NFL Preview - Baltimore (1-0) at Philadelphia (1-0)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Joe Flacco strengthened his case for landing the big long-
term contract he's been seeking with a terrific Week 1 performance, while the
Philadelphia Eagles are hoping for a better return on the heavy investment
they made in Michael Vick.
Flacco will have a chance to further his cause when the steady quarterback
leads the Baltimore Ravens into Lincoln Financial Field to take on the
talented Eagles in an intriguing interconference clash between teams with very
high expectations for the 2012 season.
Entering the final year of a rookie deal he signed as Baltimore's first-round
draft choice in 2008, Flacco certainly didn't let his uncertain future status
affect him in the season opener. The 27-year-old was razor sharp in directing
a more up-tempo Ravens offense that looked to be in midyear form in Monday's
matchup against fellow AFC North member Cincinnati, completing 21-of-29 passes
for 299 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover to spearhead a 44-13
shellacking of the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Flacco steered the offense to points on its first three drives to enable
Baltimore to build a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter, then helped thwart
a Cincinnati comeback effort by orchestrating a critical nine-play, 89-yard
possession midway through the third period that he capped with a 10-yard
touchdown strike to Dennis Pitta for a 24-13 advantage.
The Ravens piled up 430 total yards for the contest, with Flacco finishing
with a 128.4 passer rating that stands as the fourth-best mark in the fifth-
year pro's career.
"Pay him whatever he asks for," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said
lightheartedly afterward. "Pay the man.
"We've always stood up here and we've always, all of our coaches, the
organization, we know what we've got in this guy. He has won a lot of football
The Eagles showed Vick the money after the controversial signal-caller put
together a stupendous comeback season during the team's run to an NFC East
title in 2010, inking a five-year pact with a maximum value of $80 million in
August of last year. The playmaking veteran's play has been somewhat up-and-
down since signing the mega-deal, however, and there were plenty of low points
in his first outing of this new season.
Vick was intercepted four times in last Sunday's game at Cleveland, with the
final one returned 27 yards for a touchdown by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson that
gave the Browns a six-point lead with under 14 minutes left. He was able to
gain a measure of redemption, however, by engineering a 16-play, 91-yard
series in the contest's final stages and hitting tight end Clay Harbor for a
four-yard score with 1:18 to go that lifted Philadelphia to a sloppy but hard-
earned 17-16 win.
The Eagles turned the ball over five times in all while committing 12
penalties for 110 yards, with the miscues lessening the effectiveness of an
offense that churned out 456 total yards and 25 first downs while holding the
ball for nearly 36 minutes.
"You just can't have those, and I would say that we didn't play as disciplined
offensively as we needed to all the way around," Philadelphia head coach Andy
Reid remarked. You start looking at 456 yards of total offense and then you're
not putting it in the end zone. That's ridiculous there. You have 12 penalties
for 110 yards. That's ridiculous and that's not good football. We just have to
make sure we take care of that."
The Eagles were also plagued by errors in their most recent tussle with the
Ravens, with five Philadelphia giveaways contributing greatly to an ugly 37-6
defeat in Baltimore back in 2008.
That game was the first head-to-head encounter between Reid and Harbaugh, who
served 10 seasons as an Eagles assistant from 1998-2007 before being hired by
the Ravens. The final nine years of that tenure were spent under Reid.
Sunday's bout will also be a homecoming for Flacco, who grew in the
Philadelphia suburb of Audubon, N.J. and will be making his first career
regular-season appearance at Lincoln Financial Field.
Series tied, 1-1-1
Last Meeting: Ravens 36, Eagles 7 (Nov. 23, 2008 at Baltimore)
Last Meeting at Site: Eagles 15, Ravens 10 (Oct. 31, 2004 at Philadelphia)
Ravens HC John Harbaugh vs. Eagles: 1-0
Eagles HC Andy Reid vs. Ravens: 1-1
Harbaugh vs. Reid Head-to-Head: Harbaugh leads, 1-0
Notes: Teams also played to a 10-10 tie in Baltimore during the 1997 season.
Prior to becoming the Ravens' head coach, Harbaugh spent 10 years as an Eagles
assistant from 1998-2007 and worked under Reid for the final nine of those
Monday's aggressive, pass-first approach was a bit of a departure from the
norm for Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but the Ravens may show
a return more to their roots this week due to the opponent they'll face. The
Eagles have one of the league's most feared pass rushes and a pair of
outstanding cornerbacks in four-time All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique
Rodgers-Cromartie, therefore it's likely Cameron will utilize the all-around
skills of Ray Rice more frequently than he needed to against the Bengals. The
versatile running back made the most of his 10 rushing attempts in the opener,
however, gaining a healthy 68 yards and scoring two touchdowns while running
behind a pair of all-stars in right guard Marshal Yanda and fullback Vonta
Leach (3 receptions last week). Baltimore will still employ the no-huddle
attack that Flacco (299 passing yards, 2 TD) so masterfully administered in
Monday's win, however, and has a pair of teammates that could potentially
create matchup problems for Philadelphia on his side in tight end Pitta,
Flacco's most targeted receiver in the Cincinnati game who compiled a career-
best 73 yards on five catches, and physical veteran Anquan Boldin (4
receptions, 63 yards, 1 TD) out of the slot. The Ravens will also take some
shots deep in the direction of second-year speedster Torrey Smith, who set the
tone for Monday's onslaught by hauling in a 52-yard Flacco pass on the opening
play from scrimmage. His ability to stretch the defense should provide Rice
more room to operate as both a runner and receiver.
The Eagles return home off an absolutely dominating display on the defensive
end, with Rodgers-Cromartie (4 PD) and Asomugha (3 PD) delivering lockdown
coverage on the Cleveland receivers and the formidable front four of ends
Jason Babin (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Trent Cole and tackles Cullen Jenkins (3
tackles) and Derek Landri bringing consistent pressure on overmatched rookie
quarterback Brandon Weeden. The results were beyond satisfactory, with Weeden
completing a poor 12-of-35 throws for just 118 yards and tossing four
interceptions, two to Rodgers-Cromartie and two to safety Kurt Coleman (4
tackles). Philadelphia also did a solid job containing the run, holding prized
rookie back Trent Richardson to a pedestrian 39 yards on 19 carries, and seem
to have improved in that area after trading for the proven DeMeco Ryans (5
tackles) and snaring impressive second-round pick Mychal Kendricks (5 tackles)
in April's draft to upgrade the linebacker corps. Kendricks and fellow rookie
Brandon Boykin will each have important roles on Sunday and need to be up to
the task, with the former possibly assigned to cover the shifty Pitta and the
5-foot-9 Boykin at a considerable size deficit if lined up against the
powerful Boldin in the slot.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
With Vick (317 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) coming off mostly a brutal game and
having thrown 15 interceptions over his last 10 starts dating back to last
year, plus the questionable availability of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for
Sunday's tilt, Reid may rely heavily on dangerous running back LeSean McCoy
once again to be the catalyst of an offense that didn't have much of an issue
moving the ball against the Browns. The fourth-year standout was a definite
weapon in Week 1, slicing through the Cleveland defense for 110 rushing yards
on 20 totes while adding six catches out of the backfield, and will be a
player the Ravens must account for at all times. Maclin fought through a
painful hip flexor to lead Philadelphia with seven receptions for 96 yards
along with a touchdown as Vick's preferred receiver, and whether or not he can
give it a go this week will have a great impact on the game plan. If not, Vick
may have to lean more on secondary outlets such as tight end Brent Celek (4
receptions, 65 yards) and slot receiver Jason Avant (4 receptions), as
Baltimore will surely focus on limiting the home-run threat that fleet-footed
wideout DeSean Jackson (4 receptions, 77 yards) provides on the outside.
Vick's excellent scrambling skills bring another dimension to the equation,
though a propensity for injury has made him less apt to run than in the past.
Better balance would serve the Eagles well this week after Vick dropped back
to pass over 60 times in the opener.
The Ravens weren't particularly good at stopping the run in Monday's lid-
lifter, with Cincinnati top back BenJarvus Green-Ellis grinding out 91 yards
and a touchdown on 18 carries, but there's certainly a precedent for a better
outcome from a defense that's ranked in the top five in rushing yards allowed
for six consecutive seasons and boasts a pair of elite stoppers in ageless
inside linebacker Ray Lewis and burly tackle Haloti Ngata (4 tackles). The 37-
year-old Lewis showed he hasn't lost anything in his 17th NFL season by
amassing 14 tackles and forcing a fumble on a sack in a stellar individual
performance against the Bengals. Ngata came through with a pair of sacks on
the evening, though Baltimore had some trouble generating pressure early on in
its first game without injured pass-rushing force Terrell Suggs, with
coordinator Dean Pees often having to resort to heavy blitzing to achieve his
desired results. Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw (4 tackles, 1/2 sack)
will need to be factors coming off the edge to help compensate for Suggs'
absence and enable Pees to use a less risky strategy. He should be able to
counter Jackson's big-play abilities by rolling game-changing free safety Ed
Reed, who garnered a seventh career touchdown return on an interception in
Monday's victory, to that side, and Vick would be wise to avoid throwing the
way of one of the league's all-time great thieves.
How one of the week's most captivating matchups turns out will be dependent on
two crucial variables. One is the status of Maclin, who changes the entire
dynamic of the Philadelphia offense by allowing Jackson more space to maximize
his talents. The other is obviously Vick. A multi-interception day won't cut
it against a Baltimore team that can score points with a balanced offense and
has always excelled at creating opportunities on the other end. Luckily for
the struggling veteran, he has a couple of master game-planners in Reid and
offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to help him out, as well as dynamic
runner in McCoy whose speed could create problems for Baltimore's aging and
Suggs-less defense. And although it's up in the air as to if Maclin will play,
he does have a history of battling through physical ailments and will do all
he can to make it to field for such an important game. Rice is going to be a
factor as well for the Ravens, but Flacco won't have as easy a time against
Philadelphia's stout pass defense as he did in carving up a soft Cincinnati
secondary last week. In a contest where neither team would surprise if it came
out on top, the Eagles' younger and faster defense and home-field advantage
rate an ever-so-slight edge.