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34

NFL Preview - St. Louis (1-2) at Philadelphia (3-1)



By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - LeSean McCoy can't explain why the run game has yet to produce for the Philadelphia Eagles, so stop asking him.

McCoy is the NFL's reigning rushing champion and will try to take his frustrations out Sunday when the St. Louis Rams pay a visit to Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles were first in rushing last season with 160.4 yards per game and are now 26th with 87.0 ypg. The tremendous dropoff is related to an unhealthy offensive line and opposing defenses keying in on McCoy, who ran for 1.607 yards last season and has only 192 in four games. McCoy may be frustrated with what's going on, but is still confident in his ability and prepares the same way.

"It's definitely frustrating," McCoy said Wednesday. "You know what type of player you are and you want to put the numbers up. If teams do come in to try and stop you and they're successful with it, that's another frustrating thing.

"But then again, I know who I am. I'm still confident. I know what I can do. So it doesn't really bother me that much. We're winning games, we're 3-1. At times it can be frustrating, but at the end of the day I know who I am."

McCoy may try to do too much at times and make things happen with his legs like he has so often in his career. But this year it's been a grind. McCoy said the Eagles have won games when the run game isn't there, and that head coach Chip Kelly will display different looks and formations on Sunday against a St. Louis defense that is 30th against the rush (155.0 ypg) and has allowed a 100-yard runner in all three games.

The Eagles had 22 yards rushing in Sunday's 26-21 loss at San Francisco and McCoy recorded 17 on 10 carries. A 1.7 yards per carry won't get it done at this level, but the Eagles will get a boost when starting right tackle Lane Johnson returns from a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Johnson started all 16 games as a rookie last season.

Kelly said Johnson looked good in his return to the team.

"He obviously worked when he was away, he was down at a workout facility in Dallas and worked out there," Kelly said Tuesday. "That's the one thing you know about Lane is that he's got a great work ethic, and so we weren't concerned with him coming back out of shape or whatnot."

The Eagles could have stolen a victory away from the 49ers and came up short in their opportunity down the stretch. The defense and special teams played well, registering 21 points, and 'Niners QB Colin Kaepernick was sacked four times. The Eagles struggled in the pass rush over a 3-0 start and may have turned the corner in putting pressure up front.

Safety and first-year Eagle Malcolm Jenkins has an INT in three straight games and returned one 53 yards for a touchdown Sunday. Jenkins is getting comfortable with the new system and his teammates have noticed.

"He's a very smart safety," Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher said. "He knows a lot about football, schemes, concepts, and he puts it out on the field when he's in the game. That's great to have, especially coming from a safety who's making calls, getting guys lined up on the outside, and just being kind of the general back there in the secondary."

The Eagles have forced a takeaway in 17 straight games.

Jenkins will go for another pick against rested Rams rookie quarterback Austin Davis. Davis and the Rams are coming off their bye week and the undrafted Southern Miss product was named the starting QB going forward. He beat out Shaun Hill, and starter Sam Bradford is lost for the season a second straight year with a knee injury.

"It's a bit of a wild ride, but at the end of the day, this team's looking for me to lead them," Davis said this week. "I'm up for that challenge and I'm excited about it."

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher also talked about the move Wednesday.

"I also had Austin and Shaun in my office this morning at separate times, and we're going to go ahead and start Austin for the remainder of the season," Fisher stated. "It's not that Shaun lost the job, it's that Austin earned an opportunity to keep it."

St. Louis is off to a 1-2 start and had the Dallas Cowboys on the ropes in a 34-31 loss in Week 3. The Rams blew a 21-0 lead and their 448 total yards went to waste. Davis passed for 327 yards and three scores, but threw a pair of interceptions. Four of the eight pass catchers for the Rams had 50 or more yards with Jared Cook leading the way with 75 yards on seven catches.

Rams wideout Tavon Austin was limited in practice with a balky knee and has not been ruled out for Sunday's game.

The Rams, who are unbeaten (1-0-1) after the bye under head coach Jeff Fisher, are going against an Eagles defense that ranks near the bottom of most categories such total yards allowed (391.2), passing yards (257.5), rushing (133.8) and points (26.0). Rams running back Zac Stacy is trying to become the fourth straight player with at least 70 rushing yards against the Eagles, who gave up 218 on the ground last week and 49ers tailback Frank Gore amassed 119 yards on 24 carries with a 55-yard touchdown catch.

Stacy has hit the 60-yard rushing mark in each of his last two games. He ran for 67 and posted 54 receiving yards in the loss to Dallas.

Philadelphia has a good chance at keeping their six-game home winning streak in the regular season intact against the Rams, who have lost three straight and four of five games to the Eagles and haven't visited the City of Brotherly Love since a 38-3 loss on Sept. 7, 2008. The Rams and Eagles are tied at 19-19-1 in the all-time series.

The Eagles have outscored the Rams, 69-16, in the past two encounters.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Look for Eagles QB Nick Foles to bounce back from his rough performance against the 49ers Sunday. He passed for only 195 yards with a pair of interceptions and no touchdown passes. The last time he came up empty on TD passes was Nov. 17 of last season in a win over Washington.

In his past six home games in the regular season, Foles is 6-0 with 11 TD passes to just two interceptions for a 104.7 rating. Foles, who has a myriad of weapons to choose from and may want to get tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz more involved, said he needs to make some adjustments moving forward.

"I've definitely tried to just take some shots, stretch them out a little bit," Foles said of missing receivers long. "I need to be a little more accurate, that's what I'm working on this week, working on that, and staying clean in the pocket so I can deliver the ball to our guys where they can go up and make a play, not where the ball lands in front of them."

And where has wide receiver Riley Cooper been? Jeremy Maclin's making highlight-reel catches and Cooper's still trying to live off last season's success, which can be attributed to the presence of DeSean Jackson. Jackson is in Washington and Copper is struggling without him.

Foles was sacked five times in Week 1 before going unscathed the next two weeks. He was taken down once in San Francisco.

The Rams will be trying to get to Foles early and often to create turnovers and disrupt the timing he has been working on this week. That could be too much to ask because they are last in the NFL with only one sack.

The lone St. Louis sack belongs to defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Rams have 106 sacks over the past three seasons and star defensive end Robert Quinn is still searching for No. 1 this season. He led the NFC with 19.0 sacks a year ago and had his contract extended in mid-September.

Last season, the Rams had five defensive linemen with five or more sacks.

Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis leads the team in stops and be sure to see him on display Sunday, especially against the run. The Rams have one of the more stingy defensive backfields in the league and are allowing the third- lowest total yards against the pass (187.3). They will try to make the Eagles one-dimensional and force them to throw.

However, the Redskins had that same philosophy and Philadelphia was able to circumvent the strategy.

"This is a good football team," Fisher said of the Eagles. "This team could be 4-0. You're talking about a team that has five returns for touchdowns already. So they played the 'Niners well. And we've got our hands full defensively. Great group of special teams players. And their defense is well coached."

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Eagles will show some improvement up front with the return of Johnson at right tackle alongside veteran guard Todd Herremans.

"It's gonna be awesome to have Lane back," Eagles LT Jason Peters said. "Todd goes back to his natural position. We're still missing (Jason) Kelce and (Evan) Mathis, but those other guys are gonna step in and do better this game because you've got Lane back. It makes it solid on the inside."

Center David Molk and left guard Matt Tobin are the "other guys" Peters was referring to. McCoy surely hopes he can find some holes to run through, but even if he is limited production-wise, Foles, Sproles, Maclin and the defense will carry the Eagles to a convincing victory over the Rams.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Eagles 36, Rams 23

10/05 07:48:15 ET