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.)

Eagles-Redskins: 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Redskins: 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles are coming off their third straight loss and have dropped five of their last six. 

The Redskins have dropped two straight, but are still very much in the playoff hunt at 6-5-1.

The Birds are looking for their first win against the NFC East this season. Here are five matchups to watch.

Eagles defensive line vs. Redskins offensive line
In the matchup in Washington, the Redskins' O-line owned the Eagles' D-line to the tune of 230 rushing yards and nearly 500 yards total. The Eagles also failed to record a sack. And that was at a time when their line was playing fairly well.

The Eagles' line has come under serious fire and for good reason. They've grossly underperformed for a unit that's supposed to be the team's strength. As for the Redskins, their line has been very good all season and they'll get All Pro Trent Williams back after the massive tackle served a four-game suspension.

DeSean Jackson vs. Eagles' corners
DeSean has been on a roll. The Eagles' corners have not. In his last three games, Jackson has nine catches for 228 yards (good for 25.3 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. 

Last week in Cincinnati, the Eagles were burned by the formidable trio of Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core for 11 catches for 219 yards. Each receiver had at least one reception of 29 yards plus. It could be a long day for Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and Jalen Mills.

Carson Wentz vs. Joe Barry
It's no secret that Wentz has been struggling. In his last three, Wentz  has three touchdowns to six interceptions and has completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Equally as alarming is that Wentz is 83 of 141 over that span. That's a ridiculous 47 attempts per game. Yes, the Eagles have been behind in those games, but Doug Pederson still needs to find a way to give this offense balance.

Barry's unit hasn't exactly set the world on fire, ranking 23rd in yards per game and 20th in points allowed. They've let up 31 points in each of their last two games, but it is important to note that they've played the Cowboys and the Cardinals. The Eagles don't have playmakers like Ezekiel Elliot and Dez Bryant or David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

Ryan Kerrigan vs. Allen Barbre
Kerrigan looked unstoppable in the NFL debut of Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Kerrigan racked up 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries in the Redskins' win. Kerrigan has already reached double-digit sacks for the second time in his career and has notched a sack in each of his last three.

Barbre has performed admirably in the absence of both the suspended Lane Johnson and the injured Vaitai. It's also pretty clear that Barbre's best position is guard. It's going to be a stiff test for Barbre to contain Kerrigan. 

Jordan Matthews (maybe) vs. Josh Norman 
With Paul Turner performing well in the slot, it'll be interesting to see if Pederson decides to use Matthews on the outside more. Matthews is coming off an ankle injury that kept him out of the Eagles' loss to the Bengals and is listed as questionable on Sunday. Even if Matthews is 100 percent, it's not an ideal matchup for the Eagles.

Louisville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy

usa-lamar-jackson-heisman.jpg
USA Today Images

Louisville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy

NEW YORK -- Lamar Jackson leapt over a loaded field of Heisman Trophy contenders early in the season and by the time he slowed down nobody could catch him.

The sensational sophomore quarterback became the first Louisville player to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, beating out preseason favorite Deshaun Watson of Clemson despite some late-season struggles.

Baker Mayfield finished third and Oklahoma teammate and fellow finalist Dede Westbrook was fourth. Michigan's Jabrill Peppers was fifth.

Watson, who finished third in Heisman voting last year, led a stacked group of contenders entering this season that included five of the top seven vote-getters in 2015.

Jackson outdid them all in his first season as Louisville's full-time starter, accounting for 51 touchdowns and averaging 410 yards per game in total offense. He ultimately won going away, with 2,144 points to Watson's 1,524. By percentage of possible points received, Jackson's victory was the sixth largest in Heisman history, and he became the youngest winner at 19 years, 352 days.

Jackson is the first Heisman Trophy winner to play on a team that lost its last two games of the regular season since Tim Brown of Notre Dame in 1987. He's the first to enter the postseason without a chance to win the national title since Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012.

No matter. Jackson did so much before November it was difficult to deny him the award because of a couple of missteps at the end.

He provided a signature moment against Syracuse, hurdling a defender on his way into the end zone, and then played his best against Louisville's toughest competition.

In a romp over Florida State and a close loss at Clemson, Jackson threw for 511 yards, ran for 308 and accounted for eight touchdowns. After ripping apart Florida State in September, he earned the stamp of approval from his idol, former Virginia Tech and NFL star Mike Vick.

Jackson left that Oct. 1 game in Death Valley as a threat to run away with the Heisman, but losses to Houston and Kentucky, when he committed four turnovers, in late November provided an opportunity for others to sway voters.

Watson made the biggest surge, but ultimately fell short.

Jackson continues a recent trend of breakout stars winning the Heisman. He is the sixth player to win the award as either a redshirt freshman or sophomore, all since 2007, joining Manziel (redshirt freshman), Jameis Winston (redshirt freshman), Mark Ingram (sophomore), Sam Bradford (sophomore) and Tim Tebow (sophomore).

Jackson came to Louisville as a three-star recruit from Boynton Beach High School in Florida. Some colleges were not sold on him as a quarterback, but Jackson was such a dynamic talented Louisville coach Bobby Petrino altered his offense to accommodate Jackson's speed and elusiveness.

Jackson flashed brilliance as a freshman and showed what was to come in the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M. He had 453 total yards and led Louisville to a victory.

Still, with so many well-established stars from Watson and Mayfield to running backs Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Leonard Fournette of LSU, Jackson entered the season without much fanfare.

Just the way he likes it.

Jackson spent this season adjusting to newfound fame, growing into the role of face of the team and trying to stay out of the spotlight. He said he cut down on trips to the mall to avoid the inevitable crowds he drew.

He is about to become even more popular. Especially back in Louisville, where he has another year before he can even consider his next big jump -- to the NFL.