Sunday can't get here fast enough. The Eagles go down to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. I want the Eagles to go play so they can get the memory of that tie with the Bengals out of my mind. Facing the Ravens is the kind of game the Eagles need. The Ravens are a solid team that plays hard and wins with good defense and big plays on offense. This is a challenge game. The Eagles blew their "gimme putt." Now they sink or swim on a 12-footer that breaks from right to left.
One of two things can happen on Sunday. The Eagles can win and give me a renewed sense of hope. Or they could dominate and show me that a Super Bowl victory is on the horizon. I'm pretty sure those are the only two possible outcomes.
This is going to be an interesting battle. You have the Ravens coming off of a 30-10 shellacking by the Giants. You have the Eagles coming off an embarrassing tie with the lowly Bengals. Both the Ravens and Eagles are proud, veteran teams that will come out with something to prove.
The Eagles must win to remain in the NFC playoff hunt. I know some people think talking about the postseason at this point is ludicrous for the Eagles, but I don't. Check out the standings. There are four teams ahead of the Eagles right now in the wild card chase. The Eagles are fighting with them for one of two spots. The good news is that the Eagles play two of the teams, Washington and Dallas. I realize the Eagles lost the first go-round, but rematches can be a different story. Last year Philadelphia lost to both teams in the first meeting and then beat them later on. The Eagles also have a tiebreaker advantage with the Falcons because of a head-to-head victory.
All of this plotting and planning is moot if the team doesn't start playing better football. That has to be the case on Sunday. Baltimore is 6-4. They've accomplished that with a rookie coach and rookie quarterback. The coach is former Eagles assistant John Harbaugh. I'm excited for his success. He's an excellent coach and did a terrific job in Philadelphia. I just hate the fact that the Eagles have to go and destroy his team.
There is a scene in *The Hunt For Red October *when one Soviet submarine commander gets a message about the Red October defecting. His assistant asks what the orders say. The commander responds, "We're going to kill a friend." That's the Eagles job on Sunday. OK, I don't expect Andy Reid to actually fire a torpedo at the Ravens or John Harbaugh, but if we somehow get down by 10 points in the second half all bets are off. Fire away. I can't bear the thought of another loss or tie.
I'm so desperate to know what victory feels like that I've gone back to watching "Wheel of Fortune." I did get five of six puzzles correct the other night. Alas, it just isn't the same as watching the Eagles win. I can only hope that Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook Trent Cole and Brian Dawkins are just as desperate as me.
The game on Sunday should be a defensive battle. The Ravens are third overall in defense and the Eagles are seventh. Both teams are hard to move the ball on and hard to score on. Surprisingly, the Eagles are much better at getting to the quarterback. They have 36 sacks and the Ravens "only" 20. Both teams are balanced, playing the run and pass equally well.
The big differences come on offense. The Eagles have a veteran quarterback in McNabb while the Ravens have rookie Joe Flacco. He's big, mobile, and has a very strong arm. I've been impressed with his physical ability. His decision-making is good for a rookie, but he will force things at times.
The Ravens are a running team. Make them throw the ball and they are less likely to win. Flacco has thrown more than 30 passes three times this year. All of those games were losses. The Eagles are a passing team. You can't make them run the ball. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but it does feel that way at times.
Points should be at a premium in this game. Field position and turnovers should be huge factors. Both teams were very sloppy in these areas last week. Neither the Eagles nor Ravens is good enough to hand the other team easy points and win.
I think McNabb is the real key to the game. He turned the ball over four times last week. Those mistakes cost the Eagles at least six points and gave the Bengals' 10. That was the game. McNabb is one of the safest quarterbacks in NFL history. I don't expect him to repeat that performance. He needs to protect the ball and lead the Eagles on a few scoring drives.
The Ravens will stick to the run as best they can. That's easier said than done against the Eagles defense. Only one team outside the division has run for more than 90 yards on the Eagles. San Francisco ran for 131. That total included the quarterback running for 31 of those yards. Inside the division the defense struggles. Outside of the division is another story entirely. This week should be a good test. Baltimore has to run and the Eagles have to stop them.
I expect to see a lot of hard hitting in this game. Both teams know each other from regular preseason battles. Both teams are proud of playing good defense. Fierce hitters and veteran leaders like Ray Lewis and Brian Dawkins will want to impress the other guy and his team. Receivers crossing the middle should be very cautious.
The Eagles have got to get a big game from Brian Westbrook or DeSean Jackson, hopefully both. Those are the two main playmakers on offense. They combined for 140 yards of offense and no touchdowns last week. That isn't good enough. They should combine for more than 200 yards in a game. You'd like them to score, or at least set up a score with a big play. That didn't even happen. The only way you're going to beat good teams with any consistency is if your best players play well in those games.
Time is running out on the 2008 season. The Eagles have got to find a way to win on Sunday. Last week was a low point. I don't expect this week to be the complete opposite, but the team sure better be headed in that direction.
DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE ...
Chris Clemons got a lot of playing time against the Bengals and really came through. His speed was a big help on defense. They used him at left defensive end, but he also played some of The Joker. That's when Clemons is the middle linebacker in the nickel defense. He runs very well and used that speed to get his sack. He also used the speed to chase the quarterback a couple of other times when he got outside the pocket. I hope Clemons gets regular playing time down the stretch.
Tight end Brent Celek has played well the last month. He's got 11 catches in his last four games. I'm not sure he's meant to be the starter, but he has shown that at the very least he can be an outstanding backup.
I continue to be disappointed in the team's use of Correll Buckhalter. He's got only 13 touches in the last four games. He has made the most of his limited touches. Buckhalter has catches of 27 and 44 yards. He has a 20-yard run. This is a guy that deserves the ball more. He makes things happen. He scored the only touchdown in the win over Pittsburgh. Get Buckhalter more involved. He should have 8-12 touches a game, not a month.
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