When the Eagles Have the Ball
The Philadelphia Eagles escaped from Cleveland with a narrow victory in Week 1, but there's a whole lot they'll need to improve on against the visiting Baltimore Ravens, who looked like serious Super Bowl contenders against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
The most pressing concern for the Eagles is getting their starting quarterback back on track after he played what can charitably be described as a brutal game against the Browns. Obviously, when Michael Vick throws four interceptions—as well as a near-fifth INT that would have lost the game for the Eagles—he can plan on facing a week of scrutiny from observers both local and national.
The truth, as usual, is actually a bit more muddied than looking at Vick's stat line and declaring he played a terrible game. He made some stupid throws against the Browns, no question. But he also did some little things to help his team with his athletic ability that went unrecognized, mostly because we have come to expect it from him.
One thing the Eagles need to work on prior to facing the Ravens on Sunday, especially if they plan on dropping Vick back as many times as they did against the Browns (while almost criminally ignoring LeSean McCoy and the running game), is smoothing out their protection calls and the execution of said calls.
One play in particular that stood out to me against the Browns, a play that could have easily been a big gainer against the blitz but instead turned into a simple incomplete pass, was a failed tight-end screen that the Eagles ran from their own 30-yard line on a 1st-and-10 with 8:47 remaining in the first half.
Take a look at the coaches' tape from this play below:
Now, notice how Vick clearly sees the cornerback creeping into the slot to come on the blitz. This is a pretty easy adjustment, and it sure seems as though Vick motions to McCoy to pick up the corner, which would give the quarterback the time he needs to let the screen to tight end Brent Celek develop.
Instead of picking up the blitzing corner, however, McCoy leaks out into the flat, leaving Vick to flee the pocket.
Now, we can't know who is at fault here—maybe coaches have told McCoy to release when a slot-blitz comes, maybe he didn't see Vick's signal, maybe the Eagles ask the quarterback to be responsible for the free rusher, etc. But it's pretty clear that this is a group that is not on the same page, including the wide receivers, none of whom look back or break off their routes when the obvious blitz is presented.
If the Eagles are going to get back to being the high-flying offense they were when Vick took over for an injured Kevin Kolb two years ago, the whole team needs to be on the same page with their pass protection starting Sunday afternoon against a Ravens team that looks to be able to get after the quarterback even without Terrell Suggs.
One thing to keep an eye on is the status of receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Both have been listed as questionable for the game on Sunday (per the Twitter account of Jeff McLane, beat writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer).
For as much as it may mean, Maclin says he's playing (via the Philadelphia Daily News blog). Missing either one would be a blow for the Eagles—missing both would be close to catastrophic for an offense that will need to put points on the board to keep up with a Ravens team that seems to be able to score points in bunches.
When the Ravens Have the Ball
The Ravens unveiled their new no-huddle offense to great effect on Monday night, beginning with a 52-yard bomb to speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith. They were able to work downfield all night thanks to an excellent effort from their new-look offensive line.
As good as the line looked Monday night, however, they still struggled at times inside with Geno Atkins, the Bengals' severely underrated defensive tackle. This week, you can expect the Ravens to use tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, as well as fullback Vonta Leach, to work the left side of the formation and to give left tackle Michael Oher all kinds of help against Eagles defensive end Trent Cole.
One other way you can expect offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to protect his quarterback is to reduce the amount of time he is holding the ball. Namely, expect a whole lot more five- and three-step drops on Sunday afternoon than we saw from Flacco and company on Monday night.
As for Ray Rice and the running game, I would expect a healthy dose of Leach leading the way on a lot more of the power stuff we're used to seeing from the Ravens, especially against the wide-nine alignment the Eagles have played under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
With that said, the Ravens appear to want to push the ball downfield more than ever this year, and when they do, you have to think the matchup they'll look for is getting Anquan Boldin inside the hash marks against either one of the Eagles' linebackers or safety Kurt Coleman. Overall, the Ravens should want no part of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside.
Enough Already, Who Wins?
The Ravens looked to be hitting on all cylinders Monday night. The defense didn't seem to miss Terrell Suggs as much as some thought they might. Of course, it's a long season and the production they are used to getting from that position needs to continue to be manufactured in other ways.
On Monday, one way they produced pressure was simply by getting ahead in the ballgame and forcing the Bengals to abandon the ground game. Once that happened, Haloti Ngata and company started teeing off on the quarterback.
I tend to think, while perhaps not as extremely, we'll see much the same script play out in Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Eagles' defense may be able to slow down the Ravens for awhile, but the Ravens' defense should have little trouble holding Vick and the Eagles in check until the offense is able to put enough points on the board for the Ravens to simply start sending guys after the quarterback. When that happens, Ed Reed usually is the beneficiary, as we saw Monday night.
Prediction: Ravens 31, Eagles 21