In a thrilling Week Two victory, the Eagles won a second straight nail-biter to run their record to 2-0. It is the first time since 2004 that the Eagles have won their first two games and only the third time in Andy Reid’s tenure they have done so.
This was one of the most important Eagles victories in recent memory. Other than the obvious—washing the taste of an ugly game in Cleveland out of their mouths while striving to stay atop the NFC East—the Eagles saw the Ravens as a test of their toughness.
Test it the Ravens did, and to their dismay, found the Eagle is the tougher bird after all. The Ravens were sent flying back down I-95 with a broken wing and crooked beak, courtesy of a physical Eagles team.
The game was marred by scrums and cheap shots that sometime escalated into near-brawls, as the replacement officials floundered around incompetently. The Eagles took every shot the Ravens had and gave it back and more. By the end of this heavyweight fight—the very end—the Eagles were the team left standing.
Defense Remains a Strength
Pressed again to compensate for FOUR turnovers, the Eagles defense showed it may be progressing into becoming a shutdown unit. It’s not there yet, but this year’s defense is already light years ahead of the 2011 defense, making big plays to prevent offensive turnovers from derailing games early and sealing games in the clutch.
All the confusion and unevenness fans saw on the 2011 defense has been reduced, if not eliminated. Juan Castillo should be given a lot of credit for that. But more than Castillo’s growth, the Eagles' dramatic improvement on defense is the result of an infusion of some formidable talent.
There was a lot of angst when MLB Demeco Ryans did not show much in the preseason. He was excellent in Week One and even better Sunday.
Ryans had six tackles and was the biggest playmaker on defense. His sack and interception of Ravens QB Joe Flacco were both huge second-half plays. Add Mychal Kendricks strong play and Eagles fans have a LB corps the likes of which they have not seen in years.
The secondary also has improved dramatically. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) is an even better outside corner than Asante Samuel was and the chemistry is exponentially better without 'Zant in the locker room. Both Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen have played well, although the lack of depth at the safety position is still a concern for the unit. Ironically, the only weak link has been Nnamdi Asomughua, who got burned for two more TDs yesterday; fortunately, one was called back by a penalty.
The Eagles defensive line also played well. They put consistent pressure on Flacco, but they must record more than the two sacks a game they have managed thus far. Trent Cole forced a fumble by sacking Flacco in the first quarter that the Eagles recovered, partly erasing Vick’s first interception on the preceding drive. Rookie Fletcher Cox played very well, notching five tackles.
Encouragingly, the defense was able to seal a victory after the Eagles took the lead within the final two minutes of the game. Neither Cleveland nor Baltimore gained even one first down on their final drives—a far cry from the defense that surrendered five fourth-quarter leads last year.
Offense Still a Work in Progress
The Eagles play-calling was much more balanced this week, with 41 rushes and 32 passes. The offense was dynamic, productive, exciting—and error-prone, committing four more turnovers in its home opener. Vick threw a horrendous endzone interception to kill a promising opening drive (and another later that wasn't his fault, off the hands of Brent Celek, one of the few miscues the big TE made Sunday). Add in two RB fumbles—one in the Red Zone—and the offensive turnovers in this young season tally nine.
The Eagles squandered at least six (and probably ten or fourteen) points with the two Red Zone turnovers, not to mention the other two. The defense has withstood the constant pressure admirably; however, the Eagles should have won this game by two touchdowns. No NFL team can virtually surrender fourteen points due to turnovers and keep surviving. Doing so means outplaying the other team by more than two TDs, and in this league of parity, no team can continually do that.
As it is unlikely that Michael Vick will ever eliminate the turnovers from his game, the Eagles cannot afford to have their RBs fumble the ball. And even if he doesn't eliminate the turnoves from his game, Vick MUST limit them, or it will again be the downfall of this team. His decision-making was much better Sunday; he hung in the pocket and went through his reads, ran when he had to and made plays. As maddening as his shortcomings are, fans have to admire Vick's ability to engineer fourth-quarter comeback wins. It has been more than a decade since the Eagles have had a QB who could do that.
Lesean McCoy gained 81 tough yards and the Eagles mixed in a couple other ball-carriers, which is a necessity. Desean Jackson battled through an injury to tally 114 yards on seven catches and an injured Jeremy Maclin caught a TD pass for the second straight week.
The receiving star on Sunday was TE Brent Celek. He caught eight passes for 156 yards, bulled over defenders, hurdled Ed Reed and cemented his reputation as a fan favorite with an emphatic first-down signal after taking a huge hit and hanging on to the ball.
On the final drive, the Eagles went eighty yards on ten plays in 2:48, with Vick scoring the game-winner on a one yard QB keeper.
Enjoy the Win, but Don't Look Past the Cardinals
This win was cause for jubilation because the Eagles took on a physical team, outmuscled and out-gutted them for a thrilling victory. Michael Vick was mostly great, but no amount of great play can outweigh that many turnovers in the long run. Still, Vick won his sixth straight start.
The Eagles outgained the Ravens 486 to 325, bested them in first downs, 26-17, and had almost ten more minutes in time of possession. Although it was incredibly exciting, they should have won by more than a single point… again.
The Eagles are a talented team and so far they have managed to win games this year they would have lost last year. It cannot be said enough that they have to cut down the turnovers or will eventually be their undoing; simple as that.
This week’s Eagles trip to the desert is fraught with danger. Not from scorpions and such, but from turnover on the road. Should they fail to reduce them, they could revisit the ugly loss they suffered last year to these same Cardinals, who have won nine of their last eleven games. If they do limit the turnovers, they will enjoy a 3-0 start to 2012.
- The replacement officials were horrendous Sunday. Their inability to spot the ball caused the game to take three-and-a-half-hours to play. They made a number of terrible calls and non-calls on both sides. This happened across the league.
- Of the other NFC East teams, only the Giants won Sunday, making the Eagles the only 2-0 team in the division.