Four key matchups to watch for in Ravens v Eagles
The Baltimore Ravens will hit the road in Week Six to take on the Philadelphia Eagles for an interconference matchup at Lincoln Financial Field Stadium.
The ‘Battle of the Birds’ only comes around every four years and could be decided by whichever team can win the most matchups between individual players or whole units on opposite sides of the ball.
Here are four key matchups that could determine the outcome of this game:
Ravens secondary v QB Carson Wentz
The Ravens are no strangers to dealing with a big-bodied quarterback that can extend plays by shrugging of sacks, moving around in the pocket, and throwing the ball with defenders draped all over him because they face one twice a year.
According to veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Eagles’ franchise signal-caller has a playing style that resembles that of the quarterback of Baltimore’s arch AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers but with a more athletic twist.
“A guy like that is a younger, faster version of Ben Roethlisberger. He can extend the play and make huge plays downfield if you’re not strapped to your assignment.”
They both possess an uncanny ability to buy themselves and their receivers more time to convert passing plays for firsts downs, chunk plays and even touchdowns at times as well as the awareness to take a wide-open rushing lane when it presents itself.
Smith said facing this kind of quarterback stresses the importance of “plastering” in coverage for himself and the rest of the secondary. If they assume the play is over and their assigned target is still in scramble drill mode, it could lead to disastrous results.
Wentz has made several Houdini-like escapes from pressure and made huge plays, but he has also shown a propensity to make costly mistakes in those situations as well.
“Sometimes they win those, sometimes they lose them,” Smith said. “We just got to make sure that we’re in the right spot if he does make a mistake. If he just throws it up and it’s in our area, we’ve got to catch the ones that he throws to us.”
The Ravens are among the league’s best at coming up with turnovers and have a league-high streak of 18-straight games with a turnover faced. Defensive Coordinator Don Wink Martindale is the best at disguising coverages and concocting deceptive looks and pressures that force opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions.
Wentz has been mistake-prone during the Eagles’ 1-3-1 start to the season and if he isn’t careful, it could end up costing him dearly on Sunday.
“When you look at the tape, you see speed,” Wentz said via PhiladelphiaEagles.com. “You see a lot of speed in the secondary and the linebacker position. They fly around. They’re going to try and disguise different looks and bring some funky pressures, really try to throw off your timing. The defensive backs, it’s as good of a group as any. We’ve got to be aware of where those guys are at, and what they’re doing.”
Ravens pass rush v Eagles offensive line
Baltimore’s pass rush is coming off their best outing in nearly two calendar years. They were able to relentlessly pressure first overall pick Joe Burrow and sack him a whopping seven times in a 27-3 victory.
The Ravens will be traveling to the City of Brotherly Love to feast on another porous pass protection unit with Eagles that will be without the entire right side of their offensive line after already losing the original starters on the left prior to and during the early going of the season.
One spot along their offensive front where they are not hurt is at center where three-time All-Pro selection Jason Kelce is still holding it down and holding his own as the anchor in the middle.
Martindale had high praise for the future Hall of Famer and believes his cerebral approach to the game will pose a challenge for his exotically aggressive pressure packages.
“That whole offense starts with Jason Kelce,” Martindale said. “He’s the Tom Brady, Peyton Manning if you will, of centers in this league. He’s playing at a very high level. Just like the city of Philly, he’s a blue-collar guy. The thing that stands out is just how smart he is. Getting them in the right protections. He studies defenses just like we study offenses from a coach’s perspective. It’s really hard to get them in the right protections when you’re running the different kinds of pressures, because he’s so good at doing it.”
Kelce or no Kelce, he’s just one player and the Eagles are starter backups and backups of backups at the other four spots. Their depth will be tested and the Ravens confident and consistently progressing pass rush could be in for another buffet of sacks, pressures, and quarterback hits.
ILB Patrick Queen v RB Miles Sanders
The reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week and the front runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year spearheaded the effort that kept Bengals running back Joe Mixon from getting going and forced their offense to be one dimensional. It allowed pass rush to pin their ears back and get after his former college teammate from start to finish last week.
Philadelphia will likely try to succeed where Cincinnati failed and establish the run so that their equally as maligned offensive line won’t get exposed and taken advantage of in pass protection.
They have a dynamic talent at the running back position as well with second-year pro Mile Sanders who is coming off a two-touchdown performance against the Steelers where he finished with 99 yards from scrimmage on just 13 touches.
Queen and company will have another challenge with Sanders who is just as dangerous rushing as Mixon but possess even a greater threat as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He has great elusiveness and toughness in the open field to make defenders miss and break tackles.
“Respect to Miles Sanders and his game, because he’s downhill,” outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson said. “He’s not afraid of contact and he’s good at contact, he’ll spin, he’ll jab, or he might just run through you.”
The Ravens’ first-round rookie inside linebacker has steadily improved in coverage since his rough overall outing in Week Three. He’ll get another litmus test of his ability to keep up with running backs in space this week when he and Sanders lineup across from each other or he draws him as an assignment coming out of the backfield on a given play.
QB Lamar Jackson v Eagles safeties
The reigning league MVP was held to a career-low three yards on two carries last week against the Bengals in large part because Cincinnati did what a hand full of teams have done and had some success keeping Jackson from killing them with his legs since he was elevated to full-time starter status.
The Bengals brought their safeties down in the box and closer to the line of scrimmage in an effort to cage Jackson and limit his ability to get to the edge and turn the corner or break into the second and third levels of the defense.
While it worked out well for Cincinnati after the opening quarter, it is a risky strategy to use because it often leaves a team’s cornerbacks on an island in single overage with no safety help over top.
That means that they are essentially daring the Ravens to throw the ball and get away from a component of their offense that made them the most potent in the league last season.
Eagles’ Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz said earlier this week that Jackson is “probably the most dangerous player in the league.” He might opt to take a page out of the playbook of the Bengals or Los Angeles Chargers and utilize multiple defensive backs to try to neutralize or at least limit the threat of Jackson’s dynamic rushing ability.
If that is the case, expect to see Eagles’ veteran safeties Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills as well as rookie K’Von Wallace closer to the line of scrimmage even in obvious passing situations to try to limit or deter Jackson from tucking the ball and trying to make plays and pick up first downs himself.