The Philadelphia Eagles managed to escape Cleveland with a 17-16 victory, but Michael Vick and the offense must play better against another formidable AFC North opponent who looked much more complete than the lowly Browns in Week 1.
Joe Flacco had the game of his career on Monday Night Football, and is looking to piece together another strong performance in Philadelphia. He has deep threat Torrey Smith and sure-handed Anquan Boldin on his side, along with superstar running back Ray Rice.
Here are the keys to Philadelphia winning this Sunday skirmish at Lincoln Financial Field.
Give LeSean McCoy 35 Touches
Against a stellar Browns pass defense, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had Michael Vick chuck it 56 times last Sunday.
Thirty-five sounds like a big number for McCoy, but the Eagles were successful when they turned to the run in Cleveland, as Shady ran for 110 yards at five yards a pop. He still managed 26 touches in the contest despite all the passing.
The Ravens present a much more stout run defense, and Philly isn't likely to dominate time of possession in this one. However, McCoy has home run capability every time the ball is in his hands, and is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield.
Putting the ball in his hands can only result in success, and it will limit Vick's tendency to force throws and make bad decisions in the pocket.
Feeding McCoy in the red zone is especially important, because Vick nearly blew the game last week by forcing a pass into the end zone that Browns linebacker L.J. Fort nearly intercepted to end the game. It would have been Vick's fifth pick of the afternoon, and with McCoy displaying such a nose for the goal line in leading the NFL in TDs in 2011, it made very little sense.
Continue Targeting Tight Ends Frequently
Brent Celek is an underrated tight end and Clay Harbor has emerged as a viable No. 2 option as both a blocker and a pass-catcher, catching the winning touchdown in the opener.
Vick targeted Celek eight times and looked for Harbor on six occasions. With the game plan more centered around the running game, finding dragging tight ends across the middle off of play action will be key.
Typically, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are safe bets for downfield shots, but legendary safety Ed Reed and stellar strong safety Bernard Pollard are a big play waiting to happen for Baltimore.
Rarely does the Ravens defense not keep everything in front of them, and the Eagles should take advantage of that. Without Terrell Suggs, the athletic Eagles tight ends should be able to generate yards after the catch more easily. Vick will also have more time to let the play develop to find them.
Have Joe Flacco's Arm Be the Deciding Factor
The Ravens signal-caller has proven to be wildly inconsistent throughout his career. At times—like last week's performance against the Cincinnati Bengals—Flacco is brilliant. If his previous record is any indication, he will struggle against a fiercer pass rush.
Last week's no-huddle attack was a wrinkle that totally threw the Bengals off-guard, but the Eagles will be prepared for it this time around. If they load up the box and make sure Rice doesn't consistently gash them, Flacco will be relied upon to make brilliant throws to his weapons on the outside.
Thus, the matchup of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against Smith and Boldin will be what the game boils down to.
There won't be mismatches to exploit against that tandem, and Flacco's accuracy is a consistent question mark. Without the ability to toss it up and hope his guy comes down with it, Flacco will force passes into man coverage, and will pay dearly.
Perhaps Flacco will put two great games together, but the Eagles can live with the consequences if that is the outcome.
It may still result in a victory.