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Game Preview: Ravens-Eagles

After taking on a cadre of ex-Eagles personnel last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Eagles welcome in another familiar face for the 2012 home opener when John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens come to town. The former Eagles assistant coach has had a lot of success in his first four years with Baltimore, leading the Ravens to at least one playoff victory in each of his four seasons. Harbaugh has guided the Ravens to two AFC Championship Game appearances, most recently the heartbreaking loss last year to New England - a game in which wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a potential go-ahead score on the final drive and Billy Cundiff missed on a 32-yard field goal attempt which would have sent the game to overtime.

This year, the Ravens are retooled on offense, as quarterback Joe Flacco has been given the keys to what is now an up-tempo offense built around Flacco's arm, the deep speed of Torrey Smith, and, of course, one of the best and most versatile running backs in Ray Rice. The chance to see Rice and LeSean McCoy in action alone is worth the price of admission, and then you factor in the defense.

The heart and soul of this Ravens team remains their defense, which finished third in both points and yards allowed last season. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis returns for a 17th NFL season and safety Ed Reed begins his 11th campaign after setting the record for most interception return yards last week in the Ravens' season-opening 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. With that demonstrative Week 1 victory in the rearview mirror, the two future Hall of Famers are hoping for one more Super Bowl run.

The Eagles, meanwhile, are coming off a performance that was a tale of two sides of the ball. The defense was superlative, holding Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden to a 5.1 quarterback rating and intercepting the rookie four times, while also holding running back Trent Richardson to a paltry 39 yards on 19 carries. The defense itself allowed a mere nine points, all of which were the result of points off turnovers by the Eagles offense. That offense though, will need to cut down from the five turnovers they committed against the Browns when they take on the opportunistic Ravens defense. Michael Vick, in particular, will be under the spotlight to bounce back from a game in which he threw four interceptions and posted a 51.0 quarterback rating, his second worst as an Eagle.

Last Time They Met

Nov. 23, 2008 - Ravens 36, Eagles 7

A monumental game in the Andy Reid era as Donovan McNabb was benched at halftime in favor of Kevin Kolb, who took over in the second half and drove the Eagles into scoring range only to see safety Ed Reed return an interception 108 yards for a touchdown. It was one of five Eagles turnovers on the day. Quintin Demps returned a kickoff 100 yards for the Eagles' only points.

Tale Of The Tape (2012 Stats)
Ravens Eagles
Record 1-0 1-0
Points Scored Per Game 44.0 (2nd in NFL) 17.0 (23)
Total Yards Per Game 430.0 (4) 456.0 (2)
Rushing Yards Per Game 122.0 (11) 150.0 (6)
Passing Yards Per Game 308.0 (5) 306.0 (6)
Points Allowed Per Game 13.0 (T-3) 16.0 (T-6)
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 322.0 (13) 210.0 (1)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game 129.0 (24) 99.0 (17)
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game 193.0 (7) 111.0 (1)
Turnover Ratio +2 (T-7) -1 (T-19)

When The Eagles Have The Ball

The Eagles accumulated 456 yards of total offense in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns. Only one team, the Washington Redskins, gained more in Week 1 of the season.

The problem is that five turnovers limited the Eagles to just 17 points, although it was enough for the win.

The Ravens are known for their defense. Last season, Baltimore ranked third in the league in both yards and points allowed. They got off to a fast start with just 13 points allowed in their Monday night win over Cincinnati. That doesn't take into account the Ravens scored a touchdown on defense.

Who scored that touchdown? Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, of course. During Reed's 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, the 34-year-old set the all-time NFL record for interception return yardage. After his four-interception performance against the Browns, Vick will have to make sure to be more careful with the ball because Reed will make him pay.

The heart and soul of the defense remains another future Hall of Fame player in linebacker Ray Lewis. Like Reed, Father Time is catching up to Lewis as the 37-year-old is hoping for one more Super Bowl run. Lewis slimmed down this offseason to be a more rangier player.

The Ravens have plenty of toughness with a stout defensive line that includes Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody, but they lack an elite pass rush talent with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs sidelined with an Achilles injury.

Behind the 3-4 front, the Ravens have another special talent in the secondary in left cornerback Lardarius Webb, a ballhawk who led the team with five interceptions a year ago.

As good as the Eagles were moving the ball last week, they must execute with more precision in order to beat this vaunted Ravens defense.

When The Ravens Have The Ball

For the last four seasons, Joe Flacco has been the secondary cog in the Ravens' offensive machine. And why wouldn't that be the case when there's a player like Ray Rice to build around? Still, despite his impressive arm, Flacco was rarely gifted with much control of the offense, nor was he blessed with many dynamic wide receivers. Flacco has started every game over the last four seasons, but it appeared he plateaued (consider that he threw for 225.8 yards per game in 2009, 226.3 yards per game in 2010 and 225.6 yards per game in 2011). But now, the Ravens offense has been retooled and will feature Flacco in an up-tempo, sometimes no-huddle, offense. That plan worked to perfection in the Monday night opener against the Bengals, as Flacco threw for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 22-of-29 passing for a 128.4 rating.

The emergence of second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith on the outside is one of the reasons the Ravens have been able to spread it out a bit, though the Eagles have a good deep speed defender of their own in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had two interceptions against the Browns last Sunday. Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta are the receiving threats over the middle for Flacco, who is protected by an above average offensive line. Flacco's blind side though is protected by left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has lost enough of a step that he recently took a paycut. Pressuring Flacco will be paramount, and luckily the Eagles have perhaps the best pass-rushing defensive line in the league to do so.

As for corralling Rice, expect the running back to get more work than he got against the Bengals. Blessed with a lead throughout, the Ravens only called Rice's number in the run games 10 times (which Rice took for 68 yards), to which Rice added three receptions. His workload should ramp up against the Eagles, who shut down the Browns running game last week. The two players likely to be most responsible for Rice are DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, who both had tremendous Eagles debuts last week. Ryans was a force inside against the run, while Kendricks has the top-level speed requisite for defending a dynamic player like Rice.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Michael Vick LDE Jason Babin
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Stanley Havili RDT Derek Landri
WR Jeremy Maclin RDE Trent Cole
LT King Dunlap WILL LB Akeem Jordan
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Jason Kelce SAM LB Mychal Kendricks
RG Danny Watkins LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Todd Herremans RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Nate Allen
WR DeSean Jackson FS Kurt Coleman

Key Matchups

Jason Kelce vs. DT Haloti Ngata

As the player holding down the middle of the Eagles' offensive line, Kelce will be tasked with stopping defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and the Baltimore pass rush. Ngata been voted to the Pro Bowl every year since 2009 and has been named an All-Pro every year since 2008. Against the Bengals on Sunday night, Ngata recorded three tackles and a sack. But as an athletic and aggressive center, Kelce is more than ready for the task. Playing against his hometown Browns last Sunday, Kelce was stout in the run game, helping running back LeSean McCoy rush for 110 yards on 20 carries. The offense will be looking to get in sync in the Eagles home opener, and a good game from Kelce would help open up the offense.

Eagles Cornerbacks vs. Ravens Wide Receivers

The days of the strict ground-and-pound offense in Baltimore are over. Ravens wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are physical receivers with good speed. But they will be opposed Sunday by an Eagles secondary that had an extremely strong game in Cleveland. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie built off his strong summer by picking off Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden twice, while safety Kurt Coleman also had two interceptions, including one to clinch the victory. Rodgers-Cromartie and fellow starter Nnamdi Asomugha are tall, physical players who like to jam receivers and have the speed to keep up down the field. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Boykin proved that his promotion to nickel corner wasn't too big for him. He was effective in pass coverage, and nearly had a diving interception against Weeden. Flacco could have a difficult time getting the passing game going against a dangerous Philadelphia secondary.

Ravens Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Joe Flacco DT Haloti Ngata
RB Ray Rice NT Terrence Cody
FB Vonta Leach DE Arthur Jones
WR Torrey Smith RUSH LB Albert McClellan
LT Michael Oher WILL LB Jameel McClain
LG Ramon Harewood MIKE LB Ray Lewis
C Matt Birk SAM LB Paul Kruger
RG Marshal Yanda LCB Lardarius Webb
RT Kelechi Osemele RCB Cary Williams
TE Ed Dickson SS Bernard Pollard
WR Anquan Boldin FS Ed Reed

Players To Watch

Ravens QB Joe Flacco

Going into Sunday night's game, Joe Flacco promised fans an explosive Ravens offense, and he delivered just that. Against the Bengals Flacco went 21-of-29 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. While ordinarily known as a strong running team, the Ravens displayed a downfield passing attack against the Bengals. Like Michael Vick, Flacco prefers spreading the ball around. Eight Baltimore receivers caught a pass, and five had more than three receptions. The former Delaware quarterback is poised to have a big year and bring his team to the Super Bowl after just missing the mark last season.

Ravens S Ed Reed

The 'other' superstar on the Ravens defense, Ed Reed is the quintessential ballhawk. Though he turned 34 Tuesday, Reed showed why he is an eight-time All-Pro last Monday night against the Bengals. With Cincinnati driving and the game very much in reach, Reed intercepted a tipped pass from Andy Dalton and returned it for a game-clinching touchdown. The safety shows few signs of slowing down, and is a threat to make a big play at all times. The Eagles offense will have to account for him every time he's on the field.

Eagles RB LeSean McCoy

For as good as they looked Sunday night, the Ravens allowed 122 yards to Bengals running backs, including 91 and a touchdown to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. This is an advantage the Eagles and LeSean McCoy can exploit. Arguably the top runner in the game, McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. And against the Browns, McCoy followed it up with another stellar performance, rushing for 110 yards on 20 carries. With his mix of speed and power McCoy has the ability to run up the middle or sprint off the edge. Expect to see a healthy dose of McCoy in both the run and passing games against Baltimore.

Eagles DT Cullen Jenkins

Jenkins played nearly 70 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps Sunday, and for good reason. Jenkins has the ability to rush the passer both from the defensive tackle position as well the outside. Flacco was sacked three times against the Bengals, and Jenkins finished the game against the Browns with two tackles for loss. But that isn't to say he can't handle the run. Pro Football Focus rated Jenkins one of the most stout tackles against the run last season. Jenkins creates a mismatch wherever he lines up, but he may be most effective against 36-year-old center Matt Birk. The Eagles outside pass rush should disrupt Flacco and the Ravens offense, but a big day from Jenkins can help the defense put on another impressive performance.

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