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Opposition Beat: Talking Eagles-Ravens with CSN Baltimore

Sep 13, 2012, 11:23 AM EDT

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Every week during the 2012 season we’re going to hit up some of the most knowledgeable people on the Internet when it comes to the team the Philadelphia Eagles are playing that particular Sunday. This week, we have J. Michael, Ravens Insider for CSN Baltimore.

Kulp: There was a surprising amount of noise about Joe Flacco in the offseason. It’s a contract year for the Audubon, NJ native, and cynics jumped on Flacco’s assertion that he is not only a top-five quarterback in the NFL, he’s number one. Flacco responded on Monday against Cincinnati by posting one of the best games of his career (21/29, 299 Yds, 3 TD). Is there reason to believe we are going to watch him develop into an elite quarterback in year five?

J. Michael: Flacco has a quiet, understated confidence. But he’ll tell you, he’s already there as a top five guy. He’s just not paid like one — yet. The main thing you’ll see different this season is that now he has the weapons, particularly with Torrey Smith to stretch the field, his statistics will show it, too. He’s passing on first downs, including on first down in the red zone. That’s never happened before. They’re passing to set up the run, making the offense less predictable. Quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell has a lot to do with that. Flacco has a greater voice in the offense and Caldwell, who worked for years with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, has given him more confidence to meet that high bar Flacco has set for himself.

The Ravens used a third-round pick on Bernard Pierce out of Temple in April’s draft. He was in for 12 snaps on Monday, spelling Ray Rice at times, and finishing the game with four carries for 19 yards. Baltimore’s offense traditionally calls for 100 carries or so for whoever is behind Rice, so what can we expect out of the local product this season?

About 100 carries is on target. Coach John Harbaugh really likes Pierce. He likes his ability to run tough inside and bounce outside to get around the edge. Pierce was slowed by a hamstring injury in training camp and has yet to hit his full stride. I think he’s a few games away from showing his best form. Based on the way this offense is developing, if the Ravens can continually get early leads that’ll mean more rushing opportunities in the second half when they’re trying to just move the sticks and kill the clock. That’s where Pierce would come in.

2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles during the offseason. He is perhaps best known for his pass rushing prowess, racking up 14 sacks a season ago, but Suggs is a demon in run support and coverage as well. How did the Ravens counter his absence against Cincinnati?

The run defense was the most shaky area of the Ravens’ performance in the opener. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got 91 yards on 18 carries for Cincinnati, and if it weren’t for that huge deficit he would’ve gotten more touches and easily rushed for 125 or more.  They have replaced Suggs and Jarret Johnson, who left as a free agent to San Diego, with first-time starters Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan. Harbaugh seems convinced the problem isn’t a talent dropoff but communication and technique. If they’re able to solve tighten up the run defense – because the secondary is among the best in football – this defense can be every bit as good as last season. But that’s a big if. The run defense is going to take time to evolve. It might be too much to ask for all of those problems to be solved by Week 2.

The Eagles barely escaped rookie-laden Cleveland with a week 1 win. Meanwhile, a very well balanced Ravens team took it to the Bengals so badly they were able to get their backup QB some work in the fourth quarter. This leaves some in Philadelphia more than a little worried heading into the home opener this Sunday. Still, this is the NFL, and a lot can change in one week. If you were the Eagles, what would be the Achilles’ Heel you would target on Sunday?

I’m a firm believer that what happened in the past stays there and has little to do with the future. Different teams. Different location. Different stage. Different motivation. The secondary is the strength of this defense. But given the uneven performance of the Ravens’ defense against the run I’d ground and pound them there until they prove they can stop LeSean McCoy. The Ravens’ offense wants to dictate the pace with the no-huddle and wear out Philly’s defense. Control the ball and wear them down instead. If they run the no-huddle and score quickly, the downside will be the Ravens’ defense has to return sooner than expected and face McCoy again. This will test just how much Ray Lewis, 37, has left after 14 tackles in the opener. Defensively, the Eagles must test this offensive line that has new faces in Ramon Harewood and Kelechi Osemele. They blew open holes for Rice to average 6.8 yards per carry, but the pass blocking wasn’t always as good. Flacco was sacked three times. He was almost picked off several times in part because of pressure, but the Bengals couldn’t cash in.

Over the last four years, the Ravens have in many ways resembled the early 2000s Eagles, with star-studded rosters that have successful regular seasons followed by deep playoff runs, but ultimately so far failing to get over the hump. Fans and local media soured on Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid over time. What’s the vibe like in Baltimore these days, especially feelings toward Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh?

No such chance that’ll happen here. This city has a love affair with Harbaugh and Flacco. Even though he’s in a contract year, Flacco doesn’t moan or complain publicly about it. His demeanor is low profile and humble and fans realize the weapons he’s had to work with weren’t adequate over the last few years. Both of these guys are media savvy, which makes them beloved. Baltimore is a big city but has the mentality of a small market. I talked with Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, on Tuesday night and he kept saying that Flacco’s silence – and his play on the field – is all the leverage he needs. The longer the Ravens wait, the bigger the pricetag if he keeps performing like he did in the opener. GM Ozzie Newsome has yet to pick up the phone and say ‘Let’s negotiate.’ But it’ll happen before the season is out. Flacco isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Neither is Harbaugh.

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