The Philadelphia Eagles enter Week 6 coming off a tough road loss to their in-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Eagles’ record stands at 1-4-1 after five games, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier as they host the 4-1 Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. We can call this one the Battle of the Mason-Dixie Line.
This game is a personal one for me as I grew up 30 minutes north of Baltimore and have rooted for the Ravens since they came to Baltimore in 1996. On the other hand, having lived in South Philly for the last six years, I have grown familiar and fond of the Philadelphia football team. It is not often I have to choose between these two teams, but this Sunday is one of those times. For the purpose of this site, it is my job to cover the Eagles, and so, I will do my best to do so fairly.
So far this season, the Eagles have looked like a below-average team, as they have frequently struggled to play well on both offense and defense in the same game. There have been times where either side has played well, but they haven’t been able to put it all together. For the first few games, the offense was completely out of sync while the defense played well; but last week, the roles were reversed. In last week’s loss to the Steelers, the Eagles offense played surprisingly well while the defense was unable to do anything to slow down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
While the Eagles have been consistently inconsistent through five weeks, the Ravens come into the game with the best point-differential in the league.
The scary part for Eagles fans is, the Ravens haven’t really begun to click on offense yet. Reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson has yet to be as dynamic as he was during his MVP season, running less and passing more. The Ravens offensive game plan so far this season has seemed to be to prove that Jackson is an elite passer. As a result, they have not been running the ball as much as they probably should.
On defense, the Ravens have lived up to their reputation so far this season, creating tons of turnovers and keeping opposing offenses on their heels. Rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen has been a force for the Ravens, making big plays and seemingly getting more comfortable with each game.
This Ravens team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. The Ravens’ biggest weakness as a team is found on the offensive line, where All Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is dealing with an injury. They also had to replace future Hall-of-Fame RG Marshal Yanda, as he retired in the offseason. This is probably the only match-up on the field that the Eagles go into Sunday feeling good about, as the defensive line is the strength of the Eagles team.
Kickoff: Sunday, October 18th, 2020 at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA.
For the first time this season, the Eagles will have fans in person at their home stadium. After playing in front of opposing fans last week, roughly 5,500 of Philadelphia’s faithful will be on hand for the game. It will be interesting to see how loud the crowd gets. One has to wonder what will be louder: the cheers for wide receiver Travis Fulgham when he inevitably makes a big play, or the boos for linebacker Nate Gerry when he inevitably fails to make a play.
Television: This week, the game with be broadcast on CBS. The network’s No. 2 team will be covering the game this week. Legendary Ian Eagle will be handling the play-by-play while Charles Davis will be doing the color commentary.
Radio: 94.1 WIP is the flagship for Eagles Radio. You can also listen to the live radio broadcast on the Eagles website. As usual, the play-by-play will be done by the legendary Merrill Reese, and the color commentary will be done by Mike Quick.
Weather: High of 64 degrees. Mostly sunny with light winds of 6-9 MPH. (AccuWeather)
Line: Bal -7.5
Three Things to Watch
- Can Carson Wentz protect the ball against the Ravens secondary?
Going into the game on Sunday, Carson Wentz leads the NFL in interceptions. He played much better in Week 5 against the Steelers. But while you can argue that neither interception in that game was really “on him,” it is clear that he must do a better job protecting the ball. Against the Ravens this week, not throwing interceptions will be big, but Wentz will also need to hold onto the ball. The Ravens have recovered an NFL-best seven fumbles this season while Wentz has a propensity for fumbling, as he’s had 26 fumbles lost since entering the NFL.
In regards to the passing game, Wentz will want to make sure he always knows where cornerback Marcus Peters is on the field. He is, by far, the biggest playmaker on the Ravens defense against the passing game. He specializes in baiting the quarterback and creating turnovers. Look for Peters to be regularly matched up against Travis Fulgham or Greg Ward.
Due to injuries to the Ravens secondary, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey may end up being lined up inside at the nickel corner position. He could also end up covering tight end Zach Ertz for a good portion of the afternoon. Wentz will also need to be aware of Humphrey in terms of the pass rush. Humphrey is one of the best in the league at forcing fumbles and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale loves sending defensive backs to rush the passer.
Wentz would also be wise to utilize running back Miles Sanders in the passing game, as he continues to be under-utilized, especially in the running game. Sanders is a real threat any time the ball is in his hand, and rookie linebacker Patrick Queen’s biggest weakness is in providing coverage in the passing game.
Wherever Wentz looks to go with the ball, he will have to be decisive yet safe. The Eagles will need him to be aggressive to stay in the game, but he will have to walk the tightrope of being aggressive without turning the ball over. He has yet to achieve that this season; the question will be whether he can do so Sunday against the top defense in the league.
- Can the Eagles defensive line “contain” Lamar Jackson?
The strength of the Eagles team continues to be their defensive line. But they struggled in Week 5 against the Steelers as they failed to have much of any pass rush on third downs. Against the Ravens on Sunday, they face a different kind of beast.
The key to containing Jackson is keeping him in the pocket. The Eagles defense is going to need to force Jackson to beat them with his arm — and he might — but if he is able to move and scramble, the Eagles will not stand a chance. The Eagles’ linebackers are sub-par, and that’s being kind. If they are required to make plays against Jackson when he escapes the pocket, Jackson might end up having a career day.
The defensive line is going to have to be incredibly disciplined against the Ravens attack and stay in their assignments. The pass rush is going to have to be careful and not get caught up-field behind the play, allowing Jackson to escape. Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson are going to need to be forces on the inside while Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham are going to need to on the outside, forcing Jackson back inside. Furthermore, the Eagles are going to need to get lucky and guess right in terms of sniffing out the option between Jackson and his running backs.
At this point, it isn’t about stopping Lamar Jackson; it’s about limiting him, forcing him to beat you in the passing game, and hoping for a couple of turnovers. And if the Eagles get to third down on defense, they have to do a much better job than they did last week of getting off the field.
- Does Travis Fulgham continue to establish himself as a legitimate weapon on offense?
The highlight of Week 5 for the Eagles was undoubtedly the emergence of wide receiver Travis Fulgham in the passing game. He had a very nice week against an above-average Steelers secondary. Also, he clearly had the trust of quarterback Carson Wentz with five third-down catches. In two short weeks, the city of Philadelphia went from not knowing who he was, to being so popular that an Eagles fan created this cheesy clip claiming Fulgham is “Iron Man.” He is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Philadelphia, but that excitement will fade just as quickly in this city if he doesn’t continue to make plays on the field.
This week, Fulgham is going up against the most talented set of cornerbacks in the league. On Friday, it was announced that wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Desean Jackson will continue to be out for the Eagles, which means Fulgham will be the focus of the Ravens defensive game plan.
This makes for an intriguing situation for Eagles fans. If Fulgham has another strong game against even better competition, it will be great news for the Eagles, no matter the result of the game. If he struggles against the Ravens secondary, it won’t exactly mean the end of the line for him either, as more established wide receivers have also struggled against this team. No matter what happens, this will probably be the most exciting individual match-up of the afternoon.
Keys to the Game
- Start quickly and put Lamar Jackson on his heels
If the Ravens have an Achilles heel, it is that they aren’t built to play from behind. In his short career, Lamar Jackson has been lethal when it comes to getting and keeping a lead. But, as of yet, he has not proven to be able to lead his team to a come-from-behind victory. Now, there is little reason to think that he is unable to do so, but the reality is, the Ravens offense is much more comfortable playing with the lead.
If the Eagles can get off to an early lead and force a turnover or two, they may be able to get the Ravens to panic and diverge from their game plan. It will take a phenomenal game plan from Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on the offensive side of the ball and an opportunistic playing defense, the latter of which we haven’t seen very much of so far in 2020. But, if the Eagles win on Sunday, chances are, we will look back and see that they played a very strong first quarter.
- Find a way to limit tight end Mark Andrews
The Eagles defense has a lot of issues with tight ends. Enter Mark Andrews. If the Eagles are to win this game, they will have to find a way to contain Mark Andrews. The best bet in stopping him may be Andrews himself, as he leads the Ravens in dropped passes. But while he has struggled with drops, he is also Jackson’s favorite security blanket and red zone target. He already has five touchdown catches on the year.
There isn’t really anyone on the Eagles who matches up well against Andrews. Hopefully, for the Eagles’ sake, they don’t leave the assignment to linebacker Nate Gerry, as he has been awful in coverage so far this season. The Eagles will be without safety Marcus Epps and cornerback Avonte Maddox on Sunday. But, they will get safety Will Parks back this week, so hopefully, he can help limit Andrews. If not, it will be a long afternoon for the Eagles defense.
- Win the turnover battle
This is going to be a key to the game each and every week until the Eagles show they can win without doing so. It is so simple, but it is also just too important to overlook for this team.
While it is simple, it is not going to be easy this week. The Ravens have forced a turnover in an NFL-best 18 straight games. Their defensive philosophy is polar-opposite of the Eagles under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Eagles defensive coordinator doesn’t emphasize turnovers and mostly relies on his front-four to get to the quarterback, allowing him to often drop seven into coverage. On the other hand, the Ravens blitz often. The Ravens also love deceptive blitzes, often making it difficult for the center and quarterback to know which players are rushing and which are falling back into coverage. This kind of organized chaos puts stress on the opposing offense and leads to lots of turnover opportunities.
For the Eagles to win on Sunday, they will need center Jason Kelce and Carson Wentz to be at the top of their game in reading the defense and calling the protections during the pre-snap. In the Ravens’ only loss of the season, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes picked the defense apart when they blitzed him. It is crazy to expect that kind of performance from Wentz, but in order to win the game, he will need to at least win the turnover battle. If the Ravens’ turnover streak ends, it may mean the beginning of an Eagles win streak.
This match-up is a nightmare for the Eagles.
The Eagles come in dealing with lots of injuries on both sides of the ball. The Ravens thrive on turnovers while the Eagles struggle to protect the ball.
Philadelphia struggles against tight ends and Mark Andrews is one of the best.
The Eagles defense has no answer for offenses that run motion or misdirection, and that is the Ravens’ bread-and-butter.
Coming into this season, most expected the Eagles to lose this game. Nothing has changed in the first five weeks in the Eagles’ favor.
Ravens win, 33-18.
The good news for the Eagles is, they have a short turnaround to face a bad team, as they will host the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football.
(Featured Image Credit: Philadelphia Eagles)