The Baltimore Ravens had an up-and-down first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints in which they squeezed out a 30-27 win. They will need a much better performance in their next preseason game when they travel up I-95 to take on the Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense.
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The first quarter and a half for the Ravens was nearly flawless. The offense jumped out to a 17-0 lead before the Saints were able to pick up a first down. Then, the Saints offense woke up. The Ravens defense was asleep as Brandin Cooks scored on a 28-yard touchdown from Luke McCown and no one in the secondary was anywhere near the receiver. The defense also allowed Terrence Frederick to go untouched on the go-ahead touchdown inside two minutes to go in the contest.
Maybe the Ravens let their foot off the gas once they took the early lead. You cannot do that against a Chip Kelly team because his team will constantly try to ram it down your throat. The Indianapolis Colts found that out yesterday in the teams’ preseason opener.
Kelly’s Eagles racked up 412 yards on offense in addition to a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown by Kenjon Barner. Some might argue that it was just a preseason game, but allowing 36 points and over 400 yards of offense is never a good day of football. The Eagles manhandled a team that many feel is a favorite in the AFC.
The problem the Eagles present teams is the high-tempo offense that they run. Their first two series against the Colts explain just how Kelly runs his offense. Sometimes, it leads to a quick three-and-out that last under a minute. Then on the next possession, they go on a eight-play, 80-yard drive that takes just over two minutes to score a touchdown. Just when teams think they have them contained, the offense can explode at any moment. The key for the Ravens will be keeping possession of the ball. It’s beneficial in two ways: the Eagles offense is off the field and the Ravens defense rested in case that up-tempo offense starts rolling.
The Ravens starters figure to play the entire first quarter on Saturday and were sharp in their first action. Joe Flacco operated a 16-play, 80-yard in which he was five of six for 33 yards and added a 17-yard scamper that left some gasping. The drive lasted over eight minutes and ended on a 1-yard touchdown by Lorenzo Taliaferro on a fourth-and-goal. That is exactly the kind of drive you want to have against the Eagles.
The game will be a test for the Ravens physically and mentally. The Eagles up-tempo keeps defenses on the field without making substitutions. They challenge your conditioning in the early parts of game, and once a team is tired, they capitalize on mental mistakes. If they get out to an early lead, they are tough to come back against. They force teams into passing situations and have one of the better pass rushes in the NFL.
The weakness for the Eagles is their defense as they finished 31st in pass defense. They addressed that problem this offseason with the acquisitions of Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and E.J. Biggers, and they also selected three defensive backs in this year’s draft. Philadelphia has had one of the worst run defenses since Andy Reid was in charge and that has not changed much under Kelly. Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman would be smart to test the defense early and often.
The challenge for Baltimore is going to come when the starters leave the game as the Eagles have talent at the quarterback position. There is still no word of whether Sam Bradford will play, but Mark Sanchez proved last season he is capable of running the offense. Matt Barkley played well in the first preseason game and Tim Tebow presents problems of his own as well. Regardless who is running the show, Kelly is always in attack mode. The Eagles offense doesn’t skip a beat when the quarterback changes.
The Eagles are the perfect team for the Ravens to practice with because they present a challenge unlike many other teams. While the Eagles did not make the playoffs with a 10-6 record – but the 7-9 Carolina Panthers did as division winners – they are one of the better teams in the NFL. They finished with a 10-6 record the year before, winning the NFC East and are a favorite to take the division once again.
The Ravens will hold one final practice tomorrow at the Under Armour Performance Center before heading to Philadelphia for three days of joint practices. The practices and preseason matchup will be a good barometer for John Harbaugh to see how his team is progressing this offseason. The starters will be challenged, and the depth of this team will be tested as well. That is exactly what you want in these preseason games.
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