1. How will the Eagles offense do?
Jeff McLane: Even with Carson Wentz's best game in over month, and possibly the entire season, the Eagles could only muster 22 points last week against the Redskins. Some of the lost points were circumstantial – Wentz tossed an interception in the end zone, the Eagles botched a field goal attempt because they had to use backup long snapper Brent Celek. But the unit is still far from a well-oiled machine and won't likely get there against a defense that is aging but still stout. The Ravens have held running backs to a NFL-best 3.4 yards per carry. They have the second most interceptions per pass attempt. They've been effective on third down (opposing offenses have converted only 34.1 percent). And they have, ultimately, kept teams from running up the score on them, allowing only 18.2 points a game.
Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy and Brandon Williams are the run stuffers up front. The 6-foot-1, 335-pound Williams, the nose tackle, will keep center Jason Kelce busy. Linebacker C.J. Mosely plays all three downs and covers a lot of ground. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (eight sacks) is still a dangerous edge rusher. The Ravens secondary is good, but cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle) is expected to miss his second straight game. Shareece Wright is his backup. He lost his starting job to Tavon Young earlier in the season. Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb are a little long in the tooth, but both safeties are savvy vets.
The Eagles will want to establish the run, but it should be tough sledding, especially with the offensive line banged up – Halapoulivaati Vaitai is out, Allen Barbre is questionable and Brandon Brooks' anxiety issue may still be unresolved. Darren Sproles (concussion) is also unlikely to play and Wendell Smallwood is done for the season. So the Eagles could be down to just Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner, and maybe the recently-signed Byron Marshall.
Zach Berman: The offensive line is a concern. I'm curious to see at practice today if Allen Barbre is back. If he's not, Sunday will be interesting. It's a lot to ask Isaac Seumalo to start at right tackle on the road with Elvis Dumervil rushing around the edge. I'd expect a lot of quick drops with a passing game similar to what you saw against Dallas – get rid of the ball quickly, throw it short, try to move methodically down the field. It's Week 15, and the Eagles trust Carson Wentz.
Those short passes could take the place of runs, because the Eagles will struggle penetrating a defense that is No. 1 in the NFL against the run. As much as Doug Pederson talks balance, this will be a tough week to establish it. You'll see Ryan Mathews and Kenjon Barner as the primary ball carriers, which is likely not enough. I'd expect this to be a big tight end game, although they may need to help with the blocking. But look for Zach Ertz and Trey Burton to be favorite targets of Wentz.
2. How will the Eagles defense do?
McLane: The Ravens offense has been inconsistent for most of the season. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was fired earlier in the season and old friend Marty Mornhinweg was promoted from quarterbacks coach. Mornhinweg has helped restart Joe Flacco's engine, but Marty ball has neglected the run game, per usual. The Ravens are averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Terrence West (652 yards, five touchdowns) has been the workhorse.
Stopping the run hasn't been the main issue for the Eagles this season. The pass defense has been wretched over the last month or so. Steve Smith is 100 years old (OK, he isn't that old), but he's still as tough as they come and isn't afraid to go over the middle. Mike Wallace is still a burner (14.6 yards a catch) and will have to be monitored deep by Rodney McLeod. The struggles of cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills have been well documented.
The Ravens have had issues up front, partly because of injuries. They moved their best lineman – Marshall Yanda – from right guard to left to accommodate for a shoulder injury. Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry will face off against rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and could have opportunities to get off recent slides.
Berman: Flacco will test the Eagles' secondary – especially deep. I'd expect a few shots downfield to Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. The Eagles have been prone to allowing big plays this year and can't afford it to be a problem on Sunday. The Eagles need better play from their cornerbacks, and Rodney McLeod's role as the deep safety will be important.
I write each week the Eagles need to apply pressure, but the Ravens offensive line has been vulnerable this season. They've allowed 25 sacks. Fletcher Cox will be blocked by journeyman Vladimir Ducasse. Baltimore isn't relying on the run, but it doesn't mean they can't. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon both average at least 4 yards per carry. I think Dixon can be a factor on Sunday; he is also a part of their passing game.
The Ravens use different personnel groupings, including a fullback. So the Eagles could play base defense more than usual on Sunday, which means Mychal Kendricks gets on the field. And when Baltimore is forced to kick field goals, no one is better in the NFL than Justin Tucker.
3. Who's a player to watch?
McLane: How about Isaac Seumalo? Barbre hasn't been ruled out yet, but he sounds unlikely to play. Seumalo has been practicing in his place at right tackle this week. He would be the Eagles' fifth player at that position this season. (Thanks, Lane!). Seumalo was tossed into the fire three weeks ago at right guard and struggled against the Packers, but he was better last week. But tackle is a different challenge and he hasn't practiced there extensively until this week.
Berman: I'm going to watch Burton. (Shameless plug: I wrote about him in Friday's Inquirer.) Wentz clearly trusts Burton, who has been targeted 19 times during the past two games. Injuries played a role in that production, but he has the trust of Wentz. With a short passing game expected on Sunday, Burton could be an important outlet for Wentz.
4. What's your prediction?
McLane: The offensive line issues, especially if Barbre and Brooks can't go, could make it virtually impossible for the Eagles to win on the road. Wentz has increasingly taken hits – almost 40 over the last four games. Will he have enough time in the pocket to even run the offense effectively? What if the run game is stagnant? The Ravens aren't a good team, but they're well-coached and are still playing for a playoff spot. They should win, although the Any Given Sunday adage always applies. Ravens 27, Eagles 16.
Berman: We're at that stage of the season when the Eagles need to offer a reason to pick them. Four consecutive losses and a crowded injury report is not good news for the Eagles. The Ravens are a desperate team who needs to win to keep postseason hopes alive, but they've also won four of six games. They're a good, well-coached team. The Eagles are playing for pride at this point. Maybe they play spoilers, but I need to give Baltimore the edge. Put me down for Ravens 19, Eagles 13 – and another losing season in Philadelphia.