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.)

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.

A Q & A with Siera Santos

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A Q & A with Siera Santos

What experience had the biggest impact on your life and career in sports and why? 
I’m often asked why I chose to be in sports broadcasting and the answer is not exactly brief. Most people aren’t familiar with my backstory. While I prefer to tell it face-to-face, here it is in a nutshell: Throughout high school, I had a lot of “problems” (that’s the gentle way of putting it). I didn’t graduate and instead got my GED while I was in a treatment center in Utah. That summer when I returned home to Arizona, I needed a healthy distraction and, although I had always been a casual Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns fan, I started watching games every day and reading the sports section with my dad over our morning cup of coffee.

When the NBA season started, I begged my dad for season tickets. This was the Nash/Stoudemire/Marion era and tickets were incredibly expensive. While we didn’t get season tickets that year, we went to several regular season and playoff games. Next season rolled around and, once again, I pleaded with my dad to get us season tickets. He finally broke down and bought a half-season package. We went to nearly every other game. I knew at that point that I wanted to go to games for the rest of my life. I enrolled in community college for the spring with my heart set on getting a degree in broadcast journalism. Not only did Suns games change the course of my future, but they also repaired my relationship with my dad. 

Who’s had the biggest impact and why?  
It’s difficult to single out one person. Obviously my parents' unwavering support got me where I am today. If I had to name someone who is currently a mentor-figure in my life, it would definitely be Jesse Sanchez from MLB Network. He always checks in to make sure I’m OK (in both my career and personal life), and he’s given me invaluable feedback and advice. There aren’t many Latinos working in sports media at national level and he encourages me to embrace who I am. 

What are some of the funniest moments you’ve experienced as a woman in sports?
When I tell people I’m a sports broadcaster, the immediate follow-up question tends to be: “Oh, so you like sports?” It’s tough to not respond with something sarcastic so I usually say, “Nope! I hate them!” I just don’t think it’s a question that you would ask a man in sports broadcasting. 

What was the most negative moment you’ve experienced ... the one that got you fired up or perhaps made you think about quitting?
Overall, most of my interactions are very positive and the majority of athletes are professionals. But I did have an issue with one player who was unbelievably disrespectful. He had been inappropriate on two previous occasions and I dreaded having to crowd around his locker to do interviews with him after games. I stopped asking him questions and after one of the scrums, he said: “If you’re not going to ask any questions, move your ass to the back.” My cameraman was still rolling and the mic was still hot. It was caught on video. Eventually, the issue was resolved with the support of my superiors. However, the entire ordeal was embarrassing and made my job more difficult. 
 
Have you had any teachable moments, i.e. someone made an ignorant comment, but had no idea you were offended – until you said something?
Double-checking the pronunciation of names that I’m not familiar with has been a priority. If you slip-up on a name, viewers will crucify you. Most male broadcasters will be forgiven for a mispronunciation, but it’s not necessarily the same for women. 

Any awkward moments?  
Whenever an athlete crosses the line and tries to be flirtatious or ask for a date. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d think, but it’s still uncomfortable. 

What are you most proud of?
I’m often asked “Well, what’s next?” The truth is I’m very happy with where I am. My end goal was to be a team reporter for a regional sports network and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I live in an amazing city and I love what I do. After I dropped out of high school, I never thought I would make it this far, much less graduate college. I’m incredibly grateful to be here and I’m proud of where I am.

A lot of girls look up to you and aspire to be on TV covering sports. What is the most important message you want to send to them?
Be someone that people enjoy working with and being around. Always be open to feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not 100 percent sure. Oh, and don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see.