Eagles Shake Off Rust to Beat Ravens 13-6 In Pre-Season Opener By Matt Lombardo

After a four and a half month layoff with a roster that was revamped in the span of ten days, the Philadelphia Eagles opened the pre-season with an up-and-down 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field.

Throughout training camp the Eagles have been the most hyped team in the National Football league thanks in large part to their overhaul on defense. It became clear on Thursday that it takes more than a week’s worth of off-season tinkering and ten days of a truncated training camp session to rebuild a defense that ranked last in red zone efficiency and surrendered 31 passing touchdowns last season.

Granted first impressions in first pre-season games carry little weight when judging the makeup of a football team. Overall there was enough to be satisfied in the final product, a 13-6 Eagles win. Overall though, the Eagles defense looked aggressive up front on the defensive line but had the feel of a bend but don’t break type of defense.

In their lone series the defense stood tall in the red zone but appeared vulnerable from 20-yard line to 20-yard line, especiallyon underneath and short intermediate passing routes. On a first series 3rd down play, Ray Rice slinked towards the sidelines hauling in a Joe Flacco swing pass and bolting up field for a 21-yard gain with no Eagles’ linebackers in sight.

Ordinarily, it’s easy to overlook such a coverage lapse. But with a rookie middle linebacker in Casey Matthews (4th rd pick out of Oregon) and a combined three years NFL experience between the other two starters, alarms might have sounded when there wasn’t even a linebacker close enough to pin the blown coverage on.

To the Birds’ credit Rice’s scamper was the only noticeable blunder from the first team. The Eagles Defense later recovered by forcing a Trent Cole sack thanks mainly in large part to new free agent CB Nnamdi Asomugha’s blanket tight coverage.  The NFL’s arguably top corner on the play,  forced Flacco right into the Cole’s grasp, as the still developing young quarterback from nearby Audubon, NJ, stepped up in the pocket trying to buy extra time.

“It was a lot of effort put in by a lot of guys on the d-line [on that play],” Cole said of his third down sack. “A lot of guys pressured [Flacco] to get him to move like that. That’s what we want, a lot of pressure back there. The defensive line did a great job getting pressure on the quarterback, getting him off the field and the secondary did a heck of a job covering.”

Overall there are a lot of positives to take away from the play of the first-team defensive line. Besides Cole’s sack, Cullen Jenkins did a nice job getting into the backfield and on two plays Jason Babin forced Flacco from the pocket collapsing it around him. All told the Eagles first unit held the Ravens starters to just 3 points on a Billy Cundiff 53-yard field goal that bounced off the uprights and over the cross bar.

“It definitely makes it easier for [us linebackers] with all of the penetration those guys get up front, they had great penetration today with a couple sacks,” Matthews said. The promising rookie —  nicknamed “Bloodlines” due to his family’s lengthy NFL pedigree — added “With those guys having such a quick first step off the ball it makes the rest of the defense’s job that much easier.”

On the offensive side of the ball,  QB Michael Vick executed a fluid scoring drive on his only series. The “Michael Vick Experience” circa 2011 opened the pre-season 4-7 for 74 yards and a TE Brent Celek touchdown on his lone series of action.  Celek’s three-yard touchdown catch was set up by a beautiful throw and catch by Vick to 2nd-year WR Riley Cooper for a 45-yard.  On the big- gain play, Cooper sprung free with a nice juke move along the sideline before making a leaping athletic grab over future Hall-of-Famer and  veteran Ravens safety Ed Reed. After the big grab by the Birds’ Ed McCaffrey clone, three plays later the Eagles gave their faithful something to high-five about by producing a 7-3 lead.

Among the reserves, veteran RB Ronnie Brown — the NFL’s first ‘Wildcat” — stood out from the rest of the 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s on the roster with better than advertised hard-running between the tackles. Brown (30), recently signed on as an unrestircted free agent coming over from the Miami Dolphins, finished his workman evening with nine carries for 22 yards.

Along the offensive line, rookie center Jason Kelce (6th Rd pick out of Cincinnati) looked inconsistent to put it nicely. Kelce was tossed aside by larger Ravens defensive tackles, several times which forced Eagles backup QB Vince Young from the pocket.  However the ever-learning Kelce did throw a thumping block that sprung Brown for a nice gain on a second-down swing pass.

Young — not known for being a practice player — looked vastly improved from his dreadful training camp performance going 3-5 for 45 yards and added a six yard scamper.  Taking It to the House thinks that though V.Y’s head is probably spinning from Andy Reid’s extensive playbook that will be a good understudy for to starter MV7.

As far as first impressions go, this Eagles team is about what everyone expected it to be…. a work in progress. Though there wasn’t much of a glimpse of the starters, there were no glaring weaknesses that came to the forefront in the pre-season’s first week.

Next up in Week 2 of the always “thrilling” NFL preseason,  the Eagles will be matched up with the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers next Thursday night at Heinz Field in their usual preseason “Keystone State Battle”  .

 

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

Taking It to the House – Editor Lloyd Vance also contributed to this article

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