Ravens vs. Eagles: Sketching out a Game Plan for Philadelphia
The Eagles are facing considerable pressure entering Week 2. Last Sunday's performance against the Browns was unacceptable, and this Sunday's matchup with the Baltimore Ravens is going to be significantly more challenging.
Never fear, though, because I've drawn up a game plan for how Philly should approach Baltimore, and it involves some small philosophical shifts.
Run the damn ball
The Ravens sacked Andy Dalton four times, but didn't actually get as much pressure as that number would indicate. Baltimore's pass rush drew a negative Week 1 rating from Pro Football Focus, while Cincinnati's pass protection was rated highly. It's one of those times where sacks weren't indicative of overall heat.
Regardless, if Michael Vick was flustered by the Browns' pass rush, he'll inevitably feel pressure from Baltimore's—even without Terrell Suggs.
Making matters worse, Vick might be without his favorite possession-type target if Jeremy Maclin (hip) isn't able to suit up. Either way, Maclin won't be completely healthy, which could further throw Vick off his game. And at this point, it appears as though it's the mental aspect that is affecting Vick most greatly.
Even Andy Reid seems to realize that the Eagles have to be more balanced on offense this week. LeSean McCoy is too good to get only seven first-half carries, which was the case in Cleveland. The reigning NFL touchdown king was a factor as a receiver, catching six balls, but by the time Philly got him into a rhythm, it was almost too late.
The key isn't necessarily getting McCoy more snaps or touches. He played more downs than any back in the league last year and still possessed the rock 26 times against the Browns. Instead, Philly has to focus on spreading out his rushing attempts more evenly in order to keep the defense off kilter.
How many carries should LeSean McCoy get in Week 2?
It also wouldn't hurt to see the odd run from Bryce Brown, who looked great in the preseason and would rarely be expected to get the call when in the game.
Last week, the Ravens' vaunted defensive front allowed BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman to gain 5.3 yards per carry on 21 attempts. Meanwhile, they smothered Andy Dalton on deep attempts and shut him down when the rush got through.
Dalton faced pressure on nine drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus, and he completed passes on zero of those plays.
Based on last week's performance, Vick might not fare much better in such situations, which means he'll need more support from his running game.
In Cleveland, the Eagles started their first six drives with pass plays. In the first half, they handed the ball to McCoy just three times on 19 first-down plays. Unless Vick is lights out—and that's rarely been the case lately—that's not sustainable.
Force Joe Flacco to win the game
If I'm the Eagles, I'm fearing the Baltimore offense more than the defense. Joe Flacco was fantastic against the Bengals, which is particularly discouraging because Cincinnati was actually getting decent pressure, and it hardly fazed the cool Flacco at all. On the six pressured drop-backs in which he wasn't sacked, he completed five passes and threw two touchdowns, according to PFF.
It helped that Ray Rice produced 93 yards on only 13 touches, but pressure is pressure, and Flacco was superb.
Now, that was at home in prime time, and it doesn't mean Flacco will go out on the road against a better defense and deliver an encore performance. So if I'm the Eagles and I have to pick my poison, I'm taking care of Rice by loading the box as often as possible and forcing Flacco to do it again.
Should the Eagles sell out to stop the run?
I'm trusting my corners, all of whom performed well in the opener against Cleveland, and I'm bringing Nate Allen forward to help stop Rice. I'm keeping poor tacklers Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews off the field, and I'm letting Akeem Jordan, Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans play the entire game.
And I'm also considering getting Darryl Tapp more snaps at the expense of Cullen Jenkins. So long as Jason Babin and Trent Cole are out there, the Eagles should get a natural pass rush regardless of the personnel and alignment. So it might be wise to avoid creating extra-large gaps with the wide nine for the majority of this game.
Philly is more vulnerable against the run, and Rice is too large a threat. The Eagles have to focus on him and see if Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Brandon Boykin can deliver for the second straight week, this time against a much better receiving corps.
The Eagles are all about aerial passing and getting to the quarterback. For one week, though, it might make more sense to alter their philosophy, giving extra attention to the running backs on both sides of the ball. With that adjustment, they could be better prepared to face a team like Baltimore while still possessing enough natural talent in those other areas to succeed.
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