Here are 10 things to know about the matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Ravens’ defense Sunday afternoon. Click here for the breakdown of the Eagles’ D against Baltimore’s offense.
1. The Ravens run a hybrid defense, part 3-4, part 4-3. Last year, it was pretty much a coin-flip how many defensive players had their hand on the ground on any given play. And the looks they’ll show pre-snap can confuse quarterbacks and offenses. There’s a reason this team finished No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ overall defensive rankings last year (first against the pass, seventh against the run) and third in scoring defense (16.6 PPG). But there is a huge difference in 2012. The Ravens are without one of the best defensive players in the league in Terrell Suggs, who suffered an offseason Achilles injury. In 2011, Suggs had 14 sacks, 39 additional pressures (per FO) and also was a beast against the run. The Ravens were good defensively in Week 1, but we won’t know for a month or two how much they miss Suggs.
2. Let’s take a look at one of the key plays from last week against the Bengals: Ed Reed’s interception, which he returned 34 yards for a touchdown, effectively putting the game away at the end of the third quarter. The first thing to note is how the Ravens lined up pre-snap.
As you can see, they’ve got seven players at the line of scrimmage. The key on this play happened to be the two players I circled: strong safety Bernard Pollard (No. 31) and rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The Ravens ended up dropping two of the players shown into coverage and came with a five-man rush. The right tackle blocked Pollard, while Upshaw looped inside.
Running back Brian Leonard was supposed to block Upshaw, but he got there late, and the rookie pressured and hit Dalton, which clearly affected him. This was a case of a bad throw, not a bad decision. Take a look at the next photo.
Dalton actually had his man, tight end Jermaine Gresham, matched up against a linebacker. He was open, but Dalton sailed his throw, and Reed (circled near the 37-yard-line) made a play on the ball, which he’s done his whole career. The highlights all showed Reed, but the play probably doesn’t happen if Upshaw doesn’t get pressure on Dalton up the middle.
The Eagles had several breakdowns in protection in Week 1. As seen here, those can turn into turnovers and points the other way against the Ravens.
3. Speaking of pressure up the middle, one guy the Eagles will have to find some way to block is 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. One thing I noticed when looking at last week’s game is that Ngata lines up in a bunch of different spots. He’s not just a standard 3-4 nose tackle. In the Ravens’ base defense, Ma’ake Kemoeatu (6-5, 345) plays that spot. That means at some point Sunday, pretty much every Eagles offensive lineman is going to have to account for Ngata. The guy who might see the most of him is right guard Danny Watkins, which is a scary proposition, considering how much Watkins struggled in pass protection last week. One one of his two sacks vs. Cincinnati, Ngata went right around the Bengals’ right guard and took Dalton down. He doesn’t come off the field either. Ngata played 64 of 72 snaps last week. In 2011, he had five sacks and 13.5 hurries.
4. Elsewhere on the defensive line, even without Suggs, the Ravens have some good pass rushers. One of them is second-year player Pernell McPhee. McPhee had six sacks as a rookie and was second on the team with 16.5 hurries. In the opener, he played 68 percent of the team’s snaps and split one of the Ravens’ four sacks. You’ll see McPhee line up in different places. On one play last week, he went right around the center and forced Dalton to step up and scramble. Ray Lewis was there to meet him and punched the ball out for a fumble. The Ravens also have outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who had 5.5 sacks and 15.5 hurries last season.
5. Lewis is in his 17th season and turned 37 in May, but if Week 1 is any indication, he can still get it done. All he did against the Bengals was rack up 14 tackles (11 solo), a sack and a forced fumble. Not bad. Not bad at all. The Eagles had a lot of success running against the Browns as LeSean McCoy piled up 110 yards on 20 carries. Jason Kelce and the rest of the offensive linemen did a tremendous job of run blocking, often getting to D’Qwell Jackson and the Browns’ other linebackers. But obviously, this week presents a stiffer test. Lewis will also blitz. In Week 1, he went after the quarterback five times, which was about the same number he averaged last season. And he never comes off the field. In 2011, when active, Lewis played 99.6 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
6. While Lewis is still good against the run, the Bengals had success with their ground game in Week 1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season with the Patriots, but he carried 18 times for 91 yards (5.1 YPC) against Baltimore. And those were quality yards; they didn’t come in garbage time. Green-Ellis carried seven times for 47 yards on runs to the right last week. And he had 42 yards on 10 runs to the left (including the left sideline). As for McCoy, he had nine runs for 40 yards to the left (4.4 YPC) and 11 runs for 70 yards (6.4 YPC) to the right. We definitely could see the Eagles run McCoy to Todd Herremans’ side a lot in this one.
7. The Ravens are strong in the secondary with cornerbacks with Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams. 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith joins in nickel. A.J. Green is always going to get his yards, but the Ravens limited him to five catches for 70 yards on 11 targets. Along with Reed, Webb is a playmaker in the secondary. He was targeted 77 times last season and had five interceptions. Williams was thrown at more (101 times). Opposing cornerbacks completed just 53.8 percent of their passes against the Ravens last season, the second-lowest mark in the NFL. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are both listed as questionable. Depending on how healthy those guys are, the Ravens could have a big advantage with their corners against the Eagles’ receivers.
8. A lot of defenses say they want to be aggressive and physical, but those two words actually apply to the Ravens. They’ve got a big hitter in Pollard at strong safety to complement the ball-hawking Reed. Williams put a nice hit on Green last week to force an incompletion. And Webb nailed wide receiver Armon Binns, nearly forcing a fumble. I mentioned above how Lewis punched the ball out of Dalton’s hands on a tackle. We know the Eagles have great speed and athleticism on offense. This week, we’ll find out how physical they can be.
9. As is the case pretty much every week, scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be key. The Eagles scored on both their red-zone possessions last week and stopped the Browns twice inside the 20. But the Ravens had the best red-zone defense in the league last year, allowing opponents to score touchdowns just 38 percent of the time. As the TV broadcast Monday night mentioned, the Ravens have had a top-five red-zone defense for eight straight seasons.
10. And Michael Vick can expect to see blitzes from the Ravens defensive backs. Last year, the Ravens rushed five 28.2 percent of the time, fifth-most in the NFL, per Football Outsiders. And according to Pro Football Focus, Webb and Pollard each blitzed five times last week. Teams will continue to blitz their slot corners against Vick until he proves he can hurt them. One way Dalton beat that look last week was with quick screens to the outside. His longest completion of the game came against a blitz. Dalton hit wide receiver Andrew Hawkins on a screen to the left that went for 27 yards. He later did the same thing for a 14-yard completion. That might be something Vick, Marty Mornhinweg and the Eagles want to steal for Sunday.
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