Why the Eagles Will Beat the Ravens (or Why Not)

Why the Eagles Will Beat the Ravens (or Why Not)

It was a rough week for the Eagles. You know it's bad when we're accused of being overly critical about the team on this blog. Unfortunately, winning did little to cover the stench of last week's brutal offensive performance, so even though there were plenty of positives to take away -- like winning the game -- everything had to be qualified with, "Yeah, but."

What didn't make it any better were the Ravens lurking on the horizon. The Week 2 match-up against one of the AFC's best was expected to be used as an early measuring stick at best, an early smackdown at worst. Now seemingly nobody wants to go on the record predicting the Eagles will win this game, and there is a fear it could get ugly.

Most people feel the Eagles can win the game, but few seem to have any confidence that they will. That's probably to be expected, and we're a little on the fence ourselves, so I stood in front of the mirror this morning and had this argument with myself.

WHY THEY WILL WIN

Short Week for the Ravens

It's a well-known fact that teams coming off of a big Monday night win tend to suffer a letdown the following week. They have one fewer day to rest up and prepare for the next opponent. Advantage, Eagles.

Eagles defensive line vs. Joe Flacco and Ravens offensive line

You could probably list the Eagles' D-line winning the battle up front as a reason why they might win any game, but here it could be a huge factor. Baltimore juggled their offensive line to begin the season, moving Michael Oher over from right to left tackle, and installing rookie Kelechi Osemele in his place -- yes, this is the second week in a row Jason Babin faces new blood. The Ravens also lost their best lineman, guard Ben Grubbs, in free agency.

Not only could Jim Washburn's group really tee off on this group, Joe Flacco doesn't always make it easier on them. Flacco tends to hold the ball as long as any quarterback in the league, and while he's able to get out of some trouble because he's huge and occasionally will shed pass rushers, at some point he will go down. He finished three of his four NFL seasons in the top 10 for sacks, including second in 2010. He already has three this season, so he remains vulnerable.

LeSean McCoy vs. Ravens run defense

The rest of the league caught a break when Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles over the offseason. With the NFL's 2011 Defensive Player of the Year out of the lineup, the Ravens sustained a huge loss in every aspect of their defense -- rushing the passer, in coverage, and especially against the run.

Cincinnati was having a lot of success running the football in Baltimore, who also lost a couple of key players up front to free agency. If BenJarvus Green-Ellis can rack up 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, think about what Shady McCoy could do. Of course, the Eagles need to commit to actually running the ball first, but if they do...

WHY THEY WILL LOSE

Mike Vick vs. the blitz

However, one of the things the Ravens can still do well without Suggs is blitz, which they weren't shy about bringing on Monday night. Baltimore brought the heat from all over the place, including the secondary which has been Vick's Achilles heel. The Browns were able to get pressure on Vick by getting a variety of defensive backs into the mix, and he'll get many of the exact same looks today from one of the best at it.

How will the quarterback cope today? If history is any indication, not well. The day Vick consistently identifies and makes sound decisions against these defensive back blitzes will be the first.

Is the defense for real?

The big takeaway from Cleveland was the defense looked great, but it was one of those things that needed to be qualified. Brandon Weeden looked like a rookie quarterback, missing multiple open receivers, although he seldom had a clean pocket to step into his throws. Likewise, the Browns running game accomplished nothing, but it helped there was no credible threat in the passing attack.

This week they face a real test against a strong-armed quarterback, a dangerous deep threat in Torrey Smith, a pair of capable pass-catching tight ends, and dynamic All-Pro running back Ray Rice, who can gash you up the middle, on the edges, or catching a ball out of the backfield. Armed with a brand new no-huddle offense, the Ravens are going to give Juan Castillo and his unit all they can handle.

WHAT DOESN'T MATTER

Lincoln Financial Field

There is no doubt in any of our minds the crowd will be fired up for the home opener, and under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have not been a great road team. Then again, the Eagles haven't been much good at defending their house, either. Last season the Birds were only 3-5 at the Linc, while they've dropped the home opener for three years running.

It's only a bus ride from Baltimore, so this isn't a big travel game or anything for the visitor. Home field advantage? We'll see.

Last week

Not to say nothing at all about last week matters. Vick was dreadful, his decision making concerning. Likewise, the Ravens obviously are a good team, which we already figured based on their averaging 11 wins per season over the previous four. But the NFL has a way of making a team look barely competent one week, world beaters the next, and it tends to happen to even some of the high-end clubs like the Ravens. Why in 2011, they came out and stomped the Steelers, then took one on the chin the following week in Tennessee.

Vick most likely won't throw four interceptions again, Andy Reid probably won't opt for a 4:1 pass run ratio, the offensive line shouldn't get called for holding on every play, etc. As bad as the Eagles were, and comparatively as awesome as the Ravens seemed, putting too much stock into any one game can be an illusion.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Hey, if I had a crystal ball, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this.

When I made my prediction for the season, I had this down as a loss, but felt even then it would be a low-scoring game that would hinge on one big play. That much hasn't changed, and all conventional wisdom tells me that one big play should be the Ravens, most likely Ed Reed stealing a deep fly ball intended for DeSean Jackson, or Bernard Pollard strip sacking Vick.

But to hell with conventional wisdom. I don't always make picks in my gamethreads*, but when I do, I take the Eagles. After all the negativity throughout the week, I won't enjoy watching this game if I don't psyche myself up for it first, so at this late hour I say to you the Birds will win, and they will win by two possessions. Shady has his big day running the ball, and makes they key block on the blitz pickup that allows Vick to exploit that one-on-one with DeSean for six.

(*Because they're usually wrong.)

Source: Former Eagles safety Walter Thurmond retires at 28

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Source: Former Eagles safety Walter Thurmond retires at 28

Defensive back Walter Thurmond, who had a productive year with the Eagles in 2015 in his first season as a safety, is retiring at 28, a source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zangaro.

The news of Thurmond's retirement was initially reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Thurmond was finally able to stay healthy in 2015. He played 16 games for the first time in his career, finishing with 71 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Thurmond and Malcolm Jenkins formed one of the NFL's better safety duos, but the Eagles upgraded the position even more by signing Rodney McLeod to a five-year deal.

Thurmond battled injuries throughout his six-year NFL career, missing 44 of 80 games over his first five seasons. A broken fibula cost him most of the 2011 season, he missed significant time in 2012 with a hamstring injury, and a torn pectoral limited him to two games in 2014.

LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

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LSU PG Tim Quarterman on Ben Simmons: 'He's a great teammate'

By now, Tim Quarterman is used to being asked about Ben Simmons.

The former LSU point guard declared for the NBA draft following his junior season and enter the same draft in which Simmons, the freshman phenom, is projected to be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.

As Quarterman goes through his own pre-draft process, it's inevitable he'll have to field questions about his former teammate he calls “his little brother” along the way.

“He’s a great passer, he can handle the ball and he’s always there to cheer you on,” Quarterman said Monday following a workout with the Sixers on Monday. “He likes for other people to accomplish great accomplishments. He’s a great teammate.”

Simmons came under criticism during his freshman year for “quitting” on the Tigers. The team went 19-14 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. They also chose not to participate in any other postseason tournaments. Even though Simmons averaged a team-high 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game, there was question over his effort.

Quarterman said that wasn’t the case.

"Ben is a great person, a great player and he's a great competitor, so I don't think throughout the season he ever quit on us," Quarterman said. “I think he continued to play hard. I think us losing frustrated a lot of  us as competitors because we always wanted to win.”

The Sixers have an edge evaluating Simmons. While he grew up thousands of miles from Philadelphia in Australia, it just so happens Brett Brown coached Simmons' father David during his extensive coaching career in Australia. Not only does Brown know Simmons’ family, he still is closely connected to those involved in his basketball career.

“I know the people that have worked with him all across the board,” Brown said. “That’s just one of the benefits of living in the country and 20 minutes from where he grew up for 17 years, short of my Sydney days where it makes it 12 years.”

Of course Quarterman didn't work out with the Sixers just to speak on Simmons. He is also fighting for a place in the NBA as well.

"Tim did a very good job creating for others," Brandon Williams, Sixers vice president of basketball administration, said. "What I'm impressed by is he's such a nuisance defensively, his length and athleticism. Then he showed his ability to create off the bounce."

Jordan Matthews Q&A: Doug vs. Chip; playing outside; Carson Wentz's savvy

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Jordan Matthews Q&A: Doug vs. Chip; playing outside; Carson Wentz's savvy

Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews stopped by the Quick Slants set last week and addressed a number of topics with hosts Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank.

Matthews, entering his third NFL season, has 152 receptions for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

That’s the 10th-most catches, 34th-most yards and 15th-most touchdowns in NFL history by a player in his first two seasons.

Now, he has a new receivers coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new head coach and at some point soon a new quarterback.

Matthews spoke about all of the changes the Eagles have made, his disappointment in his early-season drops last year, his expectations for this year and much more during his visit to the Comcast SportsNet studios.

Here are some highlights from that interview:

Quick Slants: What’s it been like these first few months under new head coach Doug Pederson?

Jordan Matthews: “The family atmosphere has definitely been there. Having a coach that’s played here, he understands what it’s like to be in these shoes, play in the city of Philadelphia and have these high expectations. He’s put us in a great environment these first few weeks.”

QS: What’s been your initial reaction to Doug’s offense and how you’ll be used?

Matthews: “It’s definitely very versatile. We have a lot of situations where guys get to move around a lot more in the previous offense I played in, so that’s something that a lot of us have been excited about. Me in particular, I’m really excited to have the opportunity to go outside as much as inside, so now teams won’t be able to game plan for me in just one area. It’s been great learning it. The verbiage is definitely different. It’s not one word or signs or anything like that. We’re going in the huddle and I mean Sam’s spitting out the whole encyclopedia. But guys are getting it down, guys are learning. We’re having fun with it.”

QS: How tough was it to work through the drops early in the 2015 season?

Matthews: “It’s always frustrating because sometimes you think that, OK, just because you’re putting in all these hours that the immediate results are going to come right then, but that’s the thing about work: It’s not just going in and putting in the hours, but you also have to have faith in what you’re actually doing. Sometimes you’re not going to see those immediate results, sometimes you just have to take time and you just have to be patient with it. But I just know the expectations that I have on myself ... outside expectations I know they’re always big here, but I’m always going to be my hardest critic. So whatever people thought I might have been going through, trust me, I was beating myself up more about it than anybody was. I knew that I wasn’t playing up to my expectations but at the same time I knew I had to get through it, so I was glad I was able to finish the season the way I did but also know that type of play isn’t acceptable for me or for my teammates. That’s why going into these OTAs, I’ve been really big on the details for me and the rest of my receiving group. Getting on the JUGS machine, putting in extra time in the film room, making sure that we know everything we have to do on the field. So now that we know all the X's and O's, all we can focus on then is going out there and making plays and playing fast.”

QS: Can you compare Doug Pederson and Chip Kelly?

Matthews: “It’s crazy. Growing up in Alabama, you’re around a bunch of the country, family guys and that’s definitely Doug. But I also spent some time at Vanderbilt with the smart guys and that’s Chip, so I’ve basically had a Doug Pederson and a Chip Kelly in my lifetime just from my years of playing football. I know people like to compare and do all that kind of stuff, but it’s apples and oranges. Chip, when I was playing for him, he was a new head coach, and now it’s the same way with Doug and he’s going to do some things different than maybe what people (have) seen in the past. But I’ve had great experiences with both of them. I feel like I’m extremely lucky I’ve had the opportunity to work with both these guys.

QS: You’re as close to Sam Bradford as anybody on the team. What do you think of the way he handled the offseason?

Matthews: “Sometimes those situations can be blown up a little bit, especially when it’s the quarterback position because that is looked at as the leader on the field, so Sam understands that responsibility, and Sam understands that when it’s time to ball you’ve got to come out there and you’ve got to be the leader. He took his time that he needed, but at the same time he knew it was time to get back and get to work. Obviously, nobody is going to be thrilled when somebody gets drafted at their position, especially at the No. 2 pick. But it is a business, it is a lot more than just guys going out there and throwing the football around, it is about competition. And I think that’s the best thing that’s going to come out of this: It’s going to really fuel competition. Between Sam, Chase (Daniel) and Carson (Wentz) going out there and taking reps, it’s a good ball coming out there every single time. So if you come to our practices, you’ll see me running with the 1’s, the 2’s and the 3’s and I feel like that’s the best thing about it. Because that competition is really what’s going to help us push forward. Now guys can’t get complacent. You can’t think, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.’ No. Every position, we’re bringing in guys that are going to go and compete for your spot. I’m loving it. From quarterback all the way down to long snapper.”

QS: Doug has said all along that Sam is the quarterback going into the season, but offensive coordinator Frank Reich said on WIP that there is open competition everywhere, including the quarterback position. It seems like the coach and offensive coordinator are sending out different messages.

Matthews: “There are different philosophies always going to come from different people. Obviously, Coach Pederson’s the head coach and he’s the captain of the ship, so we’ve got to go with him. I like coach Frank’s attitude, everybody’s got to go out and compete. It’s extremely early, so if anything, I side with both of then. Yes, it’s Sam Bradford’s team. He has to come out and he has to be the leader that we need. He has to run the offense, and we’re all looking at him to make sure he’s the quarterback who can take us where we want to go. But at the same time, you’ve got to come in every single day that somebody’s coming for your spot and you’ve got to go work for it.”

QS: What are your early impressions of Carson Wentz?

Matthews: “When I had my first time watching film with him, the type of shots he was talking about making ... he was like, ‘Hey, if this cornerback turns his head, I might try to throw this one deep,’ and I’m like, ‘Bro, I do not think that’s where the ball’s supposed to be going.’ But ... at the same time, I like it, because you can tell he plays the edge. You can tell he has that chip. You can tell he’s a guy who wants to take risks. I think one of the biggest attributes a quarterback can have that people overlook is savvy. The great ones, the Aaron Rodgerses of the world, the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings, the Brett Favres, those legends, they’re great with the X’s and O’s but they have savvy. They’re not always going to go by the book. Sometimes, they’re just going to go make a play. Sometimes they’re going to say, ‘Hey, you’re my man right here, I’m coming to you, get open, I’m going to find you on the deep ball. And the way Carson was speaking, you can tell he wants to grow into that person and be that kind of quarterback. And then also he’s just a fun guy to be around. He and I were running routes just me and him one afternoon and then he was like, ‘Hey, I want to get some conditioning in.’ And Carson wanted to run routes. He was calling plays, he’s running corners and posts and I’m throwing to him. Everybody sees that serious side to him but he just loves the game. He wants to just be out there on the field, he wants to get to know guys, he also wants to take risks and I feel like he’s going to be really big for us going into the future.”