Home openers are always a big game for teams. The fans are excited, teams are pumped up—everyone is just so anxious to get kickoff underway, no matter who is on the opposite sideline.
But when that opponent is one of the Super Bowl favorites, the intensity level goes up even higher.
And for the Philadelphia Eagles, their level of intensity should be at an all-time high, based on two things. One, their opponent tonight is a Ravens team that looked outstanding in their 44-13 beat-down of the Bengals on Monday night. Two, the Eagles are looking for a much, much better performance after they looked sluggish last week against the Browns.
So after nearly losing in the Dawg Pound, is there anything the Eagles can do to beat the Ravens? Absolutely. Here are some of the key matchups for Week 2 and what to expect from the Baltimore Ravens.
When talking about the Ravens offense, you usually start with running back Ray Rice, who is easily one of the best backs in the game. He runs hard, can catch out of the backfield and can pass protect. As expected last week, Rice had another solid game, taking 10 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns, while adding three catches for 25 yards.
However, this year looks to be the year that the reins change to quarterback Joe Flacco. Breaking out their new no-huddle offense, Flacco looked as good as he ever has (if not better) in running the offense.
Cam Cameron is finally letting Flacco air it out, and it showed on the very first play, as he hit Torrey Smith for a 52-yard gain. Nothing fancy, just a flat-out go-route, and Flacco hit him in stride.
Flacco would finish 21-of-29 for 299 yards and two touchdowns—a 34-yard strike to Anquan Boldin, with pressure in his face, and a 10-yard pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, again with pressure coming, but still making a beautiful throw, putting the ball in a spot where Pitta could go up and get it.
Flacco has always had the arm strength. Now the coaches are finally going to put it to good use.
The secondary will have their hands full trying to stop this offense. But this is a much better secondary than the banged-up one Cincinnati trotted out last week, which was missing Dre Kirkpatrick. In fact, much of the Bengals defense was hurt, as they were also without defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are both capable of slowing down Smith, who only received three targets. Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie may switch between Smith and Boldin. Then again, they may each shadow one set player the entire game. It will be interesting to watch.
In front of Flacco lies a strong offensive line, led by center Matt Birk. They do have a rookie at right tackle in Kelechi Osemele. Look for both Trent Cole and Jason Babin to test Osemele.
It was very nice seeing linebackers who could actually tackle, as both DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks made key tackles, both ending up with five. Both should get a lot of work tackling Rice as well as taking care of tight ends Pitta and Ed Dickson.
It's been talked about all week with the Ravens defense that they had no pass rush against the Bengals. And guess what? For the most part, they are right.
The Bengals did a very nice job protecting Andy Dalton, giving him plenty of time to throw, stopping the Ravens' mostly 3-4 defense. There are times when rookie OLB Courtney Upshaw put his hand down in a three-point stance. I even saw Mark Kruger do the same thing, he'll play in a two-point stance most plays, but sometimes he puts his hand down, giving the look of a 4-3 defense.
Even on run plays, the Bengals continuously double-teamed nose tackles Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody, as well as right defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The key for the Eagles is stopping those two from making their way into the backfield.
Expect the Eagles to do the same thing, perhaps having Jason Kelce and either Evan Mathis or Danny Watkins double-team on the nose tackle and have the guard and tackle double-team Ngata, depending on where he is lined up. Also watch for left defensive end Pernell McPhee. He is capable of blowing plays in the backfield and was second on the team in sacks last year with six, behind Terrell Suggs' 14.
This was also a Bengals offensive line that had three new starters in the middle, due to either injury or the draft.
After signing Travelle Wharton from the Panthers in free agency to slide in as their left guard, he suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 of the preseason, so in stepped Clint Boling. Kyle Cook went down with an ankle injury, so the Bengals signed Jeff Faine to play center. And at right guard sat the rookie Kevin Zeitler.
So it was a bit of a makeshift interior offensive line for the Bengals, but it still did well enough to prevent much of a pass rush. If this Eagles offensive line can stay together—as I believe they have a better line than Cincinnati—Michael Vick could very well have plenty of time to throw to his receivers.
I expect LeSean McCoy to get a bit more involved this week. Yes, he did have 20 carries last week, but after watching film and seeing some of the big runs by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, why not let McCoy take his turn? McCoy is a much more complete back than the Law Firm, so if he gets the kind of holes Green-Ellis did, watch out.
Of course, watch out for Ray Lewis. If this guy is getting up there in age, I haven't seen any indications yet. Lewis looked outstanding last week, leading the team in tackles with 14. He was all over the field, registering a sack and even forcing a fumble. The Eagles must find some way to stop 52. But that's easier said than done. The other linebackers, such as Jameel McClain and Albert McClellan, are good playmakers as well.
The secondary continues to be one of the best. Ed Reed still looks like he is 21 years old, while Bernard Pollard is another solid safety. The cornerback duo is among the best in the league with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Webb actually tied for second last week with seven tackles.
Moving the ball through the air can be difficult on the Ravens, but quick throws, as the Bengals showed, can keep this defense off-balance. And the Eagles are one of the best at running the screen. Today would be a good time to break that out.
The Ravens looked great against Cincinnati, and the Eagles looked slow against Cleveland. However, the Eagles have to be fired up. They play at home for the first time, and they know that if they can beat a team like Baltimore, it will go a long way toward solidifying them as a Super Bowl contender.
Upsets happen all the time in the NFL. While this may not be a big upset, the Eagles should come out much better than last week, and I think they use that emotion to pull off the big win over the Ravens.
Eagles 23, Ravens 20