The Ravens need to continue their momentum from Week 1 into Week 2 against the Eagles.
The Baltimore Ravens absolutely dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, beating them 44-13. However, they cannot rest on their laurels for long; a victory is only fleetingly sweet, for there's yet another opponent to prepare for right around the corner.
And though the Philadelphia Eagles did everything in their power to lose to the Cleveland Browns last week (and even failed at that), obviously they're a better team than what they showed in their opener. The Ravens have a test on their hands, but it's certainly a passable one.
Here are three ways the Ravens should approach the Eagles in order to notch their second win of the year.
Keep Up the Pace
The Ravens had an astonishing amount of offensive success by running the no-huddle against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. Though the Eagles have a different defensive formula (the Wide 9), that doesn't mean the Ravens should take a different approach to their passing game.
No-huddle resulted in quarterback Joe Flacco having one of the best games of his professional career, completing 21 of his 29 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Though Baltimore's offensive line is still a work in progress, Flacco was sacked only three times.
Considering that the Eagles will be bringing a lot of pressure, Flacco will need to get the ball out quickly if he wants another 72.4 completion percentage this week.
The combination of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron encouraging the no-huddle, Flacco's new-found skill at calling audibles and a receiving corps that is far more comfortable on the field together than they were last year has resulted in the Ravens having a passing offense that rivals the strength of their long-vaunted defense.
Standing back in the pocket and waiting for a receiver to get open is going to leave Flacco exposed to pressure. Shotgun passes, play-action and the no-huddle protects Flacco and allows Baltimore to put up big chunks of yardage. The biggest asset an offense can have is speed, and there's no reason for the Ravens to ease off the gas against Philly this week.
Rush the Passer
The Ravens defense notched four sacks and five overall quarterback hits against the Bengals, which was impressive, but Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is particularly prone to succumbing to pressure. Overall, however, the Baltimore pass rush performed slightly below league average last week (subscription required) and far below how they fared in 2011.
Things are different for Baltimore this year, especially without Terrell Suggs anchoring their pass rush, but they have a chance for greater effectiveness on Sunday against Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
Vick, for all of his miraculous throwing and elusive athleticism, isn't immune to pressure. The Browns sacked him twice and hit him 11 times last week, as well as forced him to make hurried throws that resulted in four interceptions (and two fumbles, which didn't result in turnovers).
The combination of a fierce Baltimore pass rush and their extremely talented secondary should prove difficult for Vick and his Philadelphia offensive line. From the pass rush, many offensive mistakes can flow, and Vick is one of the most mistake-prone and pressured quarterbacks in the league. Baltimore must take advantage of this.
Stop the Run
One of the more surprising developments in the Bengals' loss to Baltimore is that the Ravens allowed Cincinnati to run the ball effectively. Baltimore gave up 129 yards on the ground, including 91 of those to one man, BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
This week, the Ravens get a much more difficult rushing test, LeSean McCoy. Though the Eagles ran the ball just 30 total times last week (compared to a whopping 56 Michael Vick pass attempts), the 20 carries belonging to McCoy amassed 110 yards.
That was against a depleted Browns run defense, yes, but if a back like Green-Ellis, who isn't known for his explosiveness or high-yardage performances, can put up those kinds of numbers against the Ravens, then they need to try that much harder to contain a far better running back like McCoy.
If the Ravens succeed at bringing pressure on Vick as I described above, and force him into making mistakes, the Eagles aren't just going to ignore that and have him throw 50 or more passes regardless, like they did last week. No, they're going to bear down and run the ball behind McCoy, and the Ravens need to prepare for this possibility.
Part of the reason why Baltimore struggled against the run last week is that their front seven, particularly their linebackers, are still learning the ropes of run defense.
Paul Kruger, who was last year a situational pass-rusher, is in the game as a full-time starting linebacker. Rookie Courtney Upshaw is also a better edge-rusher than he is an up-the-middle run-stuffer.
And while Ray Lewis is being used more as a run-stopper, he's also back in coverage more often, which leaves gaps through which McCoy can run if the Ravens don't read the offense correctly.
But if the Ravens can bring that pressure to Vick and successfully contain McCoy? Well, then the Eagles simply have no offensive chance in this game.