allowed, the unit did hold the Dallas Cowboys, the league's leading rushing team, to just 4.2 yards per carry, a figure that drops to just 2.8 yards per carry (on 28 attempts) when excluding DeMarco Murray's 44-yard run. Murray, aside from that 44-yard run, averaged just 2.4 yards per carry (56 yards on 23 attempts). In fact, the Rams run defense also held Adrian Peterson to 3.6 yards per carry in the first game of the season, and the reason for the Vikings' success on the ground was due to Cordarrelle Patterson's three carries for 102 yards. With that in mind, I'm hoping we see an end-around or two to Maclin. The only running back to gash the Rams run defense on the ground in three games has been Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey (more carries for Darren Sproles??). So for all of you so convinced this is the week the Eagles run game gets on track after taking a cursory glance at the stats, I'd caution you to pump the breaks a bit because this Rams run defense, with Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald inside and James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker, is better than the numbers indicate. I do think that the Eagles will break at least one long run on the ground if they stick with it, as has happened against the Rams in each game thus far, but Chip Kelly can't get discouraged after a handful of minimal or negative gains. Speaking of Brockers and Donald, I'm expecting David Molk to struggle mightily. Get ready for a lot of pressure up the middle.

Who was the MVP of the Eagles in the first quarter of the season?

MK: I am going to go with Malcolm Jenkins, despite Darren Sproles offering big and important moments all season long. Jenkins played well in all four games and had three interceptions in that span. Two of those turnovers saved the Eagles from losing, while the other led to a touchdown that kept the Eagles in the game late in the 49ers loss. Jenkins was my top guy in free agency to sign and I am glad that he has proven a lot of people wrong that wanted Jairus Byrd. The guy has been a terrific leader and perhaps the best safety this team has had in five years.

DK: Jenkins on defense, and it's really not even close. He's been the best defensive free-agent signing in football. Sproles and Maclin share the honor on offense, and Cody Parkey takes the honor on special teams despite return touchdowns by Polk and Sproles.

I can't believe Mike didn't leave a space for a score prediction, sooooooooooooo: 31-24, Eagles. It ain't gonna be an easy win, folks. Brace yourselves accordingly.

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