Ravens-Eagles: Pre-Season Game Preview and What to Watch For by Jason King

You know that future Hall of Famer and Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis will be “fired-up” when he leads his team versus the Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team” in 2011 NFL Preseason Week 1

Date/ Time:  August 11, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Place: Philadelphia,PA

Venue: Lincoln Financial Field

Playing Surface: Grass

Television: 6 ABC inPhiladelphia

The Eagles open the preseason Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field.  If you’re looking for the Eagles big off-season acquisitions to make a big impact right away, you will be surprised. 

Expect the first team offense and defense to play one series each.  Most reports out of training camp are that the defense is ahead of the offense.  This seems the norm around the league.  If the offense lacks timing, rhythm, and the explosiveness we have become accustomed to don’t be alarmed.  The Eagles offense could be without both projected starting wide receivers.  Jeremy Maclin hasn’t been practicing due to an undisclosed illness.  DeSean Jackson ended his 11 day holdout Monday by reporting to the team in time to take a physical and participate in the afternoon walkthrough. 

Contract negotiations are expected to commence between the Eagles front office and Drew Rosenhaus,Jackson’s agent.  In a perfect world, Jackson would like to get his contract situation solved to his liking before he steps foot on the field, further putting himself at risk of an injury.  Jacksonis on the final year of his rookie contract, which pays him just $600 thousand this year.

The Eagles offensive line is expected to boast a whole new right side.  Danny Watkins is the projected starter at right guard and free agent signee Ryan Harris the projected starter at right tackle.  Harris has seized the opportunity taking first team reps for the last several days at Lehigh. The longest tenured Eagle center Jamaal Jackson is looking to bounce back after he missed all of the 2010 season due to injury. 

The defense was where the biggest questions were raised in the off-season.  Don’t expect many tactical questions to be answered on this side of the ball on Thursday.  While it’s no secret how the Eagles want to attack on offense, the defense is somewhat of a mystery. 

Juan Castillo, the new defensive coordinator, was the Eagles offensive line coach last year.  Jim Johnson and Sean McDermott both employed a blitzing style of defense predicated on getting pressure on the quarterback.  Castillo is expected to give the defense a new identity especially with the new signees.  

With the brain condition Mike Patterson was diagnosed with, the Eagles first defensive line is projected to be Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Anthony Hargrove, and Trent Cole.  In 2010 those four combined for 30.5 sacks.  Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha are expected to be the starting cornerbacks, but everyone knows the Eagles have three pro bowl corners with the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. How quickly Asomugha and DRC adjust will be indicative of how well the defense plays.  

The linebackers are the biggest question personnel wise on defense for the Eagles.  Rookie Casey Matthews is penciled in as the starting middle linebacker with Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney on the weak and strong sides respectively. Don’t expect any position battles to be won on Thursday night, as it’s simply too soon in the process for coaches to get an accurate read on the talent at various positions.  The goal for the Eagles is to try and build some cohesion on both sides of the ball without getting anybody hurt. 

The Ravens are led in by former Eagles Secondary and Special Teams coach John Harbaugh and they are another team, like the Eagles, with Super Bowl aspirations.  Led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, they are a veteran team with defense as its calling card.  Jimmy Smith, the heralded rookie cornerback fromColorado, has been hampered by a groin injury and his status for this game remains unknown.  

With Haloti Ngata anchoring the defensive line, Lewis anchoring the middle of the field and Reed anchoring the secondary,Baltimoreis sure to have one of the league’s best defenses once again.  It may not show in this game because veterans Ngata, Lewis, and Reed may play one series if at all. 

Baltimore’s offense is in a bit of a transition year. Veterans Todd Heap, Willis MaGahee, and Derrick Mason were all cut. Quarterback coach Jim Zorn was fired in a move that rubbed starting quarterback Joe Flacco the wrong way.  Cam Cameron took some criticism withBaltimore’s questionable play calling at times last year.  One thing is for sure about the Ravens offense.  It will be led by Flacco and Ray Rice.  They will both be helped out tremendously by the re-signing of right guard Marshal Yanda.

The Ravens will have the same game plan as the Eagles.  Keep the play calling simple, rest the veterans by sitting them or playing them one series, and letting the undrafted free agents and rookies gain some game experience.  For both teams, this game is just a footnote toward the ultimate goal.      

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com

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