Ravens Must Rebound Against Eagles

By Martin Steger

Still carrying the disappointment of a 30-10 loss to the New York Giants, the Baltimore Ravens will host the Eagles this Sunday. At 6-4, this might not be a must-win game for the Ravens…but it’s pretty close. Fortunately for the Ravens, it’s also doable.

The Ravens defense was uncharacteristically generous last week, and seemed to be shell-shocked early in the game after a few long, punishing runs by Brandon Jacobs. They can’t let that happen against the Eagles. Luckily for the Ravens, the Eagles tend to run lots of screens emphasizing Brian Westbrook. Westbrook is a great halfback, but Baltimore’s defenders happen to be excellent at defending the screen, thanks to their speed and intelligence. Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis in particular are excellent at snuffing out screen plays.

Inside runs will also be a problem for Philadelphia. Defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Trevor Pryce will be looking for redemption after their poor showing against the Giants’ offensive line. Though the Giants pushed the Ravens around, Philadelphia is far from a power-running team. The Ravens still have a great run defense (and now a very pissed-off one), so short-yardage situations may be tough for the Eagles.

The Ravens will need to harass Donovan McNabb to prevent him and DeSean Jackson from burning the secondary, however, and that means mounting a consistent pass rush.
Pressuring McNabb is an achievable goal for Baltimore. Their numbers aren’t incredible—Baltimore sits in the middle of the NFL pack with 20 sacks—but the Ravens have been able to bring the heat when they need to, particularly when playing with the lead. At the same time, Baltimore has to be careful and prevent McNabb from reeling off any long, demoralizing runs.

The matchup is less favorable for the Ravens on offense. Philadelphia has a solid defensive line of its own, one that can both clog up running lanes and rush the passer. Its linebackers are young, quick and relentless while the secondary is star-studded with the likes of Asante Samuel, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown and Brian Dawkins.

Despite his surprisingly rapid development, rookie Joe Flacco may have trouble finding room to throw in the face of Jim Johnson blitzes backed up by an elite secondary, so he will need lots of support from his running backs. Willis McGahee in particular had an extremely poor showing against New York, and a solid performance from him or another Baltimore back will be the first step towards getting this offense back in sync.

All of that is easier said than done, though, and if the Ravens lose this one their playoff
chances will dwindle substantially. Cincinnati will most likely fall to Pittsburgh on Thursday night, giving the Steelers an 8-3 record and a potential 2-game lead in the division should the Ravens fall to the Eagles. The Steelers also possess a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ravens, and though Baltimore could neutralize that later in the season, it’s still another reason they don’t want to lose this one.

Losing to Philadelphia would also put the Ravens further back in the wildcard race, making it harder for them to compete with the likes of the Patriots, Colts and Dolphins. Furthermore, the Ravens still have tough games against Washington, Dallas and Pittsburgh, among others, left on their schedule. The chances of Baltimore reeling off another 4-game winning streak border on impossible, so they need to nab a win while they can.