Rams vs. Eagles preview

The season hit the quarter mark for the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 3-1. Thanks to a bye week, the St. Louis Rams (1-2) will reach that mark Sunday in a game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Already missing quarterback Sam Bradford, who tore his ACL during the preseason, the Rams had backup quarterback Shaun Hill injure his calf. That opened the door for Austin Davis, who completed 30 of 42 passes for 327 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Dallas Cowboys before the bye week. He will start against the Eagles.

For the Eagles, the issues aren't clear cut. Their offensive line has been plagued by injuries, and that has led to issues in the running game and with Nick Foles' play. The Eagles didn't score an offensive touchdown in Sunday's 26-21 loss in San Francisco.

They are trying to get back to top form. The Rams are trying to find their top form. ESPN NFL Nation reporters Nick Wagoner, who covers the Rams, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, talked it all over.

Phil Sheridan: The Rams have been uncharacteristically weak when it comes to rushing the passer. Robert Quinn had 19 sacks last season and has zero through three games. How much of that is the absence of injured defensive end Chris Long? Can the Rams get it going this week without him?

Nick Wagoner: The Rams certainly miss Long and when it comes to the pass rush, that's where his absence is most felt. But there are bigger things at play than Long's absence when it comes to rushing the passer. For one, the Rams haven't been able to stop the run well enough to put themselves in a lot of pass-rush situations. Through three weeks, the Rams had been passed on the least in the league and by a good margin (Oakland was next and teams had tried 16 more passes against it). That's because teams have had so much success running the ball that they haven't had reason to abandon it. Also, when teams do throw it, they are getting the ball out quick and doing everything they can to negate the Rams' pass rush. But to be clear, the Rams still have to be better when the opportunities arise. They've had some head-scratching defensive play calls where they've only rushed three on third-and-long, moments you'd think would be perfect for them to dial it up. I'm sure the hope is that they can right the ship against the Eagles' run game this week and set up opportunities to get after the quarterback.

Philadelphia's run game has disappointed recently but the Rams have struggled to stop the run as well. How much of the struggles the Eagles have had running the ball is related to injuries on the offensive line? If not, what are other issues that might need addressing?

Sheridan: Sometimes the obvious answer really is the truth. I'd say the offensive line problems are 90 percent of the issue in the Eagles' running game. There is an element of defensive coordinators reacting to the Eagles' 2013 success by stacking the box and daring Nick Foles to beat them. And there is something to the notion that LeSean McCoy sometimes turns what could be a 2-yard gain into a 4-yard loss by trying too hard to break every run. Sometimes it's best just to hit the hole, get what's there and move on to the next play. But ultimately, being without guard Evan Mathis, center Jason Kelce and tackle Lane Johnson has greatly affected the Eagles' running game. Johnson will be back Sunday, but not the other two. Still, I expect Chip Kelly to try hard to get McCoy going this week.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher named Austin Davis his starting quarterback earlier this week. Was that the right move? Does he give them the best chance Sunday?

Wagoner: The answer to both questions is yes. Davis has played well enough to earn another start and Fisher said the Rams plan to stick with him for the rest of the season. He gives the Rams the best chance to win now while also providing hope that he could at least develop into a long-term backup and at best put together enough good performances to be in the mix as a starter long term. He leads the league in completion percentage and has showed a knack for coming through in big moments like the team's win in Tampa Bay. He has made and will make mistakes, but Fisher doesn't intend to have a quick hook if those mistakes pile up. Most important, the Rams seem to feed off his energy and enthusiasm, which should make him a welcome addition in the huddle moving forward.

Nick Foles burst on the scene last year but seems like he's fallen back to the pack a bit this year. What are you seeing from him in his second season and has he regressed or is it more a function of other pieces around him not working as well?

Sheridan: It's a combination of things. Before the San Francisco game, Foles was leading the NFL in passing yards. It's just that expectations are really high for him now, and he has not quite been meeting them. The offensive line is involved in this aspect of things, too. Foles was able to set his feet and make his throws at his leisure most of the time last season. That luxury is no longer afforded him. The result is that he's been just a little off, especially on deep throws. That's enough to make them ineffective, which means Foles isn't making defenses pay for the attention they're paying to the run game. If Foles can do what he did against Washington, for example, it will help all facets of the Eagles' offense.

The Rams' defense has had trouble stopping passes in the middle of the field, an area the Eagles like to exploit. Would an improved pass rush fix that or is it more about the state of the Rams' secondary?

Wagoner: I don't necessarily think the pass rush is the main reason for it, though a better pass rush should help against any and all pass attempts. There have been times when the Rams haven't gotten to the quarterback and it's opened passes up over the middle of the field. But to me, the Rams need to get better play from their linebackers, safeties and corners working out of the slot. They like to use safety T.J. McDonald in the box on a consistent basis, and though that's where he's best used, they do it so often that it leaves the other safety, Rodney McLeod, fending for himself on the back end a lot. Beyond that, it seems like middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is being asked to do too much back there, being used almost like he's working in a Cover 2. Either way, the Rams certainly can't afford to be soft in the middle of the field against Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles this week.

To what do you attribute the Eagles' defensive struggles and what are some areas the Rams could exploit?

Sheridan: The Eagles are vulnerable in every facet of the game, but they do find ways to make plays as well. They simplified their defense last year in order to hasten the transition to a 3-4. This year, coordinator Bill Davis has tried to add complexity. That has meant some growing pains. Washington and Jacksonville had a lot of success with quick passes, while Indianapolis and San Francisco relied heavily on their running games. So both approaches are possible. The Eagles did a much better job rushing the quarterback Sunday, sacking Colin Kaepernick four times after going two weeks without a sack. If they're able to keep that up, it will put pressure on the Rams to adjust.