Rams give Eagles good chance to start strong Print
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Thursday, 04 September 2008 13:10
NFL Headline News

 PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Perhaps the schedule makers knew the Eagles haven't had much success in season openers when they booked the St. Louis Rams for a visit to Philadelphia this week.
Surely, a team coming off a 3-13 disaster could make it easier for the Eagles to start their season with a win on Sunday.
Not so fast.
``It's not last year's Rams team, where they were decimated by injuries,'' coach Andy Reid said. ``They have everybody back, and they have a lot of talent on that football team. That's the way our guys are preparing themselves for this game.''
The Eagles are 3-6 in Week 1 under Reid and have lost 10 of their last 14 openers since Rich Kotite led them to three straight victories from 1991-93.
Philadelphia looks to parlay the momentum from a strong finish last year - it won three in a row to end up 8-8 - into a fast start this season.
``To be able to start the season off the right way, it builds confidence early on,'' quarterback Donovan McNabb said. ``To set the tone at the very beginning of the season will do a lot for you as the season continues on. It's important that we do start off on the right note and be able to go into each week knowing that if we all do our jobs individually, good things can happen. We can do that this year and it starts this week.''
A healthy McNabb is a main reason why a few national prognosticators have picked the Eagles to win the NFC, even though fans and reporters who follow the team on a daily basis aren't so high on their chances.
Since losing the 2005 Super Bowl, the Eagles have finished last in the NFC East twice in three seasons. Of course, injuries and turmoil played a role both times Philly fizzled.
``Our goal is to win the Super Bowl,'' All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook said. ``That's what we expect of ourselves. That's our ultimate goal. However that comes throughout the season. Of course there is going to be adversity and things like that, but we want to win the Super Bowl and that's what we expect.''
Two players the Eagles are counting on heavily to help them reach their goal will make their Philadelphia debuts against the Rams. All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel, who signed a huge contract in the offseason, plays his first game for the Eagles after spending five years in New England. Rookie wide receiver/punt returner DeSean Jackson plays his first real game in the NFL after an impressive preseason.
Samuel makes up one-third of possibly the best cornerback trio in the league, although Lito Sheppard is unhappy he's not starting over close friend Sheldon Brown.
The speedy Jackson gives McNabb a potential playmaking target he can use to spread the field. Jackson wasn't expected to make an immediate impact on offense, but an injury to Kevin Curtis created a hole.
``I would expect him to play at a high level on a consistent basis,'' offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of the second-round pick. ``I would expect him to get better every week during this season.''
The Rams' goal this year may be more modest than Philadelphia's hopes of going to the Super Bowl. They haven't had a winning season since 2003, so reaching .500 would be a realistic ambition.
Quarterback Marc Bulger is healthy and looking to return to his Pro Bowl form under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Al Saunders. An assistant under Dick Vermeil during ``The Greatest Show on Turf'' years, Saunders is trying to re-energize an offense that ranked 24th and averaged just 16 points last year.
Running back Steven Jackson and wide receiver Torry Holt are legitimate weapons, giving Saunders key pieces to build around.
``I can't go out and think I have to win every game,'' Bulger said. ``It's a matter of Steven and our playmakers making the plays for us. Getting the ball in their hand and putting us in good run situations with a lot of different checks to runs, just checking the ball down when I have to and being consistent, that's the most important thing. I can't be up and down.''
On the defensive side for St. Louis, rookie defensive end Chris Long gets his first crack at chasing quarterbacks in the NFL. Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, enters with high expectations after being chosen with the second overall pick in the draft.
``It appears that he's going to be an excellent player,'' Mornhinweg said. ``He's got just a high motor and hustle. He has natural skill and ability, so we're going to have to take care of him.''
Long has a tough assignment in his first game going against three-time Pro Bowl tackle Tra Thomas, who has been protecting McNabb's blindside for 10 years.
``The great thing about Chris is he's willing to work and do the extra things it takes to be great and he just has that kind of attitude that he's not going to allow himself to fail,'' Rams coach Scott Linehan said.
 

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