In Week 1 of the NFL season, some teams were the ultimate picture of sleek, smooth play, operating like finely tuned, precision vehicles of passing, rushing and scoring, while others appeared in need of mechanical help.
In a performance that stunned even some players, the Philadelphia Eagles' slim 17-16 win over Cleveland revealed a team urgently in need of repairs.
If the Eagles intend to emerge with their second season victory when they face the Baltimore Ravens in their first home game this Sunday, they must overhaul some fundamental areas.
Nearly every analysis on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after the narrow Cleveland win included some derivative of the word “rust.” Rusty around the edges. Looking rusty.
To win against an aggressive Ravens team, Vick will have to play a highly-polished 60 minutes with no hint of corrosion. In last week’s numbers, he was 29 for 56 passing attempts and took 88 plays to move the ball 456 yards.
Baltimore’s quarterback Joe Flacco was 23 for 32, taking just 58 plays to travel 430 yards. If Vick wants to win his home opener, he has to throw spotless passes to receivers ready to shine. Something like he did in the final minutes of last week’s game in the 91-yard scoring drive.
Pristine field action also means no-penalty quarters. When the Eagles accumulated 12 penalties in the first three quarters and four of the five Eagles offensive linemen were called for holding against the Browns, the team suffered the consequences in lost yards and missed scoring opportunities.
During the postgame media conference, head coach Andy Reid emphasized the key factor to finally beating Cleveland was a penalty-free fourth quarter. “You accumulate this many penalties, it's tough to win football games—so we eliminated the mistakes."
Of the numbers filling the stats pages, there are three that point to the next area the Eagles must address for a win over Baltimore.
Against Cleveland, the Birds racked up five turnovers, four interceptions and one lost fumble. To put those figures in perspective, the Baltimore Ravens parallel numbers in Game 1 against Cincinnati were zero, zero and zero. No turnovers, no fumbles, and no interceptions. The Eagles' mistakes could cost them the game against the unerring Ravens.
The challenge for the Eagles to eliminate errors in all three categories increases if wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper, all injured and not practicing as of Thursday, do not return for Game 2.
Maclin and Jackson were the top two receivers in Week 1 with 96 and 77 yards respectively, and are expected to play this Sunday against the Ravens. Should the three remain off the field, Eagles will look to Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, and Mardy Gilyard to fill the gap.
Given Vick’s propensity for passing on the run, the Eagles' offense must continue to flex with their mobile, Kevlar-reinforced leader to keep him healthy against the formidable Baltimore defense.
With the likes of 17-year veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis playing with the speed and agility of someone in his prime, and nose guard Haloti Ngata bursting off the line, Eagles left tackle King Dunlap with the rest of the O-line faces a serious test of strength and skill.
This is a test the offense needs to pass to give Philadelphia its best chance to earn a victory against an aggressive Baltimore defense.