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.)

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

Stay or Go Part 7: Jason Kelce to Byron Marshall

In the seventh of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 7 is Kelce to Marshall.

Jason Kelce
Cap hit: $6.2M

Roob: I’ll start by saying that Kelce did not play as horribly this past season as some people make it sound like. He was inconsistent. He committed too many penalties. He got pushed around by some bigger defensive tackles. But he remains a very smart, very athletic center who got better as the season went on and was actually playing pretty good football late in the year. That said, Kelce turns 30 next season, the Eagles are trying to get younger and a 30-year-old center with a $6.2 million cap figure is a luxury the Eagles just can’t afford right now. They can save $3.8 million by releasing Kelce, and considering how Isaac Seumalo played when he was in there this past season, moving on from Kelce definitely has some merit. Seumalo comes with a $764,966 cap figure, he just turned 23 and he’s got tons of upside. It’s all about what the roster is going to look like in a couple years, when the Eagles should be in position to get into the playoffs and make a run. Do you want a 32-year-old center in his ninth season? No. This is the time to make the change. Get Seumalo as much experience as possible, as much work with Carson Wentz as possible. There’s no guarantee he’ll become the player Kelce has been, but he was a third-round pick and the Eagles need to find out if he's going to be the guy. And that $3.8 million in cap space is big too. Kelce has been a terrific Eagle for a long time, but it’s time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Kelce has become an unpopular player in recent years and it’s easy to see why. He’s slightly undersized center and just can’t take on nose tackles 1-on-1. But he’s still very good getting downfield to block and hasn’t been nearly as bad as you think. Throughout the season, Kelce was pretty honest when assessing his play and said he knew he needed to get better to stay in Philly. There have been reports the Eagles have been thinking about moving on from Kelce, and I see why that makes sense, especially with Isaac Seumalo waiting. But Kelce can be a constant for Carson Wentz, and it's all about Carson Wentz. 

Verdict: STAYS

Mychal Kendricks
Cap hit: $6.6M

Roob: Kendricks, on the other hand, may still have more value to the Eagles here than elsewhere. You could save $1.8 million under the cap by releasing him, and maybe they will. But, geeze, he’s still just 26 years old and still has the athleticism and tools that made him the 46th player taken in the 2012 draft. I’m not sure what happened to Kendricks. Somewhere along the line, all that potential just sort of stopped turning into plays. Kendricks had 12 sacks, three interceptions and six forced fumbles in his first four seasons but no big plays this past year as his playing time dwindled. I have to think Kendricks is worth keeping around for another year and trying to salvage something out of him on special teams if nothing else. Kendricks was drafted ahead of Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David. Do you just give up on him before his 27th birthday? And it’s not like the Eagles are exactly loaded with young talent at linebacker. So I think they try one more year with Kendricks. 

Verdict: STAYS 

Dave: What’s happened to Kendricks over the past few years has been wild. He went from ultimate fan favorite on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowler with a new contract to a complete afterthought. Kendricks barely played in 2016 and it was clear he wasn’t happy about that. Maybe he can make a difference in a different defense. He’s still young and athletic and could fit in another defense. The Eagles should try everything they can to trade him and get something out of him. It wouldn't save them a lot of money ($1.8 million), but it might just be time to cut ties. 

Verdict: GOES

Bennie Logan
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: I know it looks tough right now to imagine the Eagles finding a way to re-sign Logan, who is an unrestricted free agent and is going to get some pretty hefty offers if he hits the open market. But this is what Howie is best at. Finding ways to keep guys he wants to keep. The Eagles are not going to let a solid, consistent 27-year-old defensive tackle walk. General rule: When a team wants to keep a player and the player wants to stay, they find a way to get it done. By releasing and restructuring other guys, they’ll make room under the cap for Logan. I have a hunch he’s not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Logan is the Eagles’ biggest to-be free agent. He’s said he wants to be back in Philly next year and has talked about the friendships he has on the team, but this is a chance for a big payday – and you never know if one will come again. Because Logan has shown his ability to play in a 4-3 and a 3-4 defense, the number of teams interested in him won’t be limited. That will raise the price. And ultimately, it comes down to price. The Eagles already have a ton of money invested in their defensive line. Will they prioritize signing one more? 

Verdict: GOES

Rick Lovato

Roob: Lovato is one of the two-best long snappers the Eagles have had in the last decade. He got three games in after long-time long snapper Jon Dorenbos suffered a season-ending broken wrist, and he acquitted himself fine. But assuming Dorenbos wants to hold off on a full-time magic career and keep playing football, he’s the guy.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Sorry long-snapper Lovato. You did just fine filling in for Dorenbos, but it’s still the magic man’s job.

Verdict: GOES

Chris Maragos
Cap hit: $2.25M

Roob: With apologies to Kenny Rose, Quintin Mikell, Colt Anderson and Ike Reese, Maragos is the best special teams player I’ve ever seen wear an Eagles uniform. Maragos is 30 years old now, but he ceratinly showed no signs of slowing down. The Eagles did the right thing and locked him up for three more years. We probably don’t talk enough about Dave Fipp’s special teams units, but they have always been among the best in the NFL, and Maragos is one of the main reasons why. He’s one key guy the Eagles don’t have to worry about losing. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Maragos is no longer a defensive player and that’s just fine because he’s an absolutely dynamic special teams player. Really. It’s incredible to watch this guy play teams and there aren’t many who do it near as well. With a new contract, he’ll be around for a few more years and as long as he doesn’t show the signs of age, he will still be playing at a high level. 

Verdict: STAYS

Byron Marshall

Roob: Marshall, an undrafted rookie, got a chance to play late in the season with all the other injuries the Eagles’ running backs had, and he acquitted himself OK, especially in the Dallas game, where he ran 10 times for 42 yards. But the bottom line is with Ryan Mathews not likely to return and Darren Sproles a year from retirement, the Eagles really need to re-build their running back corps from the ground up. Whether there’s room for Marshall in that new-look running back corps remains to be seen. Marshall did enough to earn a look in training camp, but the practice squad remains his most likely landing spot. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Marshall, the undrafted running back from Oregon, got a chance to play toward the end of the season and did some nice things. He’s a shifty running back, so fans really seem to like him. Heck, everyone enjoys watching him play. But it took him all year to get a chance and the team doesn’t seem too high on him. He’ll be with the team during training camp but probably not on the roster after that. 

Verdict: GOES

Prank against Steelers suspected in early hotel fire alarm

Prank against Steelers suspected in early hotel fire alarm

BOSTON — A man has been arrested and charged with setting off an early-morning fire alarm at a Boston hotel that roused the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of their playoff with the New England Patriots.

Massachusetts State Police spokesman Dave Procopio says Pittsburgh's team was staying at the Logan Airport Hilton hotel when a fire alarm went off at about 3:40 a.m. Sunday. Procopio says evidence suggests the pulled alarm was meant as a prank against the Steelers.

Twenty-five-year-old East Boston resident Dennis Harrison has been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and pulling a false alarm. Police say they found him walking on the hotel property. He's been released on $100 bail.

The Steelers are scheduled to play the Patriots on Sunday night in the AFC Championship Game.