Cheat Sheet: Eagles Defense Vs. Ravens Offense
1. The Ravens are looking to unleash Joe Flacco this year. The South Jersey product has one of the biggest arms in the league, and Baltimore takes advantage of it. Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, 14.6 percent of Flacco’s passes traveled at least 20 yards from the line of scrimmage – sixth-most in the league, just ahead of Michael Vick. Flacco averaged 10.3 yards per attempt in Week 1, third-highest in the league, and hit on five completions of 20+ yards. The Eagles, of course, allowed just 111 yards passing and two completions of 20+ yards in Week 1, while intercepting Brandon Weeden four times.
2. Flacco will spread the ball around to everyone – wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Last year, Anquan Boldin led the Ravens with 105 targets. He caught 57 balls for 887 yards and led the team with 15 catches for 20+ yards. Boldin will line up inside and outside. Twenty-three of those catches, and 354 of those yards last year came from the slot, per PFF. The Eagles will have a decision to make when Boldin lines up inside: Let rookie Brandon Boykin handle him, or move Nnamdi Asomugha inside, and get Curtis Marsh on the field. A couple things to note here. Number one, Asomugha played zero snaps in the slot in Week 1. And number two, Marsh has a hamstring injury, so his status for Sunday is uncertain. If Marsh is out and the Eagles still want to use Asomugha inside, Brandon Hughes could see some snaps outside. If not, Boykin, who played great in Week 1, gets the assignment. In Week 1, a third of Boldin’s snaps came in the slot. And that’s where he was lined up when he caught a 34-yard touchdown.
3. The Ravens’ vertical threat is Torrey Smith. The second-year player had 50 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns in an impressive rookie campaign. On the first play from scrimmage Monday night, he caught a 52-yard bomb from Flacco. Overall, he had two catches for 57 yards, but the numbers are better when you consider he drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty in the end zone that set up a Ravens touchdown. Given Smith’s speed, the Eagles could look to match up Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against him. But Smith will line up on both sides of the formation, and against the Bengals, he even saw some snaps in the slot. The third wide receiver to keep an eye on is Jacoby Jones, who signed with Baltimore after spending his first five seasons with the Texans.
4. How did I make it this far without writing about Ray Rice? Other than LeSean McCoy, no back was on the field for more snaps in 2011. Rice set a career-high with 1,364 yards in 2011 and has a healthy 4.6 career YPC average. But it’s not just running the football. Rice stays on the field because he can do it all. He was targeted 104 times last season – second-most on the team – and had 76 catches for 704 yards. Rice has averaged 8.9 yards per catch in his career – that’s the same number as Eagles all-time great Brian Westbrook. In Week 1, Rice had just 10 carries, but he totaled 68 yards and a pair of scores. He also had three catches for 25 yards. And Rice will line up everywhere. On one play, he was out wide to the left of the formation and took a quick screen 18 yards. The Eagles will have to constantly account for No. 27.
5. The Ravens had a lot of moving parts on the offensive line in the preseason, but the group that started last week is a blend of youth and experience. Rookie Kelechi Osemele, a second-round pick out of Iowa State, is the starting right tackle. He’ll go up against Jason Babin, who was probably the Eagles’ best defensive lineman in the opener, notching a sack and six hurries. And Ramon Harewood made his first career start at left guard last week. Harewood, a native of Barbados, didn’t start playing football until college. He’ll likely go up against Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton.
6. At the other three spots, the Ravens have Michael Oher at left tackle, Matt Birk at center and Marshal Yanda at right guard. Oher has flip-flopped between right and left tackle in his first three seasons. Trent Cole had to go up against All-Pro Joe Thomas in Week 1, but still had four hurries. His sack was negated by a Babin penalty, and he should have an advantage against Oher. Birk is 36 and in his 14th NFL season. There were a couple plays last week where he got beaten badly. On one, the defensive tackle steamrolled him to the ground, hit Flacco and nearly forced an interception. On another, the right defensive end looped inside, crushed Birk and sacked Flacco. If the Eagles defensive line is as good as advertised, Jim Washburn’s group should be able to pressure Flacco in this one.
7. The one Ravens offensive lineman to keep an eye on is Yanda (No. 73). The sixth-year player is coming off a Pro Bowl season at right guard, and it’s going to be fun to see him match up against Fletcher Cox and Cullen Jenkins. Last week, Yanda threw some devastating blocks in the run game. Rice ran right behind him on his 7-yard touchdown run, as Yanda threw the linebacker to the ground. He also made a nice trap block on Rice’s 16-yard scamper. The Eagles limited Trent Richardson to 2.1 yards per carry in Week 1, but this is going to be a much stiffer challenge.
8. The Ravens feature two tight ends in their passing game, but they’re not always on the field together. Last week, Dennis Pitta led the team with nine targets, five catches and 73 yards, including a touchdown. He played 44 snaps. Four of Pitta’s five catches were between the numbers. That means DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will get tested in coverage. Same goes for safeties Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. Meanwhile, Ed Dickson had 54 catches for 528 yards and five touchdowns last season. He was targeted more than Pitta – 89 to 56 – in 2011. Dickson had a pair of catches for 22 yards on three targets in Week 1. The Ravens used two tight-end sets on 17 of 62 plays last week, or 27.4 percent of the time.
9. The linebackers will also have to deal with fullback Vonta Leach, who’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. In 2011, the Ravens went with 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers) more than any other team in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Just 41 percent of their runs came from single-back formations, dead-last in the NFL. While the Ravens may open things up this season, Leach is still a good player who will get on the field. In Week 1, he played 22 of 62 snaps and made an impact. He threw a great lead block on Rice’s 7-yard touchdown. Leach crushed a linebacker on a 13-yard Rice run. And he had three catches for 18 yards.
10. The no-huddle is part of the Ravens’ attack this season. According to The Baltimore Sun, they used it on 21 of 58 plays last week. Ryans’ role as the quarterback of the defense will be tested this Sunday as the defense will need to communicate and limit confusion. The Eagles’ conditioning will be put to the test too. If Flacco goes no-huddle, defensive linemen, who are usually shuffled in and out, could be asked to play more snaps in a row.
Extra point 1: Flacco threw just 12 interceptions in 542 attempts last season. He was outstanding against the Bengals (21-for-29, 299 yards, 2 TDs), but I counted three near-picks on his eight incompletions. He was also sacked three times. The key for the Eagles will be to limit big plays, pressure Flacco and take advantage when he does misfire.
Extra point 2: The Ravens ran two end arounds and one reverse against Cincinnati in the first half. Don’t be surprised if you see a few of those on Sunday.