Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Ravens with CSN Baltimore

Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Ravens with CSN Baltimore

Every week during the 2012 season we're going to hit up some of the most knowledgeable people on the Internet when it comes to the team the Philadelphia Eagles are playing that particular Sunday. This week, we have J. Michael, Ravens Insider for CSN Baltimore.

Kulp: There was a surprising amount of noise about Joe Flacco in the offseason. It's a contract year for the Audubon, NJ native, and cynics jumped on Flacco's assertion that he is not only a top-five quarterback in the NFL, he's number one. Flacco responded on Monday against Cincinnati by posting one of the best games of his career (21/29, 299 Yds, 3 TD). Is there reason to believe we are going to watch him develop into an elite quarterback in year five?

J. Michael: Flacco has a quiet, understated confidence. But he’ll tell you, he’s already there as a top five guy. He’s just not paid like one -- yet. The main thing you’ll see different this season is that now he has the weapons, particularly with Torrey Smith to stretch the field, his statistics will show it, too. He’s passing on first downs, including on first down in the red zone. That’s never happened before. They’re passing to set up the run, making the offense less predictable. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell has a lot to do with that. Flacco has a greater voice in the offense and Caldwell, who worked for years with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, has given him more confidence to meet that high bar Flacco has set for himself.

The Ravens used a third-round pick on Bernard Pierce out of Temple in April's draft. He was in for 12 snaps on Monday, spelling Ray Rice at times, and finishing the game with four carries for 19 yards. Baltimore's offense traditionally calls for 100 carries or so for whoever is behind Rice, so what can we expect out of the local product this season?

About 100 carries is on target. Coach John Harbaugh really likes Pierce. He likes his ability to run tough inside and bounce outside to get around the edge. Pierce was slowed by a hamstring injury in training camp and has yet to hit his full stride. I think he’s a few games away from showing his best form. Based on the way this offense is developing, if the Ravens can continually get early leads that’ll mean more rushing opportunities in the second half when they’re trying to just move the sticks and kill the clock. That’s where Pierce would come in.

2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles during the offseason. He is perhaps best known for his pass rushing prowess, racking up 14 sacks a season ago, but Suggs is a demon in run support and coverage as well. How did the Ravens counter his absence against Cincinnati?

The run defense was the most shaky area of the Ravens’ performance in the opener. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got 91 yards on 18 carries for Cincinnati, and if it weren’t for that huge deficit he would’ve gotten more touches and easily rushed for 125 or more.  They have replaced Suggs and Jarret Johnson, who left as a free agent to San Diego, with first-time starters Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan. Harbaugh seems convinced the problem isn’t a talent dropoff but communication and technique. If they’re able to solve tighten up the run defense – because the secondary is among the best in football – this defense can be every bit as good as last season. But that’s a big if. The run defense is going to take time to evolve. It might be too much to ask for all of those problems to be solved by Week 2.

The Eagles barely escaped rookie-laden Cleveland with a week 1 win. Meanwhile, a very well balanced Ravens team took it to the Bengals so badly they were able to get their backup QB some work in the fourth quarter. This leaves some in Philadelphia more than a little worried heading into the home opener this Sunday. Still, this is the NFL, and a lot can change in one week. If you were the Eagles, what would be the Achilles' Heel you would target on Sunday?

I’m a firm believer that what happened in the past stays there and has little to do with the future. Different teams. Different location. Different stage. Different motivation. The secondary is the strength of this defense. But given the uneven performance of the Ravens’ defense against the run I’d ground and pound them there until they prove they can stop LeSean McCoy. The Ravens’ offense wants to dictate the pace with the no-huddle and wear out Philly’s defense. Control the ball and wear them down instead. If they run the no-huddle and score quickly, the downside will be the Ravens’ defense has to return sooner than expected and face McCoy again. This will test just how much Ray Lewis, 37, has left after 14 tackles in the opener. Defensively, the Eagles must test this offensive line that has new faces in Ramon Harewood and Kelechi Osemele. They blew open holes for Rice to average 6.8 yards per carry, but the pass blocking wasn’t always as good. Flacco was sacked three times. He was almost picked off several times in part because of pressure, but the Bengals couldn’t cash in.

Over the last four years, the Ravens have in many ways resembled the early 2000s Eagles, with star-studded rosters that have successful regular seasons followed by deep playoff runs, but ultimately so far failing to get over the hump. Fans and local media soured on Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid over time. What's the vibe like in Baltimore these days, especially feelings toward Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh?

No such chance that’ll happen here. This city has a love affair with Harbaugh and Flacco. Even though he’s in a contract year, Flacco doesn’t moan or complain publicly about it. His demeanor is low profile and humble and fans realize the weapons he’s had to work with weren’t adequate over the last few years. Both of these guys are media savvy, which makes them beloved. Baltimore is a big city but has the mentality of a small market. I talked with Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, on Tuesday night and he kept saying that Flacco’s silence – and his play on the field – is all the leverage he needs. The longer the Ravens wait, the bigger the pricetag if he keeps performing like he did in the opener. GM Ozzie Newsome has yet to pick up the phone and say ‘Let’s negotiate.’ But it’ll happen before the season is out. Flacco isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Neither is Harbaugh.

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, C: Cash money or Kelce?

Time to talk everybody's favorite Eagles whipping boy, or one of them in Jason Kelce, who's viewed very differently by fans than he is his peers. Case in point, it might surprise some readers to learn Kelce was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl for 2016, which means a lot of NFL players and coaches must've been voting for him.

We know Eagles fans weren't coming out in droves. Yet if we were to go off of only the respect people around the league have for Kelce, he's considered one of the top eight centers in football. That ranking also happens to be roughly commensurate with his salary cap hit for 2017, which is currently 10th at the position, according to OverTheCap.

That's still going to be high for many critics that say Kelce is too undersized and has become too frequently penalized in recent years. It's especially high when you tell some of those same people the Eagles could save nearly $4 million by going in a different direction.

The trade or release of Kelce would free up $3.8 million to be exact, although once again, that's before we consider the cost of replacing him. And unlike other areas of the Eagles roster, there really isn't a young prospect waiting in the wings to take over, even somebody who is maybe only a year away from being ready to take over.

So if the Eagles were to get rid of Kelce, they would have to pay somebody to replace him. Granted, only 14 centers carry a higher cap number, and many starters make half of the six-year veteran's money, so there are cheaper options available — although, what kind of quality is the offense getting for that price?

Kelce is a perfect example of when the grass isn't always greener. There are some big, mauling centers around the NFL, like the Pouncey brothers, and who doesn't love that? But while Kelce isn't necessarily going to rip anybody's spine out at the point of attack, there probably isn't a better center in the league at pulling or blocking at the second and third levels. He's a unique player from that perspective, something people tend to forget.

The Eagles are not going to upgrade the position by going significantly cheaper. Kelce can hold his own in pass protection, and he's elite when the play design allows him to get into space. There's also something to be said for his knowledge of the offense, in addition to the rapport he's building with Carson Wentz.

Best case scenario, the Eagles are probably replacing him with Stefan Wisniewski, who the club paid $2.76 million in 2016. Figuring a raise, that's most of their cap savings right there, and Wisniewski is not nearly as decorated or so widely respected by his peers. There must be a reason for that.

Kelce is pretty good.

CENTERS UNDER CONTRACT

Jason Kelce
Age: 30*
Cap Number: $6,200,000

The bigger issue with Kelce is he's approaching his 30th birthday this year, although many centers enjoy lengthy careers, especially the guys who play more of a finesse game. And if the Eagles do want to start thinking about the future, it might help if they begin developing his replacement now. Kelce will be much easier to move on from in 2018 in terms of the salary cap, so if the Eagles draft somebody this year, theoretically they could move on next season. Keep in mind, Kelce was a sixth-round pick, and the club got a lot of mileage out of him, so it doesn't have to be a major investment. Plus, if that doesn't work out, renegotiation could be on the table, with Kelce's cap hit reaching $7.2 million in '18, but only $1.2 million of prorated signing bonus left on a contract that runs through 2020. The Eagles will be looking to reduce their costs, while Kelce will want some financial security.

Josh Andrews
Age: 26*
Cap Number: $615,000

Andrews joined the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State in 2014, and after a few years of clinging to the practice squad and on the 53-man roster as a reserve, finally saw his first action on offense this season. He played one snap at center against the Ravens in Week 15. Andrews can also line up at guard and has played special teams, though spent most of '16 inactive. He seems like a bit of a Chip Kelly outcast at this point, although it's difficult to put him in a box with so little actual experience. Is Andrews somebody who simply hasn't been given an opportunity and could fill in capably for Kelce, or will the Eagles feel the need to find competition for his roster spot?

Aaron Neary
Age: 25*

Neary originally joined the Broncos roster as an undrafted rookie, but found his way to the Eagles practice squad following his release. The Eastern Washington prospect was a two-time All-American at the Division I-AA level. At 6-foor-1, 305 pounds, Neary is considered undersized, like Kelce, which suggests this organization wants nimble centers like that. While he's probably a ways away from having any impact, the Eagles signed Neary to a futures contract at the conclusion of the season.

* Age as of 12/31/2017

Emmanuel Acho and Joe Banner have hilarious Twitter exchange about his awful trade

Emmanuel Acho and Joe Banner have hilarious Twitter exchange about his awful trade

You probably remember Emmanuel Acho more for his Twitter exploits than for anything he ever did on a football field. That was the case once again over the weekend when another former Eagle had a huge game for the Patriots in their win over the Houston Texans in the AFC playoffs.

Oh, and former Philadelphia Eagles decision maker Joe Banner was also involved.

All of it started because Dion Lewis, a one-time Eagles running back drafted in the 5th round in 2011, scored three TDs in a variety of ways on the Patriots way to another AFC title game.

The joke here is that Banner -- then with the Browns -- was on the winning end of the Lewis-for-Acho trade and was himself eventually fired from his job in Cleveland. But hey, at least Acho got out of that awful city.

Lewis has battled injury for much of his career and hasn't exactly been the second coming of LeSean McCoy but he's yet another case of the Bill Belichick Patriots finding a player who had floundered with other teams only to flourish in big moments in New England.

And Joe Banner may have seen that potential early on.