Ravens at Eagles: The Vacuum

Welcome to South Negadelphia. It’s a laid back kind of hate, we sit on the porch and sip drinks. Sorry, no whittling. So, it’s been a week since the Eagles beat the Ravens, and I still don’t know what to think. Part of that was a lack of free time this week, and part of that was there were too many positives to not feel good about the win, but there were too many negatives to feel good about the team going forward. Quite the dilemma.

In space, no one can hear you audible.

After digging a ditch to start the game, the team rebounded very nicely. Things like “swagger” and “chemistry” are overrated and tossed around a lot, but the 2010 team had something going for it mentally that the 2011 did not. The defense holding on in the fourth quarter was something we didn’t see last year, and the offense getting it’s shit together to put together a game winning drive was highly encouraging. The game plan was much better, with the run/pass balance a team with LeSean McCoy should have; I liked getting DeMaris Johnson a rushing attempt as a wrinkle, it was more than just a cute play call Reid has been guilty of over the years ala Chad Hall; Vick spread the ball to 8 different receivers yet still feeding the ball to Jackson and Celek 15 times; and after a rough start DeMeco Ryans played very well and Mychal Kendricks did too. The linebackers just might be settled. For now. We’re only two games into the season. Teams are going to start figuring things out, can the defensive coaching staff make the adjustments needed? We shall see.

Speaking of the defensive coaching staff, I’m fairly convinced that improvements should go to three people and none of them are Juan Castillo: first, the aforementioned Ryans and Kendricks for improving and stabilizing what was the worst group of linebackers in the league last year. The third is Todd Bowles. I see nothing that has changed for the better that you can definitively point to and say “that’s because of Juan Castillo.” The same plays from last year are being called by Castillo, there’s still the same “blitz everyone and press the WRs on third down and hope that works” mentality (see: Jacoby Jones’ TD). The defensive line is the strength of this team again, that’s on Washburn and the wealth of talent the front office has accumulated. Finally the secondary seems pretty well improved, albeit against unimpressive opposition (more on that in a moment). You know, the position coached by Todd Bowles.

On to the things I didn’t like. The vacuum.

One of the biggest problems I have with the media is the inherent dilemma it faces in evaluating teams. National media members have to speak in generalities because they don’t watch every game in full, so they are ignorant of specific details. You saw this in action last year with Juan Castillo, or how the national media praised Andy Reid while the local media and fans roasted him. Local media has a different dilemma, they are generally only watching one team so they have little perspective. This leads them to say ridiculous things like “you have to see him play everyday to appreciate his greatness.” No, I don’t. He’s not great if I have to watch every stinking play he makes. This dilemma is less an issue in football because unlike other sports it is possible to watch every game of every team. But the lack of perspective is still there. This effect is amplified with fans, the majority of who watch their team and maybe the Sunday Night and/or Monday Night games and little else. So many fans have no perspective, and from that lack of perspective they have unrealistic expectations or evaluations of their team. Tackling is a problem league wide, nobody has any offensive line depth, every coach makes awful play calls, every coach wastes timeouts, and on and on. Things aren’t as bad as they seem. They aren’t as good as they seem either: just as the things that make a team good make the other team bad, the things that make a team bad also make the other team good. Everyone’s run defense looks good against the Giants, everyone’s passing defense looks bad against the Saints.

And that’s why I’m not as amped about the Eagles win against the Ravens as others are. I’m happy they won, a 2-0 start is very nice and historically a very good sign, but I see too many false positives to believe that this team is “for real”. I can be convinced, but a pair of 1 point victories isn’t enough. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: context matters. Look at this team outside the vacuum and what do you see?

The defense played well again but consider the opposition, again. The Ravens receivers, other than Anquan Boldin, had all kinds of problems getting separation down field last year in a stale offense, Lee Evans did nothing and Torrey Smith was pretty much a one route guy. New addition Jacoby Jones, replacing Evans, has looked nice so far this season, but he’s a complimentary player. The rest of the offense is exactly the same. Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are nice players as well but are not down field threats. So it’s not that hard for an okay defense to look good against the Ravens bland offense, one that finished 19th in passing last year. Sure, the Ravens have a more talented group of pass catchers than the Browns, but that’s by default–the Browns have perhaps the worst receivers in the league, either them or Miami. Also by default their QB is better, though overrated. Don’t forget that last year the Patriots defense, which was horrible, held the Ravens to the same amount of points that the Texans defense, which was excellent, did. You know all the criticism Andy Reid gets after a loss about his play calling? The same applies to the Ravens, they get killed for their play calling. Cam Cameron vs Juan Castillo (or is it Todd Bowles?) was not exactly an epic clash of minds.

Going up against the Cardinals porous offensive line and Happy Feet Kolb isn’t going to tell us anything. The Eagles should have 5 or 6 sacks, a pick and hold Kolb to a low passer rating. Anything else would be disappointing. “But they beat the Patriots!” Yeah but it wasn’t because of Kolb and the Patriots defense is still awful.

The offense played better, but it had no place to go but up after the Cleveland game. And playing well against the Ravens might not be what it was. It’s trading heavily on name recognition at this point, and it’s banged up too, missing Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger. Take the #1 and #3 pass rushers off any team and they’re going to suffer. So the offensive line looked better, but it too had nowhere to go but up. Is Brent Celek going to be that open all season long? No he’s not. And obviously the turnovers are a huge concern. Vick needs to play better. That’s been a running theme for a while, hasn’t it?

They blow out the Cardinals and I’ll eat crow. Struggle again and I will say I told you so.

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