Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eagles-Ravens Preview

Though the Ravens should already be highly-motivated trying to bounce back from last week's humbling 30-10 loss to the New York Giants, head coach John Harbaugh faces his old team for the first time. Having spent 10 years as an assistant in Philadelphia, Harbaugh hopes to show Andy Reid and the Eagles his head coaching pedigree. Harbaugh and Reid have much respect for each other.

The 6-4 Ravens are still in the middle of the AFC playoff race but need a win to remain one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Ravens are currently tied with three other AFC teams (Indianapolis, Miami, and New England) battling for Wild Card spots.

On the other hand, the 5-4-1 Eagles find themselves in last place in the brutal NFC East after a rare tie with Cincinnati last week. While Philadelphia is still in the playoff mix, a loss to the Ravens would provide a canyon to climb out of in the NFC.

The Eagles will attempt to exploit a Ravens' secondary that continues to bend but not break without cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Dawan Landry, both on injured reserve. Philadelphia's fourth-ranked passing offense will try to mix short passes to running back Brian Westbrook and shots downfield to rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

The Ravens will need to get consistent pressure on quarterback Donovan McNabb to prevent the Eagles' passing game from finding its rhythm. Despite holding a solid 84.7 quarterback rating, McNabb has thrown five interceptions in his last three games.

Westbrook and the Eagles' running game will have a difficult time getting anything going on the ground, facing the third-best rush defense in the league.

On the other side, the Ravens will try to crank up the running game against the Eagles' 11th-ranked rush defense. It's no coincidence the Ravens win when they run the ball successfully. Of the Ravens' four losses, they failed to rush for more than 132 yards in any game. The Eagles will need to keep an eye on running back Ray Rice, as the rookie brings more diversity to the Ravens' backfield.

The Ravens' banged-up offensive line must protect quarterback Joe Flacco from the Eagles' dangerous blitzing packages. Adam Terry is expected to start at left tackle in place of the injured Jared Gaither. Right tackle Willie Anderson is expected to return to the starting lineup. The Eagles have sacked the quarterback 36 times this season, tied for first in the NFL.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason is still bothered by a sore shoulder but is Flacco's best receiver. If the offensive line can keep Flacco upright, Mason will be able to move the chains against the Eagles' secondary.

This game comes down to how well the Ravens will be able to run the ball against the Philadelphia defense and how effectively McNabb can pass on the Baltimore secondary. The Ravens' running game will allow the home team to control the clock, keeping the Eagles' talent passing game off the field.

Playing before the M&T Bank Stadium crowd for the first time in a month, the Ravens will be on a mission to avenge the humiliating loss to the Giants. The Eagles will be competing for their playoff lives but will come up short in Baltimore.

The prediction: Ravens 21-17

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