I could not have been more wrong about how the Philadelphia Eagles would do in week one against the Cleveland Browns. I said that the Eagles would thrash the Browns, and the game would be over by halftime.
Instead, Michael Vick threw four interceptions, and the Eagles escaped with a dramatic last-minute victory behind a 91-yard game-winning touchdown drive and four interceptions of their own against rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Although the Eagles improved to 1-0, the fan base has been generally pessimistic for the past week, choosing to focus on Vick’s poor play and the struggles of the offense rather than focusing on a rare come-from-behind victory and an extremely dominant defensive performance.
The Baltimore Ravens had a completely different turn of events in week one. They opened the season against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals, who did make the postseason in 2011, but lost all eight games against playoff teams.
A win for the Bengals in week one would establish them as legitimate contenders to take over the AFC North in a potentially down year for the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the Ravens crushed the Bengals, 44-13, behind dominant performances from Joe Flacco and the entire defense. They now appear to be one of the top teams in the AFC, joining the likes of the New England Patriots and Houston Texans.
From an Eagles standpoint, I actually think that the week two matchup is favorable in the fact that a) Philly (hopefully) already had their wakeup call this year, but they still got a victory, and b) Baltimore likely isn’t as good as the team that crushed the Bengals by 31 points last week.
That being said, here are three keys to the victory for the Eagles.
1) Get LeSean McCoy 25 to 30 touches.
Last week, the Eagles drastically underused LeSean McCoy against the Browns.
He did finish with 20 carries, and 26 total touches, but he went long stretches in the second and third quarter without receiving a carry. That’s unacceptable against a team that ranked as one of the worst in the league the previous season against the run. It’s even more unacceptable when your quarterback is having arguably the worst game of his career.
This week, the Eagles need to let McCoy find some holes in the Ravens’ run game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis carries 18 times for 92 yards against the Baltimore defense. He’s an average starting running back and he averaged 5.1 yards per carry. McCoy is one of the best in the league. I’ve never seen a single team stop McCoy, with the exception of the Miami Dolphins last year, so I’d let him try to run all over the Ravens’ defense and keep their defense on the field.
2) Minimize the turnovers.
If the Eagles turn the football over five times against the Ravens, they will lose. That is a guarantee. They survived last week but it cannot happen again.
The Ravens have a dominant defense, led by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. They also have Lardarius Webb, one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league, and defensive end Haloti Ngata. I predict one of those four gets a turnover on Sunday.
But if Vick turns the ball over more than once, it’s going to be pretty difficult to escape with a victory. Last time the Eagles played the Ravens, Donovan McNabb turned the ball over three times in the first half and was then benched at halftime for Kevin Kolb, who turned the ball over two more times. If that happens again, expect a similar 36-7 score.
3) No-huddle offense.
The Ravens run a no-huddle offense, which is not something the Eagles are accustomed to facing, or are particularly good at facing. They’ve been practicing all week in preparation, obviously, but that’s not the same as actually facing it in a real game.
I have this image of the Eagles’ defenders running around like chickens with their heads cut off on Sunday, no clue where to go during plays or what to do between plays. That obviously can’t happen.
If the Ravens’ no-huddle offense overwhelms the Eagles, they’re going to need to find a way to make some stops on third downs, control the clock with their running game, and keep Baltimore off the field.
I do not have a good feeling about this game. The Eagles do not beat teams who are better than them. In fact, I would argue that it hasn’t happened since 2008 in the divisional round of the playoffs, when the sixth-seeded Eagles beat the top-seeded New York Giants 23-11.
I have Baltimore winning 22 to 17. I think the Ravens will have a safety, just like the last time the two teams met, and Flacco will throw for two touchdowns and no interceptions, just like last time. I also think one of the big storylines of the game will be the underuse of McCoy (shocker).
But if the Eagles lose a close game, they’re okay. The sky won’t be falling. There won’t be any reason to start Nick Foles. A 1-1 record (for the fifth straight year) would put the Eagles up against the Arizona Cardinals with a pretty good chance to make it a 2-1 record.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. You can follow Bryn on Twitter by clicking here and here. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.