How the Eagles and Ravens match up, keys to the game, and a prediction
Breaking down Sunday's AFC-NFC battle between the 1-3-1 Eagles and the 4-1 Ravens. Spoiler alert: Lamar Jackson will be tough to stop.
As if starting the season 1-3-1 weren’t scary enough, the Eagles welcome AFC powerhouse Baltimore to the Linc on Sunday.
Here’s how the teams match up:
When the Eagles run
The Eagles' respectable rushing numbers against the Steelers — 94 yards on 16 carries — were built on one play: a 74-yard, first-quarter touchdown run by Miles Sanders. On their other 15 rush attempts, they gained 20 yards. Eight of those 15 runs gained one yard or less. Take out Sanders' long run and he averaged just 2.7 yards per carry in the last two games.
The problem isn’t Sanders. It’s an injury-ravaged offensive line that, with last week’s latest loss of right tackle Lane Johnson, is down to one experienced starter: center Jason Kelce. The other four had a combined one career start going into the season. The Eagles are 13th in rush average (4.4) but are next to last in yards per carry on first-down (3.0).
Sanders had 62 of the 77 rushing attempts by Eagles running backs in the last four games. Boston Scott had just 28 yards on 10 carries and Corey Clement 11 yards on five carries in those four games. Scott and Clement played a combined 23 snaps in the last two games.
The Ravens are fifth in run defense (92.0) and opponent rush average (3.7). But they’re only 12th in first-down rush average (4.0). Three of their five opponents — Houston, Washington, and Cincinnati — are ranked no higher than 23rd in the league in rushing. In Week 1, the Browns, who lead the league in rushing, ran for 138 yards on 27 carries against the Ravens.
When the Eagles throw
The Eagles' inexperienced offensive line will face another huge challenge when it goes up against a Ravens pass rush that is fifth in sacks (17). The Ravens decked Bengals rookie Joe Burrow, who got the ball out quickly against the Eagles in Week 3, seven times last week.
Carson Wentz has been without many of his top pass-catching weapons, including wide receivers Jalen Reagor and DeSean Jackson and tight end Dallas Goedert. He still managed to put together a decent performance against the Steelers, even if the numbers — 57.1 completion percentage and his fourth multiple-interception game of the season — don’t indicate that.
Former practice-squad wideout Travis Fulgham, who had a game-winning 42-yard TD catch against the 49ers in Week 4, had 10 catches for 152 yards and a TD against the Steelers. Tight end Zach Ertz was invisible the last two games since Goedert got hurt. He had five catches for just 15 yards the last two games.
Wentz already has nine interceptions, which is two more than he had all last year. He was under pressure on 40% of his drop-backs last week and was sacked five times.
The Ravens haven’t given up a TD pass since the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes threw four of them in Week 3. They didn’t give up any to Burrow last week or Washington’s Dwayne Haskins the week before that. The Ravens have a solid secondary, including three very good cornerbacks in Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith. The Ravens are 20th in opponent completion percentage (66.7) but eighth in opponent yards per attempt (7.0).
When the Ravens run
The Ravens are third in rushing (160.8) and first in rush average (5.6), thanks in large part to the legs of quarterback Lamar Jackson, whose 238 rushing yards represent nearly 30% of the Ravens' ground total. Jackson ran the ball a season-low two times in last week’s 27-3 win over the Bengals, but he had 39 carries in the first four games. Ten of his 41 runs have gained 10 yards or more. That’s the eighth-most 10-plus-yard runs in the NFL. As a team, the Ravens have 24 runs of 10-plus yards, which is the third-most in the league.
Baltimore has a solid offensive line led by left tackle Ronnie Stanley, a 2019 first-team All-Pro selection. Running backs Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and rookie J.K. Dobbins are averaging a combined 5.5 yards per carry, yet the Ravens still are 27th in first-down rush average (3.7). The Ravens have run the ball 60.6% of the time on first down (80-52).
The Eagles are 10th in opponent rush average (3.9). Their biggest problem has been dealing with misdirection, such as jet sweeps, end-arounds, and reverses. They’ve given up 161 rushing yards to wide receivers and tight ends on 13 runs. That’s 28.2% of their opponents' rushing yards. Three of the eight rushing touchdowns they’ve given up have been scored by wideouts. They’ve held running backs and quarterbacks to just 3.1 yards per carry.
The Ravens haven’t used their wideouts a lot on run plays. But Devin Duvernay had a 42-yard run on a second-and-3 play last week against the Bengals.
When the Ravens throw
Lamar Jackson’s passing numbers are down a bit from his MVP season, but he’s still playing well. He’s 13th in the league in passing (100.5) and has thrown just two interceptions in five games. He’s averaging nearly a yard less per attempt and is getting sacked more often — once every 12.2 drop backs compared with once every 18.4 last year.
Marquise Brown likely will draw the majority of Darius Slay’s attention. He leads the Ravens in receptions with 22 and is averaging 14.5 yards per catch. The Eagles have struggled against tight ends, and they’ll be facing one of the best in the league in Mark Andrews (18 catches, 5 TDs). He had 10 TD catches last season. Andrews is tough in the red zone. Five of his 18 catches and three of his TDs have been inside the 20, where the Ravens have converted 10 of 16 red-zone trips into touchdowns. Jackson has completed 14 of 18 red-zone passes with seven touchdowns. Four of those seven TDs have been caught by tight ends, three by Andrews and a fourth by former Delaware Blue Hen Nick Boyle.
With the offseason addition of Slay, the Eagles have switched to a mostly man-coverage defense. But there have been major growing pains with that transition. They have the third-most quarterback sacks in the league (18) yet have given up the sixth-most TD passes (10) and have the 12th-fewest takeaways (5) and the eighth-highest opponent completion percentage (70.2). Their pass rush needs to get pressure on Jackson, and also keep him in the pocket, which is easier said than done.
Jake Elliott has made 7 of his 9 field goal attempts. He missed a 57-yarder (wide right) last week against the Steelers and was short with a 53-yarder at Washington in Week 1. His longest make this year is a 54-yarder against the Bengals in Week 3. Twenty-one of Elliott’s 26 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.
The Ravens' Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He’s made 90.8% of his field goal attempts, including 21 of 26 from 50-plus yards the last five seasons. He missed just one FG attempt last year and is 10-for-11 this year. His lone miss was a 61-yarder against the Bengals last week that went wide right. Twenty-eight of Tucker’s 32 kickoffs have been touchbacks.
Eagles punter Cam Johnston is second in the league in gross average (51.4) and third in net (45.7). He’s put 10 of his 20 punts inside the 20. Because of the distance he’s been getting on his punts, 14 have been returned. That’s the second most in the league. But the Eagles have held opponents to 5.7 yards per return.
The Ravens' Sam Koch is only 19th in gross (45.6) but eighth in net (43.0) average. Just five of his 15 punts have been returned. The Ravens are tied for first in punt coverage (3.8 yards per return). The Ravens have two dangerous returners in punt returner James Proche (8.8) and kick returner Devin Duvernay, who is averaging 34.0 yards on seven returns. He had a 93-yard return for a TD against Chiefs in Week 3.
The Eagles are back home after two straight road games, and there will be fans at the Linc. Not a lot of them. About 6,500. But enough to provide some juice for the players. That is, assuming the crowd doesn’t turn on them after a couple of three-and-outs.
Ravens 31, Eagles 20
Eagles O-line vs. Ravens defensive front seven: If RT Lane Johnson (ankle) can’t play, the Eagles will be starting four players up front who came into the season with one career start. The Ravens sacked Bengals QB Joe Burrow seven times last week. ADVANTAGE: Ravens
Eagles LBs/Ss/CBs vs. Ravens TE Mark Andrews. It remains to be seen how Jim Schwartz plans to cover Andrews, who already has five TD catches, including three in the red zone. The Eagles already have given up five TD catches to tight ends this season. ADVANTAGE: Ravens
Eagles DTs Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave vs. Ravens C Matt Skura, LG Bradley Bozeman, RG Tyre Phillips: The Eagles' interior rush is the key to their pass rush. Phillips sat out the Bengals game with a shoulder injury and is questionable for Sunday. Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari split the RG snaps against the Bengals. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Keys to the game
Turnover battle. The Eagles have the league’s second-worst turnover differential (minus-6). The Ravens have the league’s fifth-best (plus-5). Do the math. The Ravens defense has just three interceptions but nine forced fumbles, seven of which they’ve recovered.
Eagles' run game. The best way to instill confidence in a bunch of young offensive linemen is to let them go on the attack. If Carson Wentz has to throw the ball 40-plus times, the Eagles have no chance of winning the game. Aside from his 74-yard TD run last week, Miles Sanders had just 62 yards on 23 carries in the last two games.
Eagles' red-zone defense. The Eagles are 27th in red-zone defense. The Steelers scored TDs on all three of their red-zone opportunities. The Eagles have given up touchdowns on 14 of 19 red-zone challenges (73.7%). Last year, their opponents' red-zone success rate was nearly 20 points lower (55.8).