Welcome to “The Dossier” a weekly look across the aisle at the Ravens’ opponents, and how they stack up on paper. This Week 6 edition features a matchup between Baltimore and their NFC East based neighbors to the Northeast.
The Setting: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Forecast: Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. High around 65F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
The Stakes: Baltimore sits at 4-1 with some angst surrounding the way they’ve gotten there, while the Eagles sit at 1-3-1 in a shaky NFC East division. A win for the former (in impressive fashion) means keeping pace in the AFC North, while the latter hopes to simply stay afloat with a home victory.
The Spread: The Ravens are the 7.5-point road favorite.
Another week, another win, but you may not realize it if you didn’t have access to the box score, and only based your Ravens opinions upon following the team’s fans on social media. Following an embarrassing loss to the Chiefs on Monday Night, the Ravens have bounced back nicely against Washington and Cincinnati, though those performances weren’t entirely impressive in all aspects.
So here we are, with yet another presumably weak team on the schedule for the Ravens to test their mettle against. Against Washington and Cincinnati, they came out with grades ranging from a C to a B, so the question heading into this weekend is, what will it take for their A game to make an appearance?
Let’s take a look.
Pretty much since his drafting in 2016, no one could’ve argued that Carson Wentz has the physical capabilities to dominate the league at the quarterback position. He did for a brief while in 2017 when he was tearing through the NFL on his way to a presumptive MVP award, but it of course all came crashing down with his ACL injury suffered against the Rams in Los Angeles. Nick Foles took over, Philadelphia went on to win the Super Bowl, and the rest became history.
The rest, notwithstanding Wentz. On the promise of his insane physical talents and aptitude for the game, he was kept around to remain in place as the Eagles franchise QB, while Foles was shipped off following the 2018 season. In that season, Wentz suffered a back injury that caused him to miss out on the homestretch of the season, which consequently saw Foles return to the lineup and nearly pull off another miraculous playoff run in his stead again.
2019 was again frustrating for Wentz as he missed time due to injury (including in the playoffs) and threw to what was an almost comically limited receiving corps. Prior to the season, Howie Roseman inked him to a long-term deal, and as we make our way through the first few games of 2020, the results on that decision are decidedly mixed. So what’s going on with the guy who was looking like a generational talent at the position not too long ago?
The short answer is the aforementioned weak supporting cast, but the issues seem to run deep enough that he needs to shoulder some blame as well. You can likely chalk some of it up to confidence, and some of it up to physical issues resulting from the toll of injuries he’s taken, both of which play into one another to an extent. A few weeks into the season, Mark Schofield wrote an article detailing some of the mechanical issues Wentz is dealing with for the Touchdown Wire, which intimates that a hitch in the beginning of his windup (specifically with his left leg) seem to be giving him problems with driving the ball forward in the correct fashion:
The Wentz pick. Already two great breakdowns from @EaglesXOs and @BenjaminSolak who are smarter than me, that you should definitely watch.— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) September 22, 2020
I'm gonna focus more on the throw - and the mechanics - than the decision.
*Locking the front leg
*Breaking the chain
*Finishing away pic.twitter.com/RO4Gx26p2L
Including the above video breakdown in the piece, Schofield went on to write this in regards to what we just watched:
“I have long maintained the position that when it comes to quarterbacks, “mechanics don’t matter until they matter,” he wrote. “If the football is getting where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, the mechanics the passer uses to get the football there are not an issue. But if the ball is not getting where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, and mechanics are the reason why, then we have a problem. On this interception, Wentz locks that left leg, thanks to an extremely wide base and an over-stride with his front foot. What does this do? It causes a “break” in the chain between the upper body and the lower body.”
That to me sounds like an issue that could be created by two things: a structural knee injury, and a back injury. Wentz’ left plant leg is the same one that got injured back in 2017, and it seems plausible that in an effort to generate more force out of it, he’s driving it into the ground much harder. This tied into a potentially lingering back issue could be completely sapping him in the confidence of his ability to rotate and fully complete his throwing motion.
It’s not a pretty picture, and especially not when you look at the workload that Philly is currently placing on him. They currently rank 25th in offensive rush DVOA with a -19.8% figure, which is causing them to lean on their embattled quarterback more than either party would probably like at this point. Per Wentz’ PlayerProfiler page, he’s currently fourth in the NFL in pass plays per game, sixth in passing attempts, and fifth in deep ball attempts.
Compound that with a supporting cast that’s graded at 29th in efficiency, and a protection rank of 23rd, and you’ll rank highly in the more unflattering figures such as intercept able passes (second) and danger plays (first) as Wentz does.
This unsuccessful brand of “heroball” stems from the lackluster running game and receiving options, as well as a patchwork offensive line that only has one player with a PFF grade of above 70. That would be Lane Johnson with a 70.9, who missed Thursday’s practice with an ankle injury. Johnson is expected to try and suit up on Sunday, but that’s . . . not a pretty picture.
As far as what showed up on film against Pittsburgh, the game turned into an uncomfortable watch in which the Eagles failed to succeed on early downs, and put their (at this point) overmatched quarterback in very difficult situations. Like, on the first drive of the game:
Truly hate this play call on third and long, particularly with the way PHI’s line has been playing. I guess it was designed to go to Ertz eventually, but Wentz hasn’t shown the propensity to be able to hit these in 2020. Bad tone setting opening drive. pic.twitter.com/QjSBqBtV0J— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 14, 2020
And here as well:
Again, hate the play call on 2nd and 9, but credit to Wentz for almost hitting this after getting wrecked. There’s still a good QB in there somewhere. pic.twitter.com/Szr6UqwgAk— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 14, 2020
It’s clear after over a month of play that this offense won’t be returning to it’s 2017 form anytime soon, but it should be noted they hit some big plays against the Steelers. Keying on Miles Sanders and forcing Wentz to make money throws in minus situations will be crucial to success on defense, as will stopping the big play through the air to Travis Fulgham, who’s been quite the find in this wide receiving corps. Ultimately, stopping those big plays will be crucial in setting up early success as this 29th-ranked offense by DVOA goes up against the Ravens third-ranked defense, which of course spells mismatch at this point on paper.
While they may not be known for it, the 2017 Eagles defense was a massive part in that team ultimately winning a Super Bowl as well. Unfortunately for them, they’ve taken a somewhat similar route to the offense (that, is a fall from grace) in the days since. That isn’t necessarily due to lack of talent, though.
Returning to this side of the ball is Fletcher Cox as arguably the leader of this unit, currently playing to a 76.3 PFF grade, being slightly outshone in that capacity by Vinny Curry with an 82.7. Their defensive line on the whole truly is an impressive unit with depth players such as Malik Jackson and Josh Sweat to fall back on, which has pushed them to a top half rush defense rank by DVOA (15th).
Their secondary isn’t playing up to their strength with a 29th DVOA ranking, and are led by Darius Slay at cornerback. He’s playing reasonably well with a 68.8 grade via PFF, but is the only corner in that range thus far. Where this unit can truly be exploited is their athleticism (or lack thereof) in their linebacking corps.
Of their backers who have taken over 100 snaps, their highest-graded player is T.J. Edwards (119 snaps) with a 60.3, while the other two are Nate Gerry (356 snaps) and Duke Riley (217 snaps) grade out at 421. and 56 respectively. Their inability to get sideline-to-sideline really showed up on tape against the Steelers, with some of the end arounds and levels concepts that Pittsburgh ran really gashing them, like here:
Nothing gets your boy going more than a well executed misdirection, and the Steelers had plenty against the Eagles pic.twitter.com/CpUrSdwFgR— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 14, 2020
Steelers made serious hay going over the middle with their passing game. I know Boykin has been in the doghouse the last few weeks, but if there’s a defense to get the big man rolling against, I have a feeling this is a good one to start against. pic.twitter.com/XZOYotBY3o— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 14, 2020
And of course, here:
Athleticism all over the Steelers offense, and they consistently victimized the Eagles D like this pic.twitter.com/ayZmQKlm8x— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 14, 2020
For those clamoring for Devin Duvernay to get more involved in the offensive gameplan, this may in fact be the week. Looking at some of these plays, it’ll be on Roman to scheme some things up for him both in the passing game, and the side-to-side game as well. The Ravens have the horses and the offensive line to victimize the intermediate area of the defense, and if this offense really wants to get going, they’d be smart to take a look at doing some of this.
The Ravens have comfortably won their last two games following the Kansas City debacle in Week 3, but it does feel like there’s maybe a final gear that they haven’t quite shifted into.
While I’m expecting to be the score a bit closer than this may indicate, I do believe this is the game that the Ravens offense truly gets rolling, and finds their high level form once again. Lamar Jackson throws three touchdown passes and Baltimore’s defense forces two turnovers on Wentz and the Eagles offense, and the Ravens cover the spread on the road in a slugfest against a team that’s fighting for it’s life.
Jake’s official prediction: Ravens 30, Eagles 20