Ravens beat reporter Jeff Zrebiec give his scouting report on Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles game. (Baltimore Sun video)
RAVENS PASSING GAME: The Ravens are averaging the seventh most passing yards per game (261.7), but that's deceiving because it's on 554 pass attempts, which leads the league. Their 6.5-yards-per-completion average is better than only four teams. The New England Patriots' success in zone coverage will surely result in more teams taking that approach against the Ravens, who are struggling to make plays downfield. Mike Wallace has one touchdown in the last 11 games after scoring three in his first two.
EAGLES PASSING GAME: Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown seven interceptions over his last four games after not throwing any over his first three. He's posted a quarterback rating below 90 in six straight games. The Eagles' issues go beyond their impressive rookie quarterback. Besides Jordan Matthews, the Eagles have been a mess at wide receiver. The offensive line has been crushed by injuries, sickness and suspensions. Wentz has been sacked nine times in the past three games.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Despite comments to the contrary, the Ravens haven't appeared interested in establishing their run game in recent weeks. They ran the ball just four times in the first half against New England and 14 times for the game after running just seven times in the first half in the previous week's victory over the Miami Dolphins. For the season, their 301 rushing attempts are more than just three teams. Rookie Kenneth Dixon's receiving ability relegated Terrance West to the bench last week.
EAGLES RUNNING GAME: Philadelphia has used running backs by committee, but several members of that committee are down. Wendell Smallwood (who played a year of high school ball in Elkton) went on injured reserve Monday and the ageless Darren Sproles suffered a concussion in last week's loss to the Washington Redskins. That leaves veteran Ryan Mathews, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has seven touchdowns, as the unquestioned lead back. Wentz is also a threat to run. The Eagles lead the NFL in time of possession.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: It appeared the Ravens' interior defensive linemen wore down last week, but the team still limited New England to 95 rushing yards and a 3.7-yards-per-carry average. For the season, the Ravens have given up 99 fewer yards on the ground than the Dallas Cowboys, who rank second against the run. Weak-side linebacker Zachary Orr is fourth in the NFL with 120 tackles, but this group's anchor is still defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who absorbs double teams and gets penetration.
EAGLES RUSH DEFENSE: The Eagles are in the middle of the pack in terms of stopping the run. They are allowing 101.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks 15th, and they've given up nine rushing touchdowns, which is tied for ninth. Two of those rushing scores came last week against the Redskins. They've allowed just one back to gain more than 100 yards — the Redskins' Matt Jones in Week 5. Their top two tacklers are Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins, their two starting safeties.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: With Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' pass defense has been among the league's best. Without Smith, who is expected to be sidelined Sunday because of an ankle injury, it has gotten ugly. The Ravens need cornerback Shareece Wright to play much better. It would also help if they were able to mount a consistent pass rush, which most of the Eagles' opponents have done this year. The Ravens' 15 interceptions are one shy of the league lead, held by the San Diego Chargers.
EAGLES PASS DEFENSE: The Eagles' defense has been far less effective on the road, allowing nearly 26 points per game. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' best defensive player, and he leads the team with 5 ½ sacks. Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin are also productive pass rushers. What's really hurt this group is poor cornerback play — Leodis McKelvin has really struggled — and big plays allowed. The Eagles have given up 12 passing plays of more than 40 yards, the second most in the NFL.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker's streak of 35 consecutive field goals made ended with Monday's block by the Patriots, but he still leads the league in field goals made (31), field-goal percentage (96.9) and makes from 50-plus yards (nine). The release of Devin Hester Sr. opens the door for Michael Campanaro on punt returns, where the Ravens have gotten little production. The Eagles are well-coached and explosive in the return game, so the Ravens' coverage teams will be tested.
EAGLES SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp's group has been extremely productive, especially in the return game. The Eagles are the only team in the NFL with multiple return scores this year, and their 12 special teams touchdowns since 2013 lead the league. They lead the NFL in kickoff return average and are 4th in punt return average. Sproles' concussion could force the Eagles to rely on Kenjon Barner on returns. Philadelphia is breaking in a new long snapper this week.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have essentially been in playoff mode since their four-game losing streak that carried into November, so their current "win-or-else" predicament won't faze them. The Ravens have allowed more than 16 points at home this season just once, and that was in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders. They have never lost a home game to a rookie quarterback in John Harbaugh's tenure, and they've also won 12 of their last 13 regular-season home finales.
EAGLES INTANGIBLES: First-year head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator and Baltimore native Jim Schwartz seemed to be pushing all the right buttons early. However, the Eagles have dropped four games in a row and eight of the last 10 to fall out of the playoff race. They've lost six straight road games. Injuries and poor play, particularly along the offensive line and at cornerback, have plagued them for much of the season. Philadelphia is one of the most penalized teams in the league.
PREDICTION: If the Ravens are a legitimate playoff team, they should jump on a struggling and injury-marred team early, break the Eagles' will and eliminate any possibility of late-game heroics by Wentz. However, that's probably wishful thinking for Ravens fans. This team, specifically this offense, has done things the hard way all year, so it's probably foolish to expect anything different at this stage of the season. There's no excuse, though, for the Ravens to lose this game. They'll do just enough offensively and force a few turnovers to keep their postseason hopes alive.