Winning came in different fashions for the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens in the first week of the NFL season. In Cleveland, the Eagles needed a clutch touchdown drive orchestrated by quarterback Michael Vick, who struggled from start to finish in his first extended time on the field since last season after an injury riddled preseason. It was a laugher for Baltimore, who used their patented opportunistic defense and a fine season debut by quarterback Joe Flacco in taming the Cincinnati Bengals. The I-95 rivals will square off Sunday afternoon in Lincoln Financial Field wondering if the same trends will continue for another week.
After an ugly offensive start in Cleveland, the Eagles may need to find a way to improve without one of their top offensive players, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Maclin did not participate in practice on Wednesday while nursing a hip pointer injury. The team also signed free agent wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, suggesting the team is preparing to move in to Week Two without Maclin’s services on Sunday. Gilyard had a promising preseason for the Eagles, with a couple of touchdowns, and being back with the team makes him seem energized to do what he can to help.
“It was tough not making it,” Gilyard told PhiladelphiaEagles.com of not making the 53-man roster at the end of the preseason. “But I went home to my family, stayed in shape, stayed patient and hoped for another chance and here I am.”
Gilyard will try to pick up where he left off in practice this week and should be a likely candidate to see some playing time on Sunday, but the focus of the offense will likely shift more on DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant. The big question that remains is whether or not the possible loss of Maclin for a week will curve the way the offense decides to operate. Vick passed 56 times last week, a number that was widely criticized all week on sports radio, in print and in the blogosphere. It was a rough outing for Vick, of course, and even more confusing with one of the league’s top running backs on the field in LeSean McCoy.
“I can’t dwell on what happened last game because I just don’t plan on having that type of ballgame again,” Vick said Wednesday on his ability to focus on what went right in Week One.
Vick does have a good track record against AFC opponents as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, with a 6-1 record accompanied by 1,925 passing yards, 12 passing touchdowns, 315 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. But against the Ravens in his career with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick had just 263 passing yards, 49 rushing yards and one total touchdown in two games. Despite his success against AFC opponents since coming to Philadelphia, it should be expected that Andy Reid looks to get that running game going against Baltimore.
The Ravens are not as stingy against the run as they have been in recent years. The Bengals were able to have some success on the ground before needing to rely more on the passing game as they fell behind. McCoy is also coming off a 110-yard day on 20 carries that seemed to happen under the radar with the passing game being publicly questioned and analyzed.
The Eagles defense will have their work cut out for them as well, after Joe Flacco passed for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Ray Rice added two scores on the ground and averaged 6.8 yards per rushing attempt. The Ravens have put work in on an up tempo style offense aimed at keeping opposing defenses on their toes, but the Eagles are bracing for it as best they can.
“You can’t panic,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “You just have to be calm, play solid, and stop them on first and second downs to get them at third-and-long.” Baltimore was just 3-for-9 on third down conversions last week against Cincinnati, but they had 26 first downs in the game. Against the Browns, the Eagles allowed just two out of 13 third-down conversions. Of course, Baltimore is a different offense than the young and inexperienced Cleveland team from Week One.
“They go no-huddle because they want to wear out the defense,” defensive end Trent Cole said. “That’s what it is about – they want to wear down the defense and (speed up) the game. We have our way to answer to that and hopefully everything works out on game time.”
The Eagles host the Ravens this Sunday at 1:00 p.m., and CBS will air the game on TV. Of course, you can listen to every Eagles game on SportsRadio 94 WIP.
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Kevin McGuire covers college football for Examiner.com and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter (@KevinOnCFB). His work can be found on Examiner.com.