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.)

Carson Wentz back at practice, frustrated he’s out for Eagles Thursday night

Carson Wentz back at practice, frustrated he’s out for Eagles Thursday night

Carson Wentz was on the fields at the NovaCare Complex wearing a helmet and ready to practice on Monday for the first time since fracturing his ribs on Aug. 11 against the Bucs.

He’s getting better. Just not quickly enough.

Despite being back at practice Monday afternoon, Wentz will not play in the Eagles’ preseason finale against the Jets on Thursday night. The original hope was that the No. 2 overall pick would be ready for the fourth preseason game.

“That’s a no-go for this week, but I’ll be ready for Week 1,” Wentz said.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said a CT scan on Wentz’s ribs showed one was completely healed, while the other was just 60 percent healed (see story).

Wentz said he expects to be fully healed by Sept. 11, when the Eagles open the season against the Cleveland Browns. But by then, he will have missed three of his four opportunities to play in the preseason. And, as the third-stringer, he won’t even be active on game days.

“It’s tough,” Wentz said. “With all injuries, it’s tough not being on the field, especially as a competitor coming in here, these preseason games were going to be big for me. It’s tough, it’s frustrating, but it just kind of is what it is.”

In his only game this preseason, Wentz went 12 for 24 for 89 yards and an interception. He also ran three times for 15 yards. During that game, he showed flashes of why the Eagles were so high on him, but it was just a taste.

After Thursday night, he will have spent the rest of the preseason as a spectator during games, taking mental reps instead of real ones.

Mental reps help, certainly. Wentz stands on the sideline and mentally inserts himself into the play. What would he do here? What would his read be there? What would he do with a certain protection?

“You’re really just trying to be locked in like you were the guy in the game,” he said.

Mental reps are great. But they don’t replace the real ones. Nothing does.

So while Wentz has been working to get better since going down with the ribs injury earlier this month, he’s lost valuable practice and game reps that he won’t get back. Pederson said once the season starts, the team can’t help him make them up because it will be too focused on getting the starters ready to play.

“You have to make the most of every opportunity you have in practice,” Wentz said. “I feel confident with where I am. Obviously, I missed the couple preseason games. I know when my number gets called, I’ll be ready.”

Pederson on Monday said he was less concerned about Wentz because Wentz is the third-string quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. That was the plan before Wentz’s injury. Then the injury cemented that plan.

Does Wentz have any hope that he’ll play during his rookie season?

“I’ll be ready to go,” he said. “It’s not up for me to decide. We’ve been talking about this forever now. I know I’ll be ready to go and I’m excited for when I’m back out there. Practicing today, I’m excited for that too.”

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Showcase time for Ryan Howard has apparently come to an end.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin will go with Tommy Joseph rather than Howard at first base for Monday's series opener against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. It's an interesting decision because it likely means Howard will sit until at least the weekend. On Tuesday, the Phils face Max Scherzer, against whom Howard is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts. On Wednesday, they draw lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Howard is 1 for 10 with four strikeouts in his last three games. He was hot after the All-Star break but the Phillies were still unlikely to be able to find a suitor for him because of the scarcity of American League teams in need of a DH. With just three days before Sept. 1, it seems extremely unlikely Howard will be moved. A player is not postseason eligible unless he's on a team's roster by Aug. 31. Thus, Joseph should get more playing time in September.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field after striking the ball well three times on Sunday. Paredes has been productive lately, going 10 for 27 (.370) with two doubles and two homers in his last 14 games. He could be designated for assignment by the Phils soon if they need to clear a spot to add a prospect to the 40-man roster for a September call-up.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (.895 OPS in last 230 PA)
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, LF
9. Jake Thompson

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

Eagles LB Myke Tavarres will join Colin Kaepernick, won't stand for national anthem

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines last week when he refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game, and an Eagles linebacker fighting for a roster spot says he'll do the same in their final preseason contest.

Kaepernick decided not to stand because of the divisive and violent racial issues that have been building in America. Tavarres has taken a similar stance, telling ESPN.com's Tim McManus on Monday that he nearly followed Kaepernick's lead by sitting out the anthem in Indianapolis.

"Oh, I thought about it. Believe me, I definitely thought about it," Tavarres told ESPN. "And usually I'm front and center on the line with the rest of the guys, and that's since pre-K all the way up. Saturday's game, I stepped back, I was in the background, and it didn't feel right to me at all, and so I will be taking a stand — or sitting down — for the fourth game.

"We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up. We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. And I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it."

According to the report, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had players express their feelings about the topic during a meeting Monday and Tavarres was one of the players who spoke, along with team leader Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Leodis McKelvin.

Jenkins discussed the topic with USA Today over the weekend.

"At some point, I think guys in multiple sports across the country, guys are starting to realize if we do want a change, it is something we need to get involved in at some point," Jenkins said.

“I have already done some things. I have spoken to the police commissioner of Philadelphia. We are trying to come up with some plans to do some stuff on the ground and get some work done. A lot of what is going on in the country is outrageous. I try to be careful. I ask myself what is the outcome that I want to see and how do I go about that?

"At the end of the day when it comes down to relationships of African Americans in this country right now, my entire family is black. I can sit on my stage and act like these things don’t apply to me but my two brothers, my dad, my mom, all of them are dealing with the same thing."

Tavarres, meanwhile, is not a lock to make the Eagles' final 53-man roster, but their lack of depth at backup linebacker has created an opportunity for him. Dave Zangaro had Tavarres on the practice squad in his roster projection Monday. 

"In this situation, I've really got nothing to lose," Tavarres told McManus. "I'm a rookie free agent, haven't signed any major contract, so there's not a lot of money on the line, I don't have any big endorsement deals on the line. Really what's at stake is my pride and what kind of man would I be and what kind of African-American would I be if I didn't stand my ground on this issue we have today?

"[It] needs to be done. Will there be backlash? Probably. I don't think anyone has bought my jersey yet, so I don't know if it's going to be burned, but it's a major issue and I'm definitely going to stand my ground for this one."