Eagles-Ravens Game Predictions: Three-and-out
The Philadelphia Eagles play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold:
EAGLES PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
Josh: Carson Wentz.
Every week, Doug Pederson says he’d like the Eagles to run the ball more. Even earlier in the season, when the Birds were 4-2 after beating the Vikings, Pederson said he didn’t want Wentz to throw the ball 35 times in a game. Since then? The rookie quarterback has thrown the ball at least 36 times in each contest, averaging 45 pass attempts per game.
Circumstances have changed, of course, as the Eagles’ defense has given up more points, which naturally leads to more passes by the team who’s trailing. But there’s absolutely no indication Pederson will actually follow through on his words when he keeps saying he’d like to ease the burden on Wentz. Particularly this week, I expect Wentz to drop back at one of his highest rates this season.
The Ravens rank first in the NFL in boths yards per attempt (3.4) allowed and rushing yards per game (75.5) given up. They’ve also forced more fumbles (eight) than the amount of rushing touchdowns (five) they’ve conceded. Plus, Baltimore’s top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, is expected to be out this week. As Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec said in our preview Q&A: Without Smith, Baltimore’s pass defense has “been a disaster.”
However, it’s still unlikely Wentz will throw the ball down the field much. Allen Barbre appears unlikely to play, so that means rookie Isaac Seumalo, the Eagles’ fifth-string right tackle, will probably start. Seumalo has only played on 18 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps this year, with none coming at tackle. Although the third-round pick did play both left and right tackle at Oregon State, the Birds drafted him to be an interior offensive lineman.
That means you’ll likely see a lot of three-step drops from Wentz. If the Eagles do want to take a shot down the field, it will have to come out of a seven-man max protection blocking scheme, because it’s unreasonable to expect Seumalo to contain the Ravens’ defensive ends very long. Baltimore ranks in the top half of the league in sacks with almost two a game, but if Pederson doesn’t constantly give Seumalo help, Wentz could be brought down two or three times that amount.
BLG: Isaac Seumalo.
As Josh mentioned, it’s looking like the Eagles will be down to their fifth string right tackle this Sunday. Barbre is questionable on the final injury report after failing to practice all week. If Barbre can’t play, Seumalo will get the start on the right side.
The Eagles’ third-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft has shown some promise at guard. According to Pro Football Focus, Seumalo didn’t allow a single pressure while making his second career NFL start last week. But tackle is obviously an entirely different position, and Seumalo doesn’t have extensive experience there.
“More guard/center, when we brought him in,” said Pederson of the Eagles’ plan for Seumalo. “He had played a couple of games in college at tackle and had played well there. He’s very capable of handling it. It’s just a different position. You’re more on an island and have more one-on-one blocks [at tackle], but he’s had a great week and he’s ready to go.”
It’s worth noting Seumalo could also start at guard once again this week if Brandon Brooks can’t play. Brooks unexpectedly missed two of the Eagles’ last three games due to his anxiety condition. The Eagles expect to have Brooks on Sunday, but they have to be ready if he can’t go. If Brooks is out, the Eagles would likely start Josh Andrews at right guard. Yikes.
Since Seumalo might not suit up if Barbre plays (which doesn’t seem likely), I have to give an honorable mention to Byron Marshall. The Eagles promoted the undrafted free agent running back from the practice squad earlier this week. Pederson said Marshall will definitely have a role against the Ravens due to Darren Sproles being out and Wendell Smallwood being placed on injured reserve. The Eagles’ coaching staff recently had some high praise for Marshall. From offensive coordinator Frank Reich:
“I can just tell you, watching scout team this whole year, probably if you took the 10 most eye-popping ‘wow’ plays on the field this year, Byron might have three or four of them, where he’s running scout team and he runs a route or he makes a cut against our defense that just goes, ‘Whoa!’ We’ll look at each other and say, ‘That was legit.’ So, he’s got some explosiveness and elusiveness to him.”
OVER/UNDER: 85 total rushing yards for the Eagles — Whaddya got?
As I mentioned up top, I don’t expect the Birds to run the ball very much. The Eagles average 109 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per attempt this season, but they’re totaling only 84 yards per game during their four-game losing streak.
The Ravens have only conceded more than 64 rushing yards once in their last three games, and I expect the Birds’ ground game to be ugly this week. Baltimore’s defensive line will be too big and physical for the Eagles’ offensive line to move much.
The Eagles’ lowest rushing total of the season is 53 yards. That occurred in the Bengals game, when Philadelphia had to abandon the run after getting down 29-0. The Ravens’ offense isn’t explosive enough to force the Eagles to get away from running the ball. Baltimore’s top-ranked rush defense, however, is good enough to entice the Eagles into considering more pass attempts.
It’s very hard to imagine the Eagles’ ground game will have success on Sunday. There’s too many factors working against them. Baltimore’s run defense is great. The Eagles are banged up at the running back position. Philadelphia is also dealing with a number of offensive line injuries. The Ravens should be able to shut down the Eagles with relative ease.
Josh: Ravens 20, Eagles 13
As always, the Eagles will need their defense to play lights out while their special teams makes a big play in order for them to pull out the win. But I don’t see that happening.
This game could be similar to the Birds’ blowout against the Bengals when they came out with little energy as they’re back on the road against an out-of-conference opponent with essentially nothing on the line. Baltimore, meanwhile, is playing for a postseason bid as they’re just one game out of a Wild Card spot.
If the Eagles’ defense does step up, this could be an ugly game to watch. The Ravens are in the bottom-third of the NFL in points per game, and both teams could struggle to move the ball. Perhaps Wentz is able to exploit Baltimore’s back end with Smith out, but I don’t think he’ll have enough time in the pocket to do so.
BLG: Ravens 17, Eagles 10
The Eagles are 5-2 in games with 100-plus rushing yards this season. One of those losses includes the Lions game, which Philadelphia would have won if not for Ryan Mathews‘ fumble.
So how about those games where the Eagles rush for less than 100 yards? Yeah, Philadelphia is 0-6 in those ones. And it’s no coincidence the Eagles’ worst rushing performances of the year line up with their worst losses of the season (Packers, Bengals, first Washington game)
The Ravens’ run defense is going to shut down the Eagles’ run game, which will force Wentz to throw a lot more than he ideally should be. Wentz won’t be able to carry the Eagles’ offense alone.
The feeling here is this game won’t be a blowout because Baltimore’s offense isn’t very good. Rather, the expectation is that this will be an ugly defensive struggle that ultimately features the Ravens coming out on top.
It’s only fitting that the Eagles will lose yet again on the road in their last away game of the 2016 schedule.