RAVENS PASSING GAME: What will quarterback Joe Flacco do for an encore? A week after lighting up the Cincinnati Bengals in one of the best performances of his career, Flacco brings the Ravens' suddenly explosive offense to Lincoln Financial Field, a short drive from where he grew up. Eight players caught passes in the Ravens' opener, led by tight end Dennis Pitta. Flacco figures to get far less time to operate against a fast and aggressive Eagles defense.
EAGLES PASSING GAME: Michael Vick played one of the worst games of his career against the Cleveland Browns last week, completing just 29 of 56 passes for 317 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Not only will he have to rebound against a tough defense, but Vick will be without wide reciever Riley Cooper (collarbone) and could be without two of his top weapons, DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and Jeremy Maclin (hip), who have missed significant practice time during the past week. Their absences would leave Jason Avant and tight end Brent Celek as Vick's top targets.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Much was made about Ray Rice getting only 10 carries in the opener, but I wouldn't expect that to continue. Rice has long been the offense's security blanket when Flacco finds himself under regular duress. Though he didn't get much work Monday night, Rice scored two touchdowns and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. His backup, Bernard Pierce, a Philadelphia native, totaled 19 yards on four carries.
EAGLES RUNNING GAME: Just as the Ravens have with Rice, LeSean McCoy gives the Eagles an explosive all-purpose back who is a threat every time he touches the ball. McCoy gouged the Browns for 110 yards on 20 carries, and the Eagles gained 150 yards on the ground, the third highest total in the NFL. Vick, who is not afraid to take off and run, gives the Eagles' running game another dimension. After the Bengals ran successfully against the Ravens on Monday, Philadelphia figures to try to establish McCoy early.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: One of the few disappointments from the Ravens' season-opening 44-13 victory was the performance of the rush defense, which allowed Cincinnati's BenJarvus Green-Ellis to gain 91 yards and score a touchdown on 18 carries. The Bengals, who accumulated 129 rushing yards, frequently ran at linebacker Paul Kruger. Kruger, sidelined for parts of the past week with a back injury, and rush linebacker Albert McClellan need to set the edge against LeSean McCoy, who is significantly quicker and more explosive than Green-Ellis.
EAGLES RUSH DEFENSE: After finishing in the middle of the pack last year in run defense, the Eagles traded for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and drafted strong-side linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the second round. In Week 1, Ryans had nine tackles, including three for losses. Kendricks added five tackles in his debut. The Eagles have plenty of bulk inside with Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri. They gave up 99 rushing yards to the Browns last week and will undoubtedly key on stopping Rice.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: After a shaky preseason, cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith held up well against the Bengals and kept A.J. Green from making any game-changing plays. Ed Reed sealed the victory with a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown while fellow safety Bernard Pollard was one of the most active Ravens. With Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick's ability to get out of the pocket and buy time, the secondary will be tested today. A steady pass rush would go a long way toward unnerving Vick and creating turnovers.
EAGLES PASS DEFENSE: The Eagles have two strong cover corners in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Kurt Coleman each had two interceptions of Browns' rookie Brandon Weeden and the Eagles allowed just 111 passing yards, the fewest surrendered by any team last week. Still, the Eagles' best weapon against Flacco will be their pass rush. Defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole combined for 29 of the Eagles' league-high-tying 50 sacks last year. They are deep and versatile along the defensive line.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: In his first regular-season game, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker converted all three field-goal attempts and was 5-for-5 on extra points. The coverage teams, led by reserve cornerback Chykie Brown, did a credible job containing Bengals return man Brandon Tate, while Sam Koch averaged 43.5 yards on his two punts and put one of them inside the 20. The Ravens have spent a lot of time and money upgrading their special teams, and the early returns have been good.
EAGLES SPECIAL TEAMS: Jackson has been one of the NFL's most dangerous return men, but the Eagles are currently using two rookies — Brandon Boykin and Damaris Johnson — to handle returns. Second-year kicker Alex Henery, a fourth-round pick last year, had a solid rookie season, making his final 16 kicks. However, he missed on one of two attempts last week. Chas Henry averaged 55 yards on his six punts last week.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: In two consecutive seasons, the Ravens have followed emotional season-opening wins with lackluster losses in Week 2. The Ravens are 17-15 on the road in the John Harbaugh era, including 4-4 last year. They also are 3-1 against NFC East teams under Harbaugh. That includes a 36-7 beatdown of the Eagles during the 2008 season. The Ravens are healthier than the Eagles are, especially on offense.
EAGLES INTANGIBLES: Thanks to their ugly 17-16 win against a lightly regarded Cleveland team, it has been a long week for coach Andy Reid despite the fact that his team enters the game with the top-ranked defense and the second-ranked offense. The 12 penalties for 110 yards and five turnovers the Eagles committed against Cleveland didn't help. Reid, however, is used to scrutiny as his job status has been a popular topic for years. While at the helm of the Eagles, he is 30-22-1 against AFC teams and 63-41 at home.
PREDICTION: If the bad Vick shows up again today, the Eagles don't stand a chance and the Ravens won't let them off the hook the way the Browns did. Vick is the ultimate wild card and as the Ravens' Pollard pointed out last week, the quarterback seems to play his best when the criticism toward him is the loudest. The bet here is that Vick bounces back big with a quality performance and the Eagles follow his lead. From a great all-purpose running back to speedy wide receivers to a relentless pass rush, Philadelphia has all the characteristics of a major matchup problem for the Ravens. Eagles, 27-20.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun