Eagles-Ravens: 3 matchups to watch
The Eagles (1-3-1) return to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Ravens (4-1) on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Lincoln Financial Field will have fans in the stands for the first time this season, and the Eagles will need every potential advantage to pull off a stunning upset. The short-handed home team enters Week 6 without two starters on the offensive line in addition to key defensive pieces.
On the other hand, the Ravens are a well-coached, highly disciplined, physical football team equipped to withstand an opposition's best shot. If their high-octane offense finds its rhythm early, the Ravens could win this one running away.
Without further ado, let's examine my three matchups to watch.
RT Jack Driscoll vs. DEs Justin Madubuike/Jihad Ward
The last time Driscoll started an NFL game, it was against the vaunted Washington defensive line in the season-opener. The fourth-round pick acquitted himself reasonably well in his debut, aside from the occasional miscue. While Driscoll can look back on the Week 1 road start as a valuable learning experience, he will face another Sunday challenge.
Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is lauded for concocting a fast-flowing unit known for disguising its blitzes and confounding even the savviest of linemen.
Driscoll, praised by Doug Pederson for his astute football intelligence and anticipation of what he sees post-snap, will square-off against a combination of fellow rookie Madubuike and fifth-year pro Ward on Sunday with veteran Derek Wolfe (neck/concussion) listed as doubtful.
Madubuike, 6-foot-3, 293 pounds, is a tenacious edge rusher who wins with violent hands, quickness, and leverage. Madubuike played out of multiple alignments at Texas A&M, so expect the Ravens to move him around. The rookie made his debut last week, playing 30 snaps against the Bengals.
While Madubuike figures into Baltimore's long-term plans, Ward has led a journeyman's career. The 26-year-old has appeared in 46 games (14 starts) for three teams, registering 53 tackles (6.0 for loss) and five sacks. The Philadelphia native played 28 snaps last week.
Baltimore's attack-style scheme could be a tall order for Driscoll, known as a more technical, finesse blocker. Despite the circumstances, Driscoll has deemed himself worthy of undertaking a long-term role. Sunday will be a pivotal measuring stick for the young lineman.
DT Javon Hargrave vs. Ravens interior
Hargrave, the team's prized free-agent addition, has been gradually rounding into form each week since returning from his summer pec strain. As his snap share continues to rise, the 27-year-old has recorded a half-sack each of the past two weeks.
With Fletcher Cox continuing to encounter double teams, it is imperative that Hargrave wins his 1-on-1 matchups and initiate pressure up the middle. If Hargrave can push the pocket and establish an up-field presence, it will narrow running lanes for Lamar Jackson and move the quarterback off his spot and make him uncomfortable.
The interior of the Ravens offensive line has endured its share of struggles five games into the season. Center Matt Skura is coming off knee surgery, while rookie right guard Tyre Phillips has the requisite girth, but his substandard play-strength inhibits his ability to initiate movement.
The Eagles invested in Hargrave for moments like this.
LB Nathan Gerry vs. TE Mark Andrews
Gerry's deficiencies have been well-documented.
When offensive coaches game plan for the Eagles, they typically follow a similar blueprint: scheme ways to isolate their skill players in coverage against the maligned linebacker.
According to Pro Football Focus, the strategy has been met with little resistance thus far, as teams are 23-of-23 for 267 yards and four touchdowns when targeting Gerry.
This week, Gerry, who lacks eye discipline, often closes late on the football, and takes shoddy tackling angles at ball-carriers, draws Ravens' tight end Mark Andrews in coverage.
Among the NFL's elite, Andrews is second on the Ravens in targets (29), amassing 18 receptions for 222 and five touchdowns. The third-year tight end has become Lamar Jackson's security blanket and top red zone target.
Whether he's manufacturing yards on short dump-offs or navigating his way through the defense on intermediate routes, the 6-foot-5, 256-pounder is a physical mismatch for the undersized Gerry.
If defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn't conjure a plan for slowing Andrews, the ascending pass-catcher could be in for a career day.