Eagles-Ravens Wake-Up Call Preview Q&A: Jeff Zrebiec
In this week’s installment of Opposition Research, we talked to the Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec. We discussed why Joe Flacco has taken a step back this season, how Baltimore may plan to blitz Carson Wentz, how the Eagles’ defense may attack the Ravens’ offense and who will win, among a few other topics.
What are the strengths of this Ravens team?
“The biggest one has been their ability to stop the run and make offenses one dimensional. All of the great defenses the Ravens have had over the years, the major characteristic has been the run defense. This group is as good as any of those against the run — maybe not the [Super Bowl-winning] 2000 team — and they’re No. 1 in the league. They’ve allowed 99 fewer rushing yards than any other team, and they’re really strong up front with Brandon Williams at nose tackle, Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle and they bring in an undrafted rookie defensive tackle Michael Pierce to get even bigger up front. They keep guys off of their linebackers so C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr are able to make a lot of tackles.”
On the flip side, what are the weaknesses?
“The offense in general. They don’t run the ball a lot and even when they do, they don’t get a whole lot out of it. Joe Flacco is probably having one of the worst years of his career. Sometimes he’ll get hot and you’ll see it and you’ll think it’s all coming together and then they take a huge step back. Other times, he’ll go a couple of games without really doing anything. It’s been an enigmatic passing game all year and they just haven’t been able to really figure out how to get it on track. They seem to have the weapons on the outside with Steve Smith and Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman and then Dennis Pitta at tight end. It’s been a problem, and they haven’t able to string together any offensive consistency or momentum all year. It hasn’t been a very explosive or productive offense this year. They’re seventh in passing yards per game, but they’ve also thrown the ball more than any team in the league. It’s a lot of dump offs, a lot of checkdowns.”
Why do you think Flacco has taken a step back this season?
“People sort of forget this guy had a major knee injury with his ACL and MCL torn. You got to respect him because he came back really quick and basically didn’t even miss a rep in training camp. I still think there’s been some residual effect there; I don’t think he’s been as confident and stepping into throws all the time. His mechanics have kind of been out of whack. A lot’s been made about how much he throws off his back foot; that’s been kind of a problem.
“The offensive line has also been jumbled all year. Each game until recently it’s been a new offensive line. Between offensive line play and Flacco’s injury and his mechanics, it just hasn’t really come together. Joe Flacco got hot and won the Ravens a Super Bowl, but this isn’t a guy who’s going to be able to do it by himself. He needs to be surrounded by a good supporting cast, he needs to be protected and he need to have a good running game. And they haven’t really had any of those things with any consistency and it’s been on his shoulders and he’s sort of stumbled this year.”
Are the Ravens battling any notable injuries or suspensions this week?
“Yes, the biggest one is the top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, who hurt his ankle and was carted off against the Patriots. I don’t think Jimmy Smith has played his way into elite cornerback status, but he’s the best the Ravens have and he’s certainly an above average cornerback in the NFL. When they’ve had him on the field this year, their pass defense has been pretty darn good. Without him, it’s been a disaster. He kind of shut down Odell Beckham for a half, but then he went out late in the first half with a concussion and Beckham went off for two long touchdowns. Against the Cowboys, they couldn’t stop Dez Bryant without Jimmy Smith because he was injured. You saw against the Patriots when Jimmy Smith went out, all of a sudden there were receivers running free. It’s not all on Jimmy Smith, but he’s the top cornerback. He matches up physically with receivers like Jordan Matthews, but without him, they don’t have that guy.”
What do you think will be a key matchup on Sunday?
“From an X’s-and-O’s standpoint, it’s a copycat league and I’m sure the Eagles watched what the Patriots did to the Ravens with all of the zone coverages and how it pretty much became a dump off fest for the Ravens. I think we’ll see that a lot to try to take away Mike Wallace and Steve Smith down the field. Also, whoever matches up with Dennis Pitta for the Eagles. Pitta is Flacco’s best friend and a safety valve. The Patriots beat him up on the line of scrimmage, put another player over top of him and completely took Pitta out of the game.
“And with Jimmy Smith probably out, the Ravens are really vulnerable on the back end so the best thing to combat that is to get people to Carson Wentz. In the past against rookie quarterbacks — and I know Wentz doesn’t play like a rookie — the Ravens have been really aggressive by sending a lot of people and trying to hit him early.”
Who do you think will win?
“My take as of Wednesday is I think the Ravens will win a close one, somewhere along the lines of a 20-17 or 20-14 game. I think it will be a one-possession game; the Ravens aren’t really good enough to blow a team out. I think it will be a good, close game, and I won’t be shocked at all if the Eagles win. This is not a dominating Ravens team, but with the Eagles dealing with some injuries and not playing as well recently, I’d give the Ravens the edge at home.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
All-22: Did Carson Wentz really play his best game of his young career?
“I have an obsession with the game. It’s an unhealthy obsession right now.” Brandon Brooks opened up about his recent absences, which is due to an anxiety condition.
Deshazor Everett will reportedly not be suspended for his hit on Darren Sproles.
“I have full confidence in him that he’ll be ready.” Doug Pederson expects Brooks to be ready for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
After being benched against the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles are very happy with how Nelson Agholor has bounced back.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
With plenty of injuries on the offensive line, rookie Isaac Seumalo is the next in line to fill the right tackle spot, pens the Inquirer’s Zach Berman.
Seumalo is viewed by the team as an interior lineman, but injuries forced him to tackle. Allen Barbre did not practice because of a hamstring injury, Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) remains out, Matt Tobin (knee) was placed on injured reserve, and Lane Johnson is suspended until next week.
Coach Doug Pederson is hopeful that Barbre will return for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. Because Barbre is a veteran, Pederson said he “doesn’t need a ton of reps” to play. If Barbre is not healthy, Seumalo will start.
“He had a little bit way back in the spring, if that’s any indication,” Pederson said of Seumalo’s experience at right tackle. “He’s been more guard. He’s gotten some [practice at] tackle on the service team going against our defense and things like that over the past couple weeks. But obviously, nothing with our offense.”
Seumalo played guard, center, and tackle at Oregon State. The Eagles liked his versatility when he was drafted, but they would have played him at right tackle sooner if they thought he had a future at the position. At this point, the Eagles can’t worry about his future. They just need to worry about Sunday – the only other option is undrafted rookie Dillon Gordon, who converted from tight end a few months ago.
There’s been a major drop-off in sacks in the past few weeks, according to Reuben Frank of CSN Philly.
It all begins with pass pressure. And while sacks aren’t the only way to measure pass pressure, they are a very effective way.
Sacks became an offiial NFL stat in 1982, and the Eagles’ current streak of seven games in a row without more than two sacks is their longest in 23 years and second-longest ever.
They went 10 games in a row without a sack in 1993, a year after Reggie White bolted for Green Bay.
“It’s hard to feel good about your production when we’re not getting any sacks,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday.
We’ll continue to preview Sunday’s matchup.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.