The Eagles are in for a much greater challenge this week as they take on the Baltimore Ravens. I heard a lot this summer about how the Ravens were finally going to be an explosive offense. I had my doubts. The team has been adding talent for a few years, but has yet to show they can consistently be a good offense. Anyone who watched the Ravens on Monday night saw a good team and a very impressive offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco looks like a different man. I remember watching him at Delaware. He was a gunslinger quarterback, throwing the ball all over the field and not afraid of anything. In the NFL, he's been a different player. He looked awkward and tentative at times. I sure didn't see that on Monday night. He was aggressive and confident. He looked like a big-time player. Maybe Flacco has finally taken that next step in his development.
I think one of the big factors in his comfort level is that the team is now mixing in a no-huddle attack. They also seem to be playing a more open, aggressive style of football. In previous years, it felt like Flacco's job was to hand the ball to Ray Rice and not throw interceptions when it was time for a pass play. Very few quarterbacks are going to thrive in such a confined style of play.
On Monday, Flacco was 21-of-29 for 299 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and wasn't picked off. You have to go beyond the numbers to appreciate how well he played in the 44-13 win. Flacco threw the ball to covered receivers on several occasions, but always put the ball where it needed to be and he gave his receivers a chance to make plays. Anquan Boldin made an impressive catch, while tightly covered down the middle of the field, for a 34-yard touchdown. Flacco made a great throw on that play. He also took a big hit right after releasing the ball. Flacco stayed focused on the receiver and that paid off in the form of six points.
Dealing with Joe Flacco is a huge step up in competition from rookie Brandon Weeden, whom the Eagles dominated on Sunday. Both guys are big and have strong arms, but Flacco is a proven veteran who can find the weak spots in a defense and exploit them. On Sunday, the Eagles didn't have many weak spots. Flacco is in for quite a challenge himself.
How many people thought that when the Ravens and Eagles got together it would be the Eagles with the league's top-ranked defense? Many will point out that the Eagles played a poor offense on Sunday (and that is true), but think of it this way. If the NFL decided to mix a degree of difficulty factor in and added 40 yards to the Eagles total, the team would still lead the NFL in defense by a yard. Being No. 1 after Week 1 is meaningless, but it sure is fun to see the Eagles atop the rankings after some struggles in recent years.
Juan Castillo can't just focus his defense on Flacco. The Ravens have one of the best backs in the NFL in Ray Rice. He will get the ball in the run and pass game. He's quick, strong and elusive. He might remind you of Duce Staley, but with more athletic ability. The Ravens will spread out the defense and then run up the middle with Rice. Sometimes they'll get in the I-formation and pound the defense with Rice running behind fullback Vonta Leach. They really do have a balanced attack.
Flacco has some good targets to throw to. Anquan Boldin is the possession receiver and tough guy. Torrey Smith is the speedster. Jacoby Jones gives them another big body with speed. The Ravens have a pair of talented tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
I think it will be fun to see the Eagles defense go up against this bunch.
The defensive line only had two sacks on Sunday, but they got good pressure on Weeden. That pressure led to some incompletions and interceptions. Sacks are great, but forcing the quarterback to make errant throws can be just as effective as putting him on the ground. The Eagles should have chances for sacks on Sunday. Flacco takes some deep drops. He will hold the ball and give his receivers a chance to get open. It is critical that the Eagles get pressure.
Controlling the Ravens rushing attack will be tough. Rice is an excellent back and the Ravens have good run blockers. The Eagles did a great job of shutting down Trent Richardson in the opener. The defensive tackles tried to get penetration and be disruptive. The Browns countered by double-teaming them a lot. That left the linebackers free to run to the ball and make tackles. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens stick with double teams or try to block the linebackers.
|Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.|
I was ecstatic with the play of
I fully expect the Eagles to play well on defense and really limit what the Ravens can do. Baltimore did mix in some trick plays last week so players will need to be smart and disciplined. The no-huddle should only be a problem if the defensive linemen get tired and can't get off the field. The other players should be fine. One of the best aspects of last week's game was the fact that the defense was so assignment sound. You didn't see confused players scrambling around. Guys knew where to be and what to do. This is critical against the no-huddle. That helps give me confidence that they can handle it.
While I have confidence in the defense, I am completely confused by what to expect from the offense. I've watched the Browns game a few times. I see lots of reasons for hope. I see lots of reasons for concern. What's going to happen Sunday? Your guess is as good as mine.
My hope is that the groove the Eagles got into in the fourth quarter will carry over. Actually, the Eagles’ opening drive of the game was impressive until
I think the preseason struggles and then the botched opening drive started to get to
Vick must play better, a lot better, if the Eagles are going to move the ball and score on the Ravens defense. They don't have Terrell Suggs, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are both Hall of Fame players that must be dealt with. You can't fear going against them. You have to embrace the challenge and look forward to seeing if you can beat them. The Eagles did that in 2004. The Ravens won the matchup in 2008.
I think the Eagles have the skill players to move the ball. The Ravens don't have a corner who is good enough to cover
Before any of those matchups can work to the Eagles advantage, the battle up front must be won. Haloti Ngata is a freak and one of the best linemen in the NFL. He's got the power to overwhelm blockers and the athleticism to go by them.
Beyond just the offensive linemen, the whole offense has a challenge. Baltimore likes to blitz. Sometimes they go with seven or eight-man attacks. Other times they just send one extra rusher. The key is to identify who is coming and get them blocked. The Eagles had some blown assignments on Sunday that can't happen again. The Browns mixed in some blitzes, but weren't crazy about it. The Ravens aren't afraid to take chances and come after you.
Vick is the first key. He must see the blitzes before the snap and have an idea who will attack. The line must make the correct adjustments. Then they must execute the blocks. Vick must make quick reads and get the ball out in a timely fashion. The backs, receivers and tight ends who help with blocking must do their part.
There is hope. Last year, Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans beat the Ravens on a day when he threw for 358 yards. The Chargers put up 34 points and 415 total yards on them. Think about the Eagles. Last year against the Niners, a top-five defense, the Eagles put up 513 yards. There needs to be good blocking. Vick must be sharp. The skill players need to make plays.
This is a tough matchup, no doubt about it. I'm excited to see how the Eagles fare. Right now the Ravens, Niners and Texans look like the three best teams in the league. On Sunday, the Eagles can beat one of those teams and put to bed some of the worries from Week 1. I do not want to see another sloppy, mistake-filled game. The Eagles are too talented to play like that.
This is likely to be the final time we see Lewis and Reed face the Eagles. Do take a moment to appreciate those guys. They are special players. I haven't always cheered for them, but both guys have been amazing to watch.