Week 6 Preview: Powerful Ravens Won't Make Things Any Easier for Eagles
PHILADELPHIA - The powerful Baltimore Ravens will make the short trip up I-95 to face the Eagles in an inter-conference showdown at Lincoln Financial Field, the first game this season that fans will be permitted in the stadium.
Much like Pittsburgh last week, the Eagles (1-3-1) will be permitted to have 7,500 people in the building per the Commonwealth’s lessening on COVID-19 restrictions, something that should result in about 5,500 fans, a number that likely will not affect the Ravens’ (4-1) ability to communicate.
The lack of fans around the league has been a detriment to home teams and figures to continue for the foreseeable future. The Ravens have won eight consecutive games as the visitor dating back to last season so their success pre-dates the current environment.
This will mark just the sixth-ever regular-season meeting between the teams and the Ravens’ third time playing in Philly.
There is familiarity, however, because Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh made his bones in Philadelphia from 1999 through 2007 as a highly-regarded member of Andy Reid’s staff before becoming one of the league’s best head coaches with Baltimore. Harbaugh, in fact, actually pre-dated Reid by one year in Philadelphia, arriving in 1998.
Doug Pederson, of course, was one of the Eagles' quarterbacks in 1999 when Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator.
Since Baltimore hired Harbaugh in 2008, the Ravens have registered the NFL’s fourth-most wins (132) and advanced to the playoffs in eight of 12 seasons, winning Super Bowl XLVII after the 2012 campaign.
Pederson is on a similar track, having put his team in the playoff in three of his four seasons with one Super Bowl title.
Meanwhile' the Ravens’ current 4-1 start this season is the fourth time they’ve done so under Harbaugh.
OFFENSIVE SCHEME: The Ravens are a little more diverse than most teams due to quarterback Lamar Jackson and a unique running scheme powered by South Jersey native Greg Roman, the team’s offensive coordinator.
In fact, the Eagles wanted to tap into that a bit which is why they talked to James Urban about the offensive coordinator job in the offseason and ultimately brought back Marty Mornhinweg as a consultant.
Baltimore attacks through multiple personnel groupings, most notably 11 (49 percent), 12 (13 percent), 21 (13 percent), and 22 (19 percent) so the Eagles’ embattled linebackers will be getting plenty of looks.
“They are a strong running team, not just with Lamar Jackson but with Mark Ingram, with the rookie that's back (J.K. Dobbins),” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Like fellow AFC North antagonist Pittsburgh, the Ravens feature a blitz-heavy scheme that was a top-five unit under Wink Martindale last season and is No. 6 so far this time around.
In some ways, it was good to see the Steelers last week for Philadelphia because that helped prepare the Eagles’ offense for the 3-4 attacking formula.
As Pederson explained last week, however, what the outside world considers a blitz, is not necessarily how his staff sees things. Because Baltimore brings five so much, that is the expected rush from its defense so the Eagles would characterize a blitz as bringing an extra man from the expected variant.
Beyond the technicalities, however, Martindale typically brings pressure backed by a flood of defensive backs in an effort to halt the modern passing game.
The key is top-tier cornerbacks with Marlon Humphrey being the best of the bench and among the tops in all of football while Marcus Peters, who is dealing with a thigh injury but is expected to play, remains a gambling big-play machine.
“We don’t really care who makes a play, and I think that’s what makes it so fun,” Humphrey said. “Whoever makes a play, it seems like we all celebrate like we made it because we feel like we all had our hand in that play.”
The Baltimore defense is tops in the NFL since 2018 with 11 defensive touchdowns, seven of them coming on the road. The group as a whole has had at least one takeaway in 18 straight games, easily the longest streak in the league right now.
STRENGTH: There are so many on the Ravens but you have to start with the MVP and Jackson’s unique physical gifts.
Since Jackson became the Ravens’ starter in Week 11 of the 2018 season, Baltimore has scored 20-plus points in 28-straight regular-season games, tying the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams (1999-2000) for the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
"Lamar Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the league because there are times you can do everything right on defense and can't catch him, or he can throw a ball side-arm underneath of a free rusher and complete a pass," Schwartz said earlier this week. "I think that you've got to have a resilient attitude when you play him, and you know that a playmaker like him is going to make some plays.”
Discipline and perseverance are keys to limiting Jackson, according to Schwartz.
“You just have to limit his big plays, and you have to stay resilient,” the DC said. “You can't hang your hat if he ends up making a play.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham noted discipline is important every week but even more so with Jackson in town.
“It’s always important every week, but this week particularly because he can run and he can get out there fast,” said Graham. “We can’t rush scared, but we got to rush responsible and make sure we’re on the same page.”
WEAK LINK: Outside of left guard Bradley Bozeman, the interior of the Ravens offensive line isn’t what it once was so the Eagles will need a big effort from the DT triumvirate of Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Malik Jackson. No matter the skill set pressuring a QB right up the middle is the best way to make him uncomfortable.
“I think it's just gonna come down to us being disciplined,” Cox said. “Guys just being where they need to be and tackling. Once a guy gets there, get them (Jackson or any of the Ravens' playmakers) on the ground, don't miss tackles, no breaking the tackle. Just get to him and get him on the ground. I think that's the going thing around here.
“Get the guy on the ground, team tackle, group tackle, 11 guys there, and obviously it's going to come out to be a good day."
UNDER THE RADAR: The Ravens have had some big names at safety in recent seasons. Players like Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, and Earl Thomas but Philadelphia native Chuck Clark has slowly developed into their best option on the back end. Once a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, Clark is the Ravens' communicator in the back-seven and has been playing like a top-10 safety early in the 2020 season.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Eagles run defense vs. Baltimore running game. The Ravens’ vaunted rushing attack is No. 3 in the NFL right now, averaging 160.8 yards per game while the Eagles pride themselves on stopping the run but have been middle of the pack at 17th in the league so far.
That script has to flip for the Eagles to have a chance.
OUTLOOK: The Ravens have it all and are a significant Super Bowl contender. It starts at the top with a strong organizational structure followed by a marquee head coach in Harbaugh cobbling together a top-5 level roster with a reigning MVP at quarterback in Jackson, maybe the template for the modern duel-threat at the position.
The Ravens are also coming off a dominant 27-3 win over Cincinnati, forcing three turnovers while piling up seven sacks and 15 overall QB hits, something Carson Wentz will take notice of because his offensive line is now down to Jason Kelce and whatever Jeff Stoutland found in the utility drawer at the NovaCare Complex.
Meanwhile, in another of the long line of the Eagles coulda had that guy show, rookie linebacker Patrick Queen, the No. 28 overall pick back in the spring, went off against the Bengals, tallying nine tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and two fumbles recoveries just as the heat ratchets up on the dismal Philadelphia linebacking corps.
This is the same trademarked Doug Pederson game the Eagles won in San Francisco when everyone picked against Philadelphia. Baltimore, however, isn’t playing with a backup QB. It’s trotting out an MVP.
JOHN MCMULLEN: Ravens 33, Eagles 20 (1-3-1 on the season, 2-3 vs. the spread)
ED KRACZ: Eagles 23, Ravens 20 (1-3-1 on the season, 1-4 vs. the spread)
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM and every Monday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportsMap Radio. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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