This week the Baltimore Ravens play at home, where they're 3-1 in 2008 and are glad to know that four of their remaining six games are in the cozy confines of M&T Bank Stadium. The Eagles are 2-2-1 on the road, but only have a short drive down I-95 to get to Baltimore. What do the Ravens need to do to end the weekend back on the beginning of another winning streak at 7-4 and stay within striking distance of the AFC North leading Pittsburgh Steelers. I'm writing this with the intention that the Steelers win over the Bengals tonight on Thursday Night Football.
The Ravens will be facing their third top ten offensive team in a row this week. Houston was ranked fourth when we played them (they rank 5th now), the Giants rank fourth now and the Eagles are sixth. However, the Eagels high ranking is mainly because of their proficient passing game. They pass so much more than they run, in fact, more than any other team in the league. Therefore, while their rushing game, even with Brian Westbrook, only ranks 26th in the league, their passing attack comes in as 4th and their scoring is 6th in the league, averaging just over 26 points a game. However, they only were able to manage a meager 13 points last week in the first tie in the NFL in eight years at Cincinnati last Sunday.
That game frustrated most Eagles fans, who are as rabid as any in the NFL. Believe me, as I know when my son and I went up to Philly dring their Super Bowl run to sell those rubber wristband for charity before the game. Their parking lots were filled with serious tailgaters, who come in RV's and set up tents wrapped in Saran Wrap with generators, heaters, carpet, sofas and even televisions set up so they can sit and wach the games without even going into the stadium! Did I also mention that they were a loud, foul mouthed group of loyal fans that really know how to party, no matter what the weather is? Did I also mention that their police grabbed my son and I and took all our wristbands because they said I couldn't sell them in the parking lots? Finally, did mention that I called the Mayor's office who tried to get them back for me and found out they had "disappeared" and no one knew what I was talking about? Hmmmm,...but that is another story for another day, and not related to this post, so I do digress.
Back to the main point. The Eagles are a pass happy team, as McNabb has never thrown less than 33 passes a game, has thrown over 40 three times, including a season high 58 (no, not a typo) against the Bengals last week. Can you believe he threw 58 times for 339 yards and only put up 13 points? Of course, part of the reason is that he had 30 incompletions, which also included three interceptions. If the Ravens can get him to throw three picks, I promised you we will put more than 13 points on the board and walk out of the stadium as winners. For the season, McNabb is completing 59% of his passes with 14 TD's and 8 INT's, for a QB rating of just over 84. Not bad numbers, but without the benefit of a solid running game, it makes it tough for the team to win just based on his arm.
The Ravens need to watch out for the big play as it looks like his favorite receivers are rookie DeSean Jackson (42 catches) and Hank Baskett (3 TDs). Baskett is also lucky enough to have snared former Hugh Hefner girl, Kendra Wilkerson, as they are engaged to be married. Westbrook has caught 32 passes out of the backfield but has only rushed for 500 yards, although he does have 5 rushing TD's to go along with his 2 TD receptions. Obviously, he is still a huge threat and we will have to make sure he doesn't get the ball out in open space on short slant routes and screen plays. He probably won't be able to run the ball effectively against the Ravens defense, despite what the Giants did last week to what used to be the #1 rushing defense in the league, but has not fallen to only #3.
Putting pressure on McNabb is what makes him throw the interceptions. Hes been sacked 15 times, so we should be able to harass him, get some sacks, but more importantly, force him into throwing into coverage for costly interceptions that we can turn into short fields and easy points. Once we put the Eagles in a hole and a come- from-behind mode, they will abandon the run and we can pin our ears back and put the heat on.
Offensively, we will need to establish the ground game so our passing game can be successful. While the Eagles rank 7th overall on defense, they come in at 11th against the run as well as the past. However, playing at home, we have been able to run against everyone other than Tennessee and should be able to be successful with our three headed group effort. Joe Flacco has shown improvement and is not down after the loss last weekend. That unflappable demeanor and poise in the pocket will get the job done against the Eagles, as he will pass just enough to open up the run and vice versa. Ball control and time of possession are the Ravens trademarks and if the Eagles are forced to pass, that will continue to tip the scales in the Ravens favor on both stats. Long time consuming drives combined with costly interceptions is the recipe for success against the Eagles.
That is exactly how the Ravens will beat the Eagles.