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Eagles D Must Be Big Against Ravens Run

There are no secrets here. As the Eagles prepare for Baltimore on Sunday, they know that to have a chance to win they have to, first and foremost, stop a Ravens running game that ranks first in the AFC.

It is a superb test for the Eagles, who have been mostly up, a couple of times down, against the run this season. Philadelphia ranks 11th in the NFL in run defense. Sunday, the defense has an opportunity to test its mettle.

"They're big and physical," says linebacker Stewart Bradley. "They come at you. You have to be ready for that kind of challenge."

And so the defense will tee it up again and understand that Baltimore brings some belt. In fact, the Ravens' offense has exactly the same weapons that have given the Eagles some problems this year -- tight end Todd Heap, although he has just 21 catches and two touchdowns this year, is a legitimate pass-catcher, and the running game is bruising.

In Cincinnati on Sunday, the Eagles smothered the Bengals on the ground, limiting them to 56 yards on 30 carries. It was an encouraging performance, but the reality is that the Bengals aren't in the class offensively as teams like Washington (203 rushing yards at Lincoln Financial Field) and the Giants (219 yards two weeks ago).

To prove they are really making strides, really advancing to the next level defensively, the Eagles have to slow down Baltimore's running game, bottle up Heap and force rookie quarterback Joe Flacco into a couple of mistakes.

It won't be easy.

"I think we're getting to where we want to be," said SAM linebacker Chris Gocong. "Every game you want to be better than the previous game. We weren't happy with our game against the Giants. I give them a lot of credit. They did a great job against us. But we could have been better.

"You have to gear it up against big, physical lines and teams."

The Eagles aren't especially big on defense, at least among the front four, and they rely on things like speed and leverage and the proper technique to make it work against rugged ground games. There has been a high investment up front -- tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley were first-round draft picks, Trevor Laws was a No. 2 along with swingman Victor Abiamiri, end Darren Howard was a big-time free-agent signing and Trent Cole has a lavish long-term contract. Chris Clemons, who has come on a bit of late after a disappointing first half of the season, is new to the team after signing as a free agent last spring.

At linebacker, the Eagles have size and youth and intelligence and they have played well. Bradley is garnering some pub from national observers for his play in the middle. Omar Gaither has a bunch of tackles, 2 1/2 quarterback sacks and 5 passes defensed, and Gocong has been a physical, integral presence against the run.

After ranking first in the league in run defense for most of September, the Eagles had their troubles against the Redskins, and for three quarters in San Francisco couldn't solve the 49ers and Frank Gore until making the right adjustments. Atlanta, currently the second-ranked rushing team in the league, managed just 77 yards on 24 carries.

Then along came the Giants and a bunch of question marks. A sense of redemption waits Sunday in Baltimore.

"I don't think like that at all," said Gaither. "I think we just have to go out and play our game and carry out our assignments. We respect every team. We also know what we are capable of doing. The Ravens are a good team. They can throw it, too. You have to worry about every phase of every team's offense each week. You have to respect every team and what they are capable of doing."

Maybe the Ravens are going to come out and open up the formation and go after the Eagles in the air. They haven't necessarily played that way through their 6-4 start. Flacco is a rookie who has played very well this season, but the offense in Baltimore starts with the running game. They have built the attack around the ground game, so if the Eagles want to win a game, they have to hold on and do some serious work against the run.

The good news is that Patterson and Bunkley have played really well in the run game, and that Bradley is on the verge of being something special -- hopefully -- at middle linebacker, and that ends Cole and Juqua Parker and Howard have a lot of quickness and can make some things happen with their quickness.

It is going to come down to man vs. man on Sunday as the Ravens look to lean their big bodies on the Eagles defense and play some smash-mouth football.

There are no secrets, none at all. The Eagles have to punch back with some haymakers of their own to win the ground game battle in Baltimore.

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