Joe Flacco strengthened his case for landing the big long- term contract he's been seeking with a terrific Week 1 performance, while the Philadelphia Eagles are hoping for a better return on the heavy investment they made in Michael Vick.
Flacco will have a chance to further his cause when the steady quarterback leads the Baltimore Ravens into Lincoln Financial Field to take on the talented Eagles in an intriguing interconference clash between teams with very high expectations for the 2012 season.
Entering the final year of a rookie deal he signed as Baltimore's first-round draft choice in 2008, Flacco certainly didn't let his uncertain future status affect him in the season opener. The 27-year-old was razor sharp in directing a more up-tempo Ravens offense that looked to be in midyear form in Monday's matchup against fellow AFC North member Cincinnati, completing 21-of-29 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover to spearhead a 44-13 shellacking of the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Flacco steered the offense to points on its first three drives to enable Baltimore to build a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter, then helped thwart a Cincinnati comeback effort by orchestrating a critical nine-play, 89-yard possession midway through the third period that he capped with a 10-yard touchdown strike to Dennis Pitta for a 24-13 advantage.
The Ravens piled up 430 total yards for the contest, with Flacco finishing with a 128.4 passer rating that stands as the fourth-best mark in the fifth- year pro's career.
"Pay him whatever he asks for," Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said lightheartedly afterward. "Pay the man.
"We've always stood up here and we've always, all of our coaches, the organization, we know what we've got in this guy. He has won a lot of football games."
The Eagles showed Vick the money after the controversial signal-caller put together a stupendous comeback season during the team's run to an NFC East title in 2010, inking a five-year pact with a maximum value of $80 million in August of last year. The playmaking veteran's play has been somewhat up-and- down since signing the mega-deal, however, and there were plenty of low points in his first outing of this new season.
Vick was intercepted four times in last Sunday's game at Cleveland, with the final one returned 27 yards for a touchdown by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson that gave the Browns a six-point lead with under 14 minutes left. He was able to gain a measure of redemption, however, by engineering a 16-play, 91-yard series in the contest's final stages and hitting tight end Clay Harbor for a four-yard score with 1:18 to go that lifted Philadelphia to a sloppy but hard- earned 17-16 win.
The Eagles turned the ball over five times in all while committing 12 penalties for 110 yards, with the miscues lessening the effectiveness of an offense that churned out 456 total yards and 25 first downs while holding the ball for nearly 36 minutes.
"You just can't have those, and I would say that we didn't play as disciplined offensively as we needed to all the way around," Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid remarked. You start looking at 456 yards of total offense and then you're not putting it in the end zone. That's ridiculous there. You have 12 penalties for 110 yards. That's ridiculous and that's not good football. We just have to make sure we take care of that."
The Eagles were also plagued by errors in their most recent tussle with the Ravens, with five Philadelphia giveaways contributing greatly to an ugly 37-6 defeat in Baltimore back in 2008.
That game was the first head-to-head encounter between Reid and Harbaugh, who served 10 seasons as an Eagles assistant from 1998-2007 before being hired by the Ravens. The final nine years of that tenure were spent under Reid.
Sunday's bout will also be a homecoming for Flacco, who grew in the Philadelphia suburb of Audubon, N.J. and will be making his first career regular-season appearance at Lincoln Financial Field.
Series tied, 1-1-1
Last Meeting: Ravens 36, Eagles 7 (Nov. 23, 2008 at Baltimore) Last Meeting at Site: Eagles 15, Ravens 10 (Oct. 31, 2004 at Philadelphia)
Ravens HC John Harbaugh vs. Eagles: 1-0 Eagles HC Andy Reid vs. Ravens: 1-1 Harbaugh vs. Reid Head-to-Head: Harbaugh leads, 1-0
Notes: Teams also played to a 10-10 tie in Baltimore during the 1997 season. Prior to becoming the Ravens' head coach, Harbaugh spent 10 years as an Eagles assistant from 1998-2007 and worked under Reid for the final nine of those seasons.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Baltimore: 4th overall (430.0 ypg), 11th rushing (122.0 ypg), 4th passing (308.0 ypg), 2nd scoring (44.0 ppg)
Philadelphia: 2nd overall (456.0 ypg), 6th rushing (150.0 ypg), 5th passing (306.0 ypg), tied 23rd scoring (17.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Baltimore: 13th overall (322.0 ypg), 24th rushing (129.0 ypg), 7th passing (193.0 ypg), tied 3rd scoring (13.0 ppg)
Philadelphia: 1st overall (210.0 ypg), 17th rushing (99.0 ypg), 1st passing (111.0 ypg), tied 6th scoring (16.0 ppg)
Baltimore: +2 (2 takeaways, 0 giveaways) Philadelphia: -1 x (4 takeaways, 5 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Baltimore: 100.0 percent (3 possessions, 3 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 1st overall Philadelphia: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 1st overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Baltimore: 33.3 percent (3 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 8th overall Philadelphia: 0.0 percent (2 possessions, 0 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 1st overall
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Monday's aggressive, pass-first approach was a bit of a departure from the norm for Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, but the Ravens may show a return more to their roots this week due to the opponent they'll face. The Eagles have one of the league's most feared pass rushes and a pair of outstanding cornerbacks in four-time All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, therefore it's likely Cameron will utilize the all-around skills of Ray Rice more frequently than he needed to against the Bengals. The versatile running back made the most of his 10 rushing attempts in the opener, however, gaining a healthy 68 yards and scoring two touchdowns while running behind a pair of all-stars in right guard Marshal Yanda and fullback Vonta Leach (3 receptions last week). Baltimore will still employ the no-huddle attack that Flacco (299 passing yards, 2 TD) so masterfully administered in Monday's win, however, and has a pair of teammates that could potentially create matchup problems for Philadelphia on his side in tight end Pitta, Flacco's most targeted receiver in the Cincinnati game who compiled a career- best 73 yards on five catches, and physical veteran Anquan Boldin (4 receptions, 63 yards, 1 TD) out of the slot. The Ravens will also take some shots deep in the direction of second-year speedster Torrey Smith, who set the tone for Monday's onslaught by hauling in a 52-yard Flacco pass on the opening play from scrimmage. His ability to stretch the defense should provide Rice more room to operate as both a runner and receiver.
The Eagles return home off an absolutely dominating display on the defensive end, with Rodgers-Cromartie (4 PD) and Asomugha (3 PD) delivering lockdown coverage on the Cleveland receivers and the formidable front four of ends Jason Babin (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Trent Cole and tackles Cullen Jenkins (3 tackles) and Derek Landri bringing consistent pressure on overmatched rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. The results were beyond satisfactory, with Weeden completing a poor 12-of-35 throws for just 118 yards and tossing four interceptions, two to Rodgers-Cromartie and two to safety Kurt Coleman (4 tackles). Philadelphia also did a solid job containing the run, holding prized rookie back Trent Richardson to a pedestrian 39 yards on 19 carries, and seem to have improved in that area after trading for the proven DeMeco Ryans (5 tackles) and snaring impressive second-round pick Mychal Kendricks (5 tackles) in April's draft to upgrade the linebacker corps. Kendricks and fellow rookie Brandon Boykin will each have important roles on Sunday and need to be up to the task, with the former possibly assigned to cover the shifty Pitta and the 5-foot-9 Boykin at a considerable size deficit if lined up against the powerful Boldin in the slot.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
With Vick (317 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) coming off mostly a brutal game and having thrown 15 interceptions over his last 10 starts dating back to last year, plus the questionable availability of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for Sunday's tilt, Reid may rely heavily on dangerous running back LeSean McCoy once again to be the catalyst of an offense that didn't have much of an issue moving the ball against the Browns. The fourth-year standout was a definite weapon in Week 1, slicing through the Cleveland defense for 110 rushing yards on 20 totes while adding six catches out of the backfield, and will be a player the Ravens must account for at all times. Maclin fought through a painful hip flexor to lead Philadelphia with seven receptions for 96 yards along with a touchdown as Vick's preferred receiver, and whether or not he can give it a go this week will have a great impact on the game plan. If not, Vick may have to lean more on secondary outlets such as tight end Brent Celek (4 receptions, 65 yards) and slot receiver Jason Avant (4 receptions), as Baltimore will surely focus on limiting the home-run threat that fleet-footed wideout DeSean Jackson (4 receptions, 77 yards) provides on the outside. Vick's excellent scrambling skills bring another dimension to the equation, though a propensity for injury has made him less apt to run than in the past. Better balance would serve the Eagles well this week after Vick dropped back to pass over 60 times in the opener.
The Ravens weren't particularly good at stopping the run in Monday's lid- lifter, with Cincinnati top back BenJarvus Green-Ellis grinding out 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, but there's certainly a precedent for a better outcome from a defense that's ranked in the top five in rushing yards allowed for six consecutive seasons and boasts a pair of elite stoppers in ageless inside linebacker Ray Lewis and burly tackle Haloti Ngata (4 tackles). The 37- year-old Lewis showed he hasn't lost anything in his 17th NFL season by amassing 14 tackles and forcing a fumble on a sack in a stellar individual performance against the Bengals. Ngata came through with a pair of sacks on the evening, though Baltimore had some trouble generating pressure early on in its first game without injured pass-rushing force Terrell Suggs, with coordinator Dean Pees often having to resort to heavy blitzing to achieve his desired results. Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw (4 tackles, 1/2 sack) will need to be factors coming off the edge to help compensate for Suggs' absence and enable Pees to use a less risky strategy. He should be able to counter Jackson's big-play abilities by rolling game-changing free safety Ed Reed, who garnered a seventh career touchdown return on an interception in Monday's victory, to that side, and Vick would be wise to avoid throwing the way of one of the league's all-time great thieves.
How one of the week's most captivating matchups turns out will be dependent on two crucial variables. One is the status of Maclin, who changes the entire dynamic of the Philadelphia offense by allowing Jackson more space to maximize his talents. The other is obviously Vick. A multi-interception day won't cut it against a Baltimore team that can score points with a balanced offense and has always excelled at creating opportunities on the other end. Luckily for the struggling veteran, he has a couple of master game-planners in Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to help him out, as well as dynamic runner in McCoy whose speed could create problems for Baltimore's aging and Suggs-less defense. And although it's up in the air as to if Maclin will play, he does have a history of battling through physical ailments and will do all he can to make it to field for such an important game. Rice is going to be a factor as well for the Ravens, but Flacco won't have as easy a time against Philadelphia's stout pass defense as he did in carving up a soft Cincinnati secondary last week. In a contest where neither team would surprise if it came out on top, the Eagles' younger and faster defense and home-field advantage rate an ever-so-slight edge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 24, Ravens 21