St. Louis (CBS)—A revamped offensive line, a new defensive coordinator and a young nucleus up the middle on both sides of the ball doesn’t exactly spell out “Dream Team.” Neither did the first few minutes of the Eagles’ opener, when on the St. Louis Rams’ initial play of the season, Steven Jackson zipped through Juan Castillo’s defense for a 47-yard touchdown.
It didn’t take long to cash in on something surreal for the “All In” Eagles, though. Michael Vick’s 41-yard reception to DeSean Jackson on the Eagles’ second possession got them rolling. Then the dream sequence began to take shape through some patience, Castillo’s tightened schemes, Vick’s reads and LeSean McCoy’s 100-plus yards rushing behind the retooled front that all added up to an impressive 31-13 Eagles’ victory.
“Wins are hard to get in the National Football League, but on the other side of that, there are plenty of things we need to work on,” Eagles’ coach Andy Reid said. “We know we can play better. You work through the first game and the first part of the season and what you’re seeing is the way it is, but you have to enjoy these things.
“[The Rams] were bringing one more than what we could handle, and it wasn’t so much the offensive line as the extra man, and we were just off by a hair of huge, huge plays. One little step quicker and we’re going to be okay. That was a good test for us. We were able to hit a few plays, and as the game went on, we were getting better. We weren’t taking steps back, we were taking steps forward.”
Defensively, the Eagles did clamp down on St. Louis and Rams’ budding star quarterback Sam Bradford, who didn’t have the luxury of handing off to Jackson, whose right quadriceps tightened and scuttled his day on two carries for 56 yards and a TD—the only one St. Louis scored. Bradford himself went to the locker room with 7:59 left to play with a right arm injury.
The Birds’ linebacking corps of Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou adjusted well, combining to make 15 tackles. Another plus was the defensive front produced five sacks—something very rare last year, including three combined from free-agent signees Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins.
After Jackson’s 47-yard TD run, the Eagles knew how to react. It just took that one big sting to get there.
“Right after the first play, it was just miscommunication where the safety was coming down, but we have a lot to learn from this game,” Matthews said. “I have a lot of responsibility and I look forward to being more comfortable. We made a couple of minor mistakes, and they tried to run the same plays, and we do feel comfortable with each other.”
McCoy’s 49-yard fourth-quarter touchdown iced the victory, and rookie center Jason Kelce came back from a rocky start, reaching the second level to open some holes that gave the Eagles 237 yards rushing, which included McCoy’s game-high 122 yards on 15 carries, and Vick scrambling for 98 yards on eight carries.
Vick completed 14 of 32 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, while the Eagles showed some balance in the second half, as McCoy rushed for 95 yards in the fourth quarter—the bulk of which came on his touchdown run. DeSean Jackson finished with six receptions for 102 yards, averaging 17 yards a catch (the longest on the 41-yarder) with a touchdown.
The Eagles finished with 404 yards of total offense, and converted an impressive 8-for-12 third-down attempts.
What opened it all up was came on the Eagles’ second series, when Vick chucked up a prayer that somehow Jackson pulled down between two Ram defenders. Five plays later, Vick hit McCoy with a tunnel screen for a 7-yard touchdown and the Eagles’ first score of the season, tying the game at 7-7.
Before that, you had the impression that the Eagles were a Super Bowl-contending team that’s still putting the pieces together.
Eagles’ defensive end Juqua Parker’s 56-yard scoop and score with 4:01 remaining in the first quarter gave Philadelphia a 14-7 lead that it would never relinquish. Parker’s TD also seemed to deflate the noise of the Edward Jones Dome, as the Rams’ Jackson was left smoldering on the sideline, staring menacingly at the field and able to do little to solve the Rams’ offensive woes.
Vick did well recognizing the Rams’ exotic blitz packages, an area of concern entering this season.
“Michael has taken more responsibility with his calls and this is a good test,” Reid said. “There were a bunch of different looks he had to look at, and he didn’t get a lot of reps with the blitz package last year. This year, we had it set and before the lockout, we gave him looks at the blitz game.”
Bird Seeds …
Andy Reid improved his opening-day record to 6-7 (3-1 since 2008), and his record against the Rams to 5-2 in the regular season … Since 2002, the Eagles are 14-5 against the NFC West … The Eagles have outscored the Rams 69-16 in their last two contests, both season-opening games … RB LeSean McCoy eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the fourth time in his career, ripping off 122 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown scamper. He also scored a receiving touchdown, the third of his career … It was McCoy’s second time scoring a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game … In his last three dome contests (9/19/10 at Det., 12/12/10 at Dal.), McCoy has rushed for 391 yards and four touchdowns on 47 carries (8.3 average) … McCoy now has 1,839 career rushing yards, passing Steve Van Buren for the third-most ever by an Eagle in his first three seasons. Wilbert Montgomery (2,915) and Duce Staley (2,367) lead the way … WR DeSean Jackson recorded his 12th-career 100-yard game, tying Terrell Owens for ninth place in team history (including playoffs). Jackson’s first-career 100-yard game came on opening day in his rookie year of 2008, also against the Rams … Jackson reeled in his first touchdown of the season on a six-yard reception in the third quarter … DE Juqua Parker scored his second-career touchdown on a 56-yard fumble return after DE Darryl Tapp jarred the ball loose from Rams QB Sam Bradford … Parker’s other touchdown was a 55-yard interception return on 10/12/08 … Parker became the 11th defensive lineman in team history to have multiple touchdowns and the first since Mike Mamula in 1999 … The Eagles also scored a defensive touchdown on opening day in 2009 at Carolina (DE Victor Abiamiri – 2-yard fumble return) … The Eagles defensive combined for five sacks, including DE Jason Babin, who had his seventh multi-sack game and his first as a member of the Eagles. His last came on 12/19/10 vs. Houston as a member of the Titans … DE Trent Cole picked up a sack, and now has done so in five of the last six years on opening day … DE Darryl Tapp also contributed his first quarterback takedown of the season, as did DT Cullen Jenkins, his first as an Eagle … QB Michael Vick started his first season opener since 2006 as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, and threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 98 rushing yards … C Jason Kelce became the first Eagles rookie to start at center on opening day since Gene Ceppetelli in 1968, and LB Casey Matthews became the first Eagles rookie to start at linebacker on opening day since Alonzo Johnson in 1986 … They are the 10th and 11th rookies to start on opening day under Andy Reid. The others are S Nate Allen (2010), DE Brandon Graham (2010), S Macho Harris (2009), WR DeSean Jackson (2008), G/T Shawn Andrews (2004), DT Corey Simon (2000), TE Jed Weaver (1999), G Doug Brzezinski (1999), and T John Welbourn (1999 … Kelce, Matthews, K Alex Henery, P Chas Henry, RB Dion Lewis and LB Brian Rolle all played in their first NFL game … Henery became the first Eagles rookie to make a field goal since Paul McFadden in 1984, connecting on his only attempt, a 34-yarder … The Eagles converted 8 of their 10 third down opportunities in the first half … Philadelphia amassed 27 first downs and 404 total net yards. Their 237 rushing yards were their most since racking up 260 on 11/15/10 at Washington … The defense held St. Louis to just 2 of 12 third down conversions on the day (16.6%), and 1 of 8 in the second half.
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito