Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens are not the Cleveland Browns. In other words, the Eagles will have a much tougher challenge Sunday when they host the Ravens and their no-huddle offense in their home opener.
The first week of the season the Eagles learned what “Brown(s) can do for you.” They won’t be as fortunate during their second game.
It’s unlikely that quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens will be as forgiving as the Browns when they come to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday (1 p.m.). The odds against an Eagles victory if Michael Vick comes close to duplicating his opening-week, four-interception, two-fumble performance are astronomical.
Let’s assume that Vick shakes off some rust and performs better against the Ravens than he did during the Eagles’ 17-16 squeaker over the Browns. That still might not be enough against the Ravens, who battered the Bengals, 44-13, on Monday night.
The following 10 questions could determine the outcome of Sunday’s game:
1. Will Michael Vick play better than he did against the Browns?
If the answer to this question is “no,” the rest of the questions really don’t matter. Let’s assume Vick will be better. The question is how much better.
2. Will Andy Reid make a conscientious effort to run the ball more often?
Despite having a rusty quarterback and an opponent that ranked 30th against the run the previous season, the Eagles threw the ball 56 times against the Browns. There were also nine other called pass plays, meaning 65 of the Birds’ 88 offensive plays were supposed to be passes. That’s absurd. Reid admitted after the game that, in hindsight, the Eagles should have run the ball more often earlier in the game. Unfortunately, during the week Reid said that, after viewing the tape, he thought the Eagles had a great mix of passing and running plays. It’s a “great mix” if you’re trying to get your quarterback carted off the field. Let’s see if Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg give LeSean McCoy the ball more often throughout the game.
3. How will the Eagles handle the Ravens’ no-huddle offense?
This is the crucial question when the Ravens have the ball. They are using a no-huddle offense, which Flacco is familiar with from his days at the University of Delaware. This could create problems for the Eagles, who like to rotate personnel. The Eagles have to avoid getting caught with the wrong players on the field, but they also can’t afford to have tired players, particularly linemen, stuck out on the field.
4. How healthy are receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin?
Both Jackson (hamstring) and Maclin (hip pointer) are listed as questionable on the Eagles’ official injury report. There are indications, though, that both receivers will play. Even if they play, how effective will they be against the Ravens’ above-average cornerbacks? With Jackson and Maclin ailing, the Eagles may dress an extra receiver (likely to be Mardy Gilyard), which could leave them short-handed at another position.
This isn’t the same dominant Ravens defense of past years. They’ve lost some key players, most notably Terrell Suggs, for a variety of reasons. Linebacker Ray Lewis (above) and safety Ed Reed are no longer at the peak of their careers, although both are still very good. If the win over the Bengals is an accurate indication, the Ravens compensate for their losses by blitzing more often. One of Vick’s major weaknesses is anticipating where the blitz will be coming from and making the necessary adjustments to find the hot receiver. Vick’s task will be further complicated if familiar targets Jackson and Maclin aren’t on the field. Even if Vick reads the blitz correctly, the offensive line and running backs have to pick up the extra rusher.
6. Is the Eagles defense as good as it seemed against the Browns?
The Eagles enter Week 2 as the top-ranked defense in the NFL. Four interceptions and not allowing a touchdown certainly help your ranking. But the Ravens should be a considerably tougher test than the Browns. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are not rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson.
7. Should there be concern about second-year kicker Alex Henery?
Absolutely. Henery made 24 of 27 field goals during his rookie season, but has missed makeable field goals in his last three games, including preseason. His missed 45-yard attempt against the Browns could have been costly if the Eagles had been forced to settle for a field goal on their final drive. The offense bailed Henery out by driving 91 yards for a touchdown. It may not be able to bail Henery out under similar circumstances against the Ravens.
8. Will the NHL lockout affect Sunday’s game?
No. The NHL lockout will not affect NFL games.
9. Where could the Eagles have an advantage over the Ravens?
The Ravens’ offensive line has been shuffled around. The Eagle’ defensive line could generate pressure on Flacco, which would alter the dynamics of this game. That’s why it’s crucial for the Eagles to find a way to rotate their defensive linemen despite the Ravens’ no-huddle offense.
10. Who is going to win?
The Eagles are favored for several reasons. First, the Ravens are playing on the road after a Monday night game. Second, the Ravens are not a great road team. The trends may favor the Eagles, but the match-ups do not. With Vick looking rusty and the Eagles’ receivers banged up, the Ravens are simply a better team right now. The better team doesn’t always win, but I think it will in this case. The Eagles’ final drive while trailing by six points falls short this week. Ravens 23, Eagles 17