I'm going to start off by paraphrasing a guy you folks may be familiar with:
First of all, HALLELUJAH! And then, I tell you what, I'mma give all the credit to Baltimore, we give them the most respect, but nobody respected us as a defense. GIMME SOME RESPECT RIGHT NOW!
We wanted to set a tone on defense. It's not just Ryans, it's Cole, it's Cox, it's Jenkins, it's Kendricks, we came and we brought it EVERY. DOGGONE. PLAY.
K that was fun. In all seriousness, this is the Eagles' best defense in a long time. It's tough to point to any one position on defense and call it a liability (while Nnamdi may not be worth $60 million, he is still an above average cornerback and provides veteran leadership). The defensive line is simply a nightmare for offenses to deal with, and while Joe Flacco's postgame frustrations may have been directed toward the replacement officials (more on them below), it will be Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and co. that he will be seeing in his nightmares this week. Yes, Joe Flacco dreams of Cox now.
Thoughts on individual defensive performances:
Juan Castillo- I have been as critical of the offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator (or rather, the decision to put him in that position), but so far he has been superb this year. He simply owned Cam Cameron in the second half. Mixing up his blitzes made the front four (already an intimidating set of pass rushers) even more effective. Finally blessed with some good linebackers, Castillo now has the ability to do a lot more on defense, especially when you consider that his secondary has been lockdown this year. A sign of a great coordinator is the ability to make in-game adjustments, and Castillo demonstrated that. A big difference from last year is that this defense plays better in the fourth quarter.
Demeco Ryans- What more can be said about this guy? "Meco" was simply all over the field. He was in the backfield on blitzes (picked up a sack), terrific in run support, and tough in coverage. When's the last time the Eagles have had a linebacker this versatile and dominant? Trot comes to mind, but he was never as good in coverage as Ryans as looked. With Ryans and Kendricks, the Eagles might not be the fantasy goldmine for opposing tight ends that they have been over the last few years.
Mychal Kendricks- In a similar vein, Kendricks is another stud who looks like a future All-Pro. Has there ever been an Eagles linebacker who could keep up with Ray Rice the way Kendricks was asked to do so many times on Sunday? I really think I only saw him get beat once by Dennis Pitta on an out, and even then Kendricks made the stop before the first down marker. He's also been good in run support. If anything, I'd like to see him do a bit more blitzing. Still, Kendricks has been terrific, and it seems we are still just scratching the surface of his potential.
Brandon Boykin- Absolute. Freaking. Steal. I have no idea how this guy fell to the fourth round. He locked down Boldin in the slot and was a ballhawk. He'll get his first pick sooner rather than later.
Brandon Graham- I know that we are extremely deep at defensive end, but this guy simply needs more snaps. Everytime I see the guy on the field it seems he's in the backfield pressuring the quarterback. It seems like he's putting everything together, and he can be a big-impact guy as the season goes on.
Overall, this defense is simply amazing, and at this rate they will rival San Francisco and Houston to be called the best defense in the NFL.
Offense: another case of tons of yards, but not enough points to show for it. The Eagles could easily have put up 40 points on the Ravens. All four turnovers were in Ravens territory, and three were in the red zone. The potential is simply limitless. They just need to cut down on the mistakes. Vick improved tremendously as the game went on. There were still times when he held onto the ball too long. The goal line play comes to mind. After two seconds, it should have been clear that nothing good was going to happen. Vick kept trying to buy time, and though he was able to get off a pass (Ray Lewis you are a moron), he took an unnecessary hit and things could have turned out disastrously (sack or an interception would both have been awful).
That said, Vick had his way with the Baltimore defense. When he wasn't cutting them up underneath with Brent Celek, he was hitting Desean Jackson downfield. Be decisive with your runs, know when to give up on a play, and don't take unnecessary risks. It's been said before but in the second half I did feel like Vick was getting it. His accuracy, arm strength, and physical tools are not the problem. It's all in his head.
McCoy was decent. The fumble was bad, but he carried the ball 25 times against a strong front and often created 2 or 3 yard gains when he should have lost 2 or 3 yards. Those don't look great on the stat sheet, but they helped the Eagles avoid poor down and distance situations.
Desean Jackson and Brent Celek were simply amazing. Desean is playing with the kind of heart I've never seen from him before. His biggest weakness has been that teams can take him out of the game by preventing the deep ball. Not on Sunday. He was a monster underneath and on out routes, and that set up his long catch (on which he showed great heart by making an amazing catch with Ed Reed set to unload on him). Desean was often guarded by Jimmy Smith, but it didn't matter. It looks like he could be set up for the breakout year we've been waiting for (where he emerges from just a good receiver to a great one).
As for Celek: another breakout candidate. The leap over Reed was highlight-reel worthy, and he provides Vick with a safe option. Perhaps this is the best medicine for Vick's cavalier style. If he knows that all his deep options are covered and feels comfortable checking down to Celek, this team will become doubly hard to defend. Remember, the play where Celek hurdled Reed was a simple checkdown from Vick. Improved decision-making from Vick, a WOW play from Celek, and 20 yards. I like.
The offensive line was beaten, but all things considered I think they were ok. Vick took some hits he didn't need to, and when it mattered, the offensive line was able to help the Eagles convert on short-yardage situations. It will be interesting to see how Dallas Reynolds and Demetress Bell hold up in the coming weeks. So far, no disasters.
Aside from the turnovers, my one criticism of the offense is the usage of Lesean McCoy. I like that the Eagles ran the ball more, but I think there are creative ways to get McCoy more touches in space. McCoy got 25 carries; I'd rather see Bryce Brown (fumble notwithstanding) take 3-4 of those carries and see McCoy get 5-6 more targets in the passing game. The Eagles screen game has created big plays (in the past) for everyone from Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to Correll Buckhalter, and McCoy is more talented than all of them (yes even B-West). I have no idea why they don't throw more screens to him, particularly with the way teams have been blitzing the Eagles. Hopefully, we will see more of that as the season wears on.
The officials were awful. I won't harp on this, but they are ruining the game. Too many stoppages, too many commercials, too many bad calls. It affects the quality and outcomes of games and the NFL needs to resolve it NOW.
As for Arizona, this may feel like a trap game, but the Eagles need to take it very seriously. Arizona beat us last year and they kept this team out of the Super Bowl just 4 years ago. On the road, this is a tough game to win. When the Eagles have the ball, we will see a very talented but turnover-prone offense take on a very talented defense. When the Cardinals have the ball, we will see a weak to mediocre offense face an elite defense. This is where the Eagles need to win the game. Juan Castillo should be able to simply eat Kolb alive with this defense. Bring tons of pressure and force Kolb into short passes, poor decisions, and make Larry Fitzgerald a non-factor. As long as the Eagles take care of the ball on offense, the defense should be able to dominate and slowly win the field position battle through negative yardage plays and turnovers.
While the Eagles often strike like a cobra (quick and deadly), they will have to win this game like a boa constrictor (slow, controlled, and suffocating). Take your time, attack the Cardinals defense, control the ball, and lean on them until they fall over.