The Eagles' offense looked a lot better last week against a good Steelers defense despite all the injuries and key pieces missing. In a normal circumstance, that might lead one to think, “Hey, maybe they win this week.” But back during the summer, before the injuries, if you were asked to pick one home game on the schedule you thought would be a loss, this would have been almost everyone’s pick. The 4-1 Ravens sure look like the most complete team the Eagles have played. Their defense is giving up a league-low 15.2 points per game. They have the NFL’s best point differential, 14.6 points per game. They are scoring 29.8 points per game, which ranks only eighth in a year when offenses are going crazy (except the one we watch every week).
I guess there are ways the Eagles could win. Baltimore might take them lightly. Travis Fulgham could somehow break every franchise receiving record against a top-echelon secondary. Miles Sanders could take over the game. The Eagles’ defense could stop the run well enough to make Lamar Jackson throw a whole bunch, which he probably can do successfully but really hasn’t had to this season. He ranks 27th in pass attempts. But really, this is a mismatch, in terms of healthy talent.
One more thing: People who are really good at picking games against the spread tend to like home underdogs. The 7½ points is tempting in that regard. But I am not really good at picking games, and I can’t make myself believe this is really going to be close.
Prediction: Ravens 26, Eagles 16
This team is starting to feel a lot like the ones I remember from 2012 and 2015. There’s obvious talent, certainly at specific spots, but the construction is flawed, and no matter how great one unit may perform there’s little to offset how poorly another may play. Coaches in this league are just too smart not to figure out ways to exploit weaknesses, and the Eagles have them at linebacker and receiver, for instance, right now.
I saw some offensive strides last week, in particular, from Carson Wentz. He made a number of tight window throws from the pocket, throws he still needs to make if the Eagles are to score points at a winning rate. It helped to have a receiver who got open and made catches. I don’t know how good Travis Fulgham can be. Was he in the right place at the right time vs. zone-heavy coverage, or have the Eagles found a diamond in the rough? He made tough catches. He showed confidence. That’s enough for me.
The O-line did fine, very good if we’re taking the Steelers' vaunted D-line into consideration. The Ravens are strong up front, but their back seven is their strength. Patrick Queen is a sideline-to-sideline rookie linebacker. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are big-play cornerbacks. The Eagles need to stay committed to the ground game and getting Miles Sanders going. He didn’t do much after his 74-yard touchdown run in Pittsburgh. But eight more carries isn’t exactly enough to get into a rhythm.
Points are gong to be tough to come by, so the Eagles can ill afford to lose the turnover battle. They may need to force two or three on defense. Lamar Jackson doesn’t make many mistakes. He hasn’t been as efficient this season, as was to be expected after an otherworldly MVP year, but he can cut you many different ways. There are, of course, Greg Roman’s designed zone read runs, but Jackson can make something out of nothing with his scrambling ability.
He doesn’t get enough credit as a passer and is adept at finding his targets, often his tight ends, in the red zone for touchdowns. Nate Gerry is again going to be on the hot seat. If the Eagles secondary can take away Jackson’s first and second reads, the pass rush should be able pressure him. Getting him down is another story.
I don’t see a blowout, but anything is possible. I think the Eagles can hang into the second half, but mistakes will bite them in the end again.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Eagles 19
For the first time this season, the Eagles will have fans in the stadium cheering for them Sunday when they face the 4-1 Ravens.
Can the sound of 6,000-plus people chanting E-A-G-L-E-S over and over and over again help the Eagles beat the Ravens?
It’ll provide some juice but not nearly as much as Fletcher Cox wrapping his big mitts around Lamar Jackson a couple of times, or Carson Wentz finding his buddy Zach Ertz in the back of the end zone on the Eagles' first possession.
Given all of the team’s injuries, the Eagles showed some spunk last week in their loss to the Steelers. The four inexperienced kids on the offensive line played pretty well against a very good defense. They found a wide receiver keeper in Travis Fulgham. Carson Wentz finally resembled Carson Wentz.
But Sunday just seems like a road too far, a mountain too high. Offensively, they’ve got to get their run game going. Take out Miles Sanders' 74-yard run last week, and he’s got 62 yards on 23 carries in the last 2 games. The Eagles' other 2 running backs, Boston Scott and Corey Clement, have turned into hood ornaments. They’ve played a combined 23 snaps in the last 2 games.
Defensively, they’ve got to take Jackson’s legs away from him and neutralize tight end Mark Andrews. If you’ve been watching, neutralizing tight ends hasn’t been one of the Eagles' strong points this season.
They might be able to stay with the Ravens for a while Sunday, but ultimately, they’ll fade in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Ravens 31, Eagles 20
The Eagles seem to making progress, and there’s reason to believe they can turn the season around and make a run in this year’s puny NFC East.
Just not this week.
The Eagles defense struggled mightily against Pittsburgh’s offense, surrendering four touchdowns to Chase Claypool and falling victim to Ben Roethlisberger’s pre-snap recognition. The Ravens offense does things differently, but that’s mostly because they have Jackson, one of the most dangerous players in the NFL.
Jackson’s athleticism figures to neutralize the Eagles pass rush, whether it’s because the defensive line will need to stay disciplined in its rushing lanes or because Jackson is capable of evading rushers. As expected, the Eagles' defense has typically been at its best only when the pass rush is getting home. Jackson goes a long way in taking away the defense’s greatest strength, even though he has the third-longest time to throw in the NFL. According to Next Gen Stats, he’s been sacked on just 21.8% of his pressures, which is similar to Russell Wilson.
The Eagles offense is starting to find its identity and turn the corner, but it’s still hard to imagine Wentz and Co. are going to put up the points necessary to keep up with the Ravens' explosive offense. Wentz played his best game of the season last week in Pittsburgh, and the team has a new No. 1 receiver in Fulgham, so I don’t think the offense is going to be completely ineffective, though.
This will likely be a loss, but there’s a chance the Eagles come out of it feeling like they have a chance to go on a mid-season run.