Gooooood morning, EaglesNation. Well, after two straight road games, the Eagles will return to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday for their third home game of the season.
Unlike the previous two, against the Rams (a 37-19 loss) and the Bengals (a 23-23 tie), their game against the Baltimore Ravens won’t include fake crowd noise.
That’s because there will be real live fans at the game. Not a lot. No more than 7,500 people will be allowed in the Linc for the game, and that number includes players, coaches, team personnel, media, Howie Roseman’s 20-person security staff (I’m joking, I’m joking) and any other essential game-day personnel.
So we’re probably talking about no more than 6,500 socially distant fans in the 69,000-seat stadium. If you end up buying a ticket, be sure to wear a mask. And use plenty of hand sanitizer.
The Eagles will take a 1-3-1 record into the game. It’s the first time they’ve headed into the sixth week of the season with only one win since 2011, when they started 1-4. That team managed to win 7 of its last 11 that year, but still finished out of the money in the NFC East. But that was the NFC East then, not the godawful NFC East now.
Now, the division looks like something the cat dragged in. Or threw up. If this Eagles team can somehow win 7 of its last 11, you’ll be looking at another NFC East championship banner hanging in the stadium.
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Ward has no regrets about his position switch
The Eagles are 1-3-1 with an injury list that wouldn’t fit on a roll of Charmin, and look who’s going to be headed up I-95 for the Linc on Sunday. None other than Lamar Jackson and the 4-1 Baltimore Ravens, who have outscored their first five opponents by 73 points.
Jackson was next to unstoppable last year when he finished with a 113.3 passer rating, threw a league-high 36 touchdown passes, and rushed for 1,206 yards and 7 more scores on his way to being the league’s most valuable player.
He’s off to another solid start this season. He has 9 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions and is on pace for 900 rushing yards.
The Ravens are 7½-point favorites Sunday, which means that if you’re one of the 6,000-plus fans with a ticket for the game, you might want to bring your circa-2017 dog mask with you.
The Eagles haven’t played the Ravens since 2016, two years before the Ravens selected Jackson with the 32nd pick in the 2018 draft. But at least one Eagles player knows firsthand what it’s like to beat Jackson.
Four years ago, Greg Ward’s University of Houston Cougars upset Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals, 36-10, in a nationally televised Thursday night game on ESPN. Louisville was 9-1 and ranked fifth in the country at the time. Jackson was the Heisman favorite.
“I have a lot of memories from that game,” Ward, a quarterback then and a wide receiver now, said Tuesday. “Every time I see him, I talk to him about it. We talked about it last summer when we scrimmaged them [at the NovaCare Complex during training camp]. I was messing with him about the game.”
Houston’s defense did a number on Jackson that night. The Cougars sacked the catch-me-if-you-can quarterback 11 times. Jackson completed just 20 of 43 passes for 211 yards and finished with only 33 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Ward was 25-for-44 for 283 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game.
Ward threw for 3,557 yards and 22 touchdowns that year. He ran for another 518 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But NFL teams weren’t very excited about him as a quarterback prospect. He had to switch to wide receiver, a position he played early in his college career. And even then, he went undrafted.
He spent much of the next three seasons languishing on the Eagles' practice squad before finally getting promoted late last season and helping them make the playoffs. He has developed into a productive slot receiver who leads the Eagles in receptions (22) and third-down catches (8).
Jackson’s success has opened the door much wider for other dual-threat quarterbacks, including the Eagles' Jalen Hurts, who was taken in the second round of the draft in April.
If Ward had been a few years younger, it’s possible he would’ve been viewed differently coming out of Houston and given a chance to make an NFL team as a quarterback based on Jackson’s success. But Ward said it’s not something he dwells on much. He has made it to the NFL. The position he plays is irrelevant, he said.
“Who knows,” Ward said when I asked him if he might’ve been given a chance to make it as a quarterback if he had followed Jackson to the NFL rather than preceded him. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
Ward isn’t surprised at all that Jackson has been as successful as he’s been.
“He was a baller,” the Eagles wide receiver said. “He always had that underdog mentality. He’s gone out there and proven himself.”
So has Ward.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz spoke with the media Tuesday for the first time since Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. As Les Bowen reports, he had some explaining to do.
There will be fans at the Linc on Sunday when the Eagles host the Ravens, reports Laura McCrystal and Justine McDaniel.
Schwartz’s defense of the play of his linebackers, particularly Nate Gerry, was not particularly convincing, EJ Smith reports.
Bowen and Rob Tornoe provide more details on who will be getting the tickets for Sunday’s game and where they will be sitting, as well as some reaction from players on playing in front of real live fans.
Erin McCarthy reports on a lawsuit filed by the family of the late Joseph Nocero, who died at an Eagles game last season.
The Inquirer’s Eagles beat team discusses Sunday’s loss to the Steelers in the latest edition of the Birds' Eye View podcast.
From the mailbag
Is Travis Fulgham this good or was he not getting much attention from the Steelers’ best defensive backs Sunday? — Dan Stepenosky (@dstepenosky) via Twitter
Dan: Thanks for the question. There are a lot of good football players who never make it in the NFL because they didn’t get the opportunity or they weren’t in the right place at the right time. I mean, Greg Ward spent three years on the Eagles' practice squad before injuries finally opened the door for him. He stepped in last year and was an important cog in their late-season playoff drive and is currently leading the team in receptions (22) and third-down catches (8).
When you get a chance, you have to make the most of it. That’s what Fulgham is doing. A game such as Sunday’s is only going to bolster his confidence and help him going forward. I think he’s going to continue to help them this season, even when other players such as Jalen Reagor and DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery get healthy.
That said, Fulgham clearly wasn’t high on the Steelers’ we’ve-got-to-stop-this-guy priority list Sunday. He was covered much of the game by either their second or third corners, Steven Nelson or Mike Hilton. The Steelers, like the 49ers the week before, were focused on stopping tight end Zach Ertz and rookie John Hightower and Ward, not Fulgham. By the time they finally did realize this guy was pretty good, he was in a groove with Carson Wentz, and it didn’t matter whom they put on him.