Eagles vs. Ravens: Five matchups to watch

The 1-3-1 Philadelphia Eagles aren’t a good football team, but they’re still only a half game behind the nearly as bad NFC East leading Dallas Cowboys — and have the second best odds of winning the division, according to TheLines.com’s consensus odds.. So let’s still give a crap about their games a little while longer, shall we? Here are our five matchups to watch against the 4-1 Baltimore Ravens.

1) The Eagles’ run defense vs. the Ravens’ elite rushing attack

In 2019, the Ravens were by far the best rushing team in the NFL, mainly because Lamar Jackson added over 1,200 yards on the ground from the quarterback position. The following chart shows where they ranked in various rushing offense categories, as well as the disparity between themselves and the rest of the NFL:

 Ravens rushing offense Stat  Rank  Next closest team 
Rushing attempts per game  37.3   31.1 (49ers)
 Rushing yards per game 206   144.1 (49ers)
 Rushing yards per attempt 5.5   5.0 (Cardinals)
 Rushing TDs 21   23 (49ers)
 Rushes of 20+ yards 23   16 (49ers)
 Rushes of 40+ yards  Two others tied with 5.
 Rushing first downs 188   131 (Colts)
 % of runs resulting in a 1st down 31.5%   27.8% (Colts)

In 2020, their rushing attempts (28.8) and rushing yards per game (160.8) are down a bit, but they’re still averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

The ball carriers complement each other well. The Ravens deploy three hard-charging running backs of various sizes in Mark Ingram (5’9, 210), Gus Edwards (6’1, 238), and rookie J.K. Dobbins (5’10, 212), who wear defenses down, and Jackson is the lightning bolt human highlight reel.

“Lamar Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the league because there are times you can do everything right on defense and can’t catch him, or he can throw a ball side-arm underneath of a free rusher and complete a pass,” Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. “I think that you’ve got to have a resilient attitude when you play him, and you know that a playmaker like him is going to make some plays. You just have to limit his big plays, and you have to stay resilient. You can’t hang your hat if he ends up making a play. They are a strong running team, not just with Lamar Jackson but with Mark Ingram, with the rookie that’s back [J.K. Dobbins].

“All their running backs are good, powerful running backs. They are a power running team. Strong offensive line, and it’s not just the tight ends. They have got wide receivers that make big plays for them. Again, it’s another offense, [if] you try too hard to take one thing away, you devote too many resources to stopping Lamar Jackson’s feet, there’s plenty of opportunities in the pass game, or there’s plenty of opportunities to hand the ball to someone else. You see teams over play option and get gashed up the middle, or you see teams play too tough up the middle and they are vulnerable to option.

“A little bit like some of the things we just talked about with Pittsburgh with the jet motions and things like that, option football, stuff that they do with quarterback runs, just puts emphasis on all 11 guys. You have to play responsibility football. You have to make the plays that come to you and you have to get guys on the ground tackling. It puts emphasis on all of those things.”

As we noted last week, the Eagles have done a nice job against running backs, but they have been vulnerable against receivers on jet sweeps, and in the past, they have given up big rushing days to quarterbacks. If they can’t stop the run on Sunday, it’s going to be a long day.

So how do you stop them? Will the Eagles’ spy Jackson?

“That’s something a lot of people do,” Schwartz said. “We’ve done it in the past against different quarterbacks. We’ll see what we get to with Sunday with different schemes. There’s a lot of ways to try to battle scrambling quarterbacks or guys with legs. You can blitz. You can play visual zone where you have a lot of eyes on him. You can play man with spies. There’s a lot of different ways to be able to handle that. I don’t want to give too much of what we would do personnel-wise when it comes to Sunday, but that’s certainly a thing is his run keepers on first and second down and then scrambling to keep plays alive.

“I think that’s a little bit underestimated with Lamar Jackson. Everybody talks about him scrambling. A lot of times on third down, he’s more just buying time. He’s using his arm. He’s finding guys that are wide open because of the stress it puts on the defense with him buying time back there. He certainly can run and gain yards and gain first downs, but I think you’re seeing a little bit more of him sort of buying time in the pocket, buying some time and it puts — it really says, look, you’ve got to get those guys covered; before anything else, you’ve got to get guys covered, and then you can take care of the quarterback.”

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2) The Eagles’ secondary vs. the deep ball

As Schwartz noted above, if as a defense you overcompensate in trying to stop one thing, the Ravens’ offense usually has a counter punch. One of the keys to their offense is the threat of speed demon Marquise Brown on the outside. If the Ravens get their run game going and safeties start creeping closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, they can throw it over you head.

In 2019, including the playoffs, the Eagles allowed 16 pass plays of 40-plus yards, or just a hair under one per game. No team allowed more. They’ve been better at limiting those big plays in 2020, allowing just one play of 40-plus yards so far this season, but they cannot allow Brown to get behind the defense.

3) The Eagles’ linebackers vs. TE Mark Andrews

The other killer in the Ravens’ passing attack is tight end Mark Andrews, who had 10 TDs in 2019, and already has five so far in 2020. Andrews is good in the red zone, and he can also make plays down the field.

The Eagles have allowed 32 catches for 323 yards and 5 TDs to tight ends this season. If you were to include 6’4, 238-pound Chase Claypool, who plays something of a tight end role in the Steelers’ passing game, then it gets really ugly.

We all knew the Eagles’ linebackers could be an issue heading into this season, and as feared, they have been a major weakness through the first five games. Against a power running team with a dynamic tight end, the Eagles will have a serious mismatch disadvantage at linebacker.

4) Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders vs. the Ravens’ linebackers and safeties in the passing game

Sanders and Ertz haven’t met expectations yet this season in the passing game. Their numbers:

 Ertz/Sanders Targets  Rec  Yards  YPC  TD 
 Zach Ertz 35  20  145  7.3 
 Miles Sanders 23  11  97  8.8 

Ertz is averaging 4.1 yards per target, while Sanders is averaging 4.2 yards per target.

Rookie Patrick Queen has made some plays this season, in that he has a pair of sacks, a pair of forced fumbles, and a pair of fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a TD. However, if there’s a player I would look to attack in the passing game on Sunday, it’s him.

Ertz and Sanders have to start yielding better results in the passing game, and against this Ravens defense would be a timely place to start.

5) Travis Fulgham vs. the Ravens’ corners

Fulgham had the biggest play of the game in the Eagles’ win over the 49ers Week 4, and he was the player most responsible for keeping the game close against the Steelers Week 5, when he went off for 10 catches, 152 yards, and a TD.

Against the Steelers, Fulgham did his damage against smaller corners like Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Against the Ravens, he’ll face more physical corners in Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and Marlon Humphrey.

I guess I’m just curious to see if Fulgham can legitimately become a long-term starter for this offense, and these Ravens corners will present a good challenge on Sunday.

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