You might say the Eagles’ defense is lucky to have to face Lamar Jackson at an unlucky time for the Ravens— Lamar is still nursing a sore knee upon which absolutely no details have been released by the team. In addition, the young quarterback experienced the loss of a close friend this past weekend. You could see the subdued energy in Lamar’s face in the CBS closeups from last Sunday.
But the way the Eagles defense is struggling right now, it might not be able to take advantage of the less than optimal signals coming from the Baltimore offense.
The Ravens’ defensive dominance in a near shutout of the Cincinnati Bengals was the story of last Sunday’s game, but it was the offense’s struggles that will be discussed for much of the upcoming week in preparation for the Eagles. So says Ryan Mink of the Ravens’ media department. That’s what happens when you have the reigning MVP under center and are coming off a season in which you led the league in scoring. The Ravens offense put up 17 points and 332 total yards. After the first play of the second quarter, they notched just one field goal.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson had an odd and tough day. His 37 passing attempts were tied for the second-most of his career, but he completed just 19 of them (51 percent) for 180 yards. His two rushing attempts (for three yards) were a career low. Jackson was not happy with the offense’s performance, and neither were his offensive teammates.
“Every win is a blessing, and whenever you can get one, you have to take that and run with it,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “But there are times when our offense isn’t clicking, and we need to get better. So, it is what it is.”
The Ravens are a different offense this year and defenses are playing them differently too. Head coach John Harbaugh spoke Monday about the different factors that influenced Sunday’s performance. One was the lack of practice time Jackson had leading into the game. He missed practice Wednesday (knee) and Thursday (illness), marking the first time in his career that he sat out back-to-back practices.
Jackson said his knee issue “didn’t really affect me at all,” but the missed practice snaps did have an impact.
“Football is definitely a practice sport, whether it’s technique, timing, chemistry, just understanding the game-plan inside and out not because you studied it but because you operated it and practiced it. It’s always going to have an effect,” Harbaugh said. “It’s important for everybody to practice, especially important for the quarterback.”
What made that especially challenging is that the Bengals employed a defense that the Ravens hadn’t seen them use on tape. Thus, the film work and mental reps that Jackson still had throughout the week didn’t prove to be as useful.
Jackson said last week that teams are rolling out different defenses every week and the Bengals followed suit.
“They were a true college 4-3 type of a look, played quarters with the safeties low. They’ve played that in the past but they hadn’t played it yet this year. So it was a new defense that we thought we might get, but we didn’t get a chance to rep it out very much,” Harbaugh said. “That happens to us quite a bit. So that’s something we’ve got to learn to deal with and handle as an offense because we run a unique scheme.”
One talking point was the Ravens’ run-pass ratio. Jackson threw 37 times to 24 runs, but Harbaugh explained that 11 of those passes were in two-minute drills at the end of the first half. On first and second down, the Ravens ran 20 times to 13 passes.
“That’s a high number in the NFL. It’s even high for us,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens would have run the ball more in the fourth quarter with a big lead, but they only ran five plays total because the Bengals had a long drive in which they also ran often.
“I think the basic raw numbers are more indicative of the situations that we were in than they were any design or anything play-calling wise,” Harbaugh said. “What we all want to do is just continue to improve execution and how we attack defenses going against us. So like I said last week, we are still very much a work in progress. We have a lot to improve on.
“We have to improve as the season goes on to achieve the things that we want to achieve. By the same token, just Lamar by himself made some really great plays. He moved around and made some great throws. When we scored 17 points, he was the main driver of that.”
Still, there are some other concerns which the Eagles could possibly bank upon defensively—
There was a lot of buzz about wide receiver Miles Boykin stepping up as the No. 2 wide receiver opposite Marquise “Hollywood” Brown this season.
However, Boykin has just 10 receptions for 111 yards through the first five games. He didn’t have a catch versus the Bengals and didn’t seem to be on the same page with Jackson on one attempt to the end zone, leaving the Ravens settling for a field goal.
So far this season, Andrews and Brown have 40 of the Ravens’ 88 receptions. So the percentage play for the Eagles defense may be to concentrate coverage on Andrews and Brown.
Also, the Ravens offensive line is far from totally healthy. Last Sunday, the Ravens used a rotation to fill in for injured starting guard Tyre Phillips (shoulder). Patrick Mekhari started and played 45 snaps and Ben Powers took 18 snaps.
But Jackson was sacked just once and the Ravens ran for 161 yards on 24 attempts, so it was a good day overall for their offensive line.
“I thought it was solid,” Harbaugh said. “There were a couple times when they pressured us and brought blitzes and we didn’t always handle them the right way. … So it wasn’t perfect by any stretch but I just felt like they did a good job overall as a group under the circumstances.”
So those are a few factors which could play into making the Eagles-Ravens matchup a lot closer game than anyone has imagined so far.