The week of work and collection has come to an end, as we brace ourselves for Sunday. Wednesday, I was in Baltimore with the Ravens. Then, Thursday and Friday, I was in Philly with the Eagles. As for what I learned, you’ll see a lot of that on NFL Network’s First on the Field and GameDay Morning.
But want a few quick thoughts? Let’s go…
– It was a rough day for Eagles QB Michael Vick against the Browns, one that included four interceptions. The consensus seems to be that there were mistakes he made mentally, not physically. Trusting his eyes and knowing what he’s looking at will be important as he moves forward against the active Ravens front. But Vick, who is upfront about his mistakes, believes he’s learned.
“I believe in my abilities, I believe in the skill set that I’ve been blessed with,” Vick said. “The only thing is not to force it. Don’t try to make things happen when there’s not an opportunity to and just be patient, don’t get frustrated and just stay the course. Have fun playing the game. In practice, decision making is important but when the bullets are flying, that’s when you have to be at your best. I think over the course of my career, I’ve done a good job with that and just getting back to it and I will.”
– The Eagles defense suddenly has a lot of confidence. Give up 9 points (seven more came off a pick-6), pick off four balls and hold Browns rookie Trent Richardson to two yards per rush, and that’s bound to happen. The big early winner, of course, is defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who spent last year under fire after coming over from the offensive line. Thanks to his corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha playing more man coverage, thanks to DeMeco Ryans in the middle, and thanks to a lot more familiarity, the early returns have been really promising. As Castillo said, “The thing is we played the way we are supposed to play.”
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” DE Trent Cole said. “This is what we prepared for. We know what kind of talent we have on this team and we started out in camp and made it to the preseason preparing for these games. You know? We have a great group of guys on this defense. We don’t have 1s or 2s, we just have starters across the board, and we’re looking forward to this game and going out there and playing hard and doing our part and we know the offense is going to do their part. We’re going to go out there and win as a team.”
– Speaking of Ryans, his addition has been huge. After having a so-so training camp, his play was a big reason the unit was so impressive against the Browns. It was exactly what the Eagles were hoping for. And considering how fast things will be moving against the Ravens, Joe Flacco and their no-huddle, it’ll be on Ryans to make some snap decisions. Want some background on why the Iggles acquired Ryans? GM Howie Roseman offered some.
“When we looked at our offseason needs,” Roseman told me, “we felt it was very important we got a quarterback for our defense. Some times it’s hard to project who is going to be the quarterback for your defense. Just like it’s hard to project on the other side of the ball, so in DeMeco we got somebody who we know had done that before. He had taken a young team, we knew we were going to be a young team, and know we have some established guys and led his team. We were really excited about that opportunity. The way they talked about him in Houston, the effort and determination it took to get him out of Houston was something that… That wasn’t someone they were openly shopping and talking about getting rid of it. But it was a fit, a win-win and those are the best trades that you make.”
– One of the tough things for the Eagles, and any opponent of the Ravens, is figuring out their D-line. Where will everyone line up? Star Haloti Ngata can end up anywhere, and it’s something they’ll need to take stock of. “They play him everywhere,” Eagles guard Evan Mathis said. “All the guys play multiple positions, they have a variety of looks, they play it very well. We identify it. We see enough tape to where we know usually what they’re going to bring and it comes down to the communication between all of us to identify the fronts and us, basing our play off of that.”
– There’s been a lot of talk about the suddenly juggernautish Ravens offense, but not everyone is buying in. Cole was asked about it, and he took a wait-and-see approach. Maybe Sunday he’ll know more. “I don’t know how tough it’s going to be, but we’ll see when we get out there,” Cole said. “That’s just, we’ll see when the battle begins. They’re a great team, came off a great game. Got a great defense and their offense… it has done well as a team and (Flacco) has run that offense pretty well and (Ray) Rice has been doing great himself. We got a tough team coming in here, but we’re gonna do what we do and go out there and give ‘em hell.”
– Speaking of Rice, great line from Eagles DE Brandon Graham. He described Rice as “Like, now you see him, now you don’t. You don’t want to be running behind him, because he gone.”