The Philadelphia Eagles, with a discouraging record of 1-3-1, will host the 4-1 Baltimore Ravens this coming Sunday. The difficult matchup arrives at an inopportune moment for the Birds who need to start stringing together wins to keep their playoff hopes alive. On the plus side, the NFC East had another poor showing in week 5, going 1-3 with the only victory happening as a result of two teams playing each other (the Cowboys defeated the Giants). Let’s explore six significant questions for the matchup.
Which players will return from injury?
Cornerback Darius Slay jr. is currently in the concussion protocol after his early exit from last week’s game. Meanwhile, the team is seeking a second opinion on the ankle injury suffered by offensive lineman Lane Johnson.
The injury question that most fans have relates to the status of injured wide receivers, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. Both veteran wideouts are currently listed as questionable ahead of Sunday’s contest. Of the two, Jackson seems more likely for a return as he participated in limited practices on both Wednesday and Friday of last week before being ruled out.
Additionally, cornerback Avonte Maddox is officially questionable.
Is Zach Ertz washed?
This is a really sad question, made even more depressing by what I suspect the true answer is. After dominating at the tight end position for multiple years, Zach Ertz looks slow and almost entirely ineffective. Last week he hauled in just one reception for six yards on six targets. That brings his season totals to 20 receptions for 145 yards and a lone touchdown.
This lackluster production comes at a time when the Eagles offense is searching for reliable weapons to help quarterback Carson Wentz. “Reliable” used to be the first word that came to mind for Ertz but his play this season has been anything but that. He will continue to get snaps and playing time, largely based on his past excellence and the injury to Dallas Goedert, but his days as one of the best tight ends in the game may very well be over.
Can the Eagles’ defense contain Mark Andrews?
Mark Andrews has easily been among the very best tight ends this season, perhaps inserting himself in place of Ertz in the elite tier of tight ends which also includes Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Through five games Andrews has posted terrific totals of 18 receptions for 222 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Andrews is a red zone specialist and has emerged as the clear favorite target of Lamar Jackson in that important area of the field. The Eagles’ linebackers will need to pay him special attention this Sunday. Last week, they held Steelers tight end Eric Ebron to five catches for 43 yards and also stripped him for a pivotal turnover.
Which Lamar Jackson will the Eagles face?
Through five games this season, Lamar Jackson has been nowhere near as terrifying as he was across last season. His passing numbers are near the bottom of the league as he is averaging just 190 yards and less than two touchdowns per game. Jackson is still running in a very efficient manner, averaging nearly fifty yards per game and leading his team in that category, but the overall production is but a fraction of his dominance last year.
However, the Birds’ defense should not forget all that Lamar Jackson is capable of. Falling asleep on a quarterback of his athletic caliber comes at your own peril. Jackson is the sort of dual threat quarterback whom opposing defensive coordinators need to specifically scheme against, even if his play has been below par thus far this season. Just which Lamar Jackson shows up in Philadelphia on Sunday will go a long way to determining the game’s outcome.
Will Fulgham’s magic continue?
Travis Fulgham is officially heating up, with back to back stellar performances in his last two outings. By NBA Jam rules (obviously the standard), a third such performance would put him in the often sought after category of ON FIRE.
The Ravens defense is coming off their best game of the season, having held the Cincinnati Bengals to just 3 total points. The Eagles will need to throw all they have at them on Sunday and judging by recent trends, Fulgham is one of the best they have right now. Fulgham saw an enormous 13 targets from Carson Wentz last week and fully proved himself worthy of the attention. I don’t see quite that much action for the big receiver this week but still expect him to be heavily involved.
Is the offense trending upward?
A glance at the Eagles’ points scored this season displays an increase in every subsequent contest. While they began this season with an output of only 17 points against the Washington Football Team, they managed a sizable 29 points last week in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be imperative for the Eagles’ offense to keep their foot on the pedal and put points on the board for any chance at a win against the Ravens, who have scored at least 27 points in all four of their victories this season.
While it is unrealistic to expect a consistent positive pattern of points scored, I do think the Eagles offense is in a much better place now than it was to start the season. Wentz, despite leading the league in interceptions, has shown improvement in his play. I put last week’s loss more on the defense and their inability to stop the Steelers, particularly rookie wideout Chase Claypool, down the stretch.
I don’t see this as the week the Eagles turn it around. They are once again heavy underdogs and facing a team with a lot more offensive firepower. Luckily for the Birds, their schedule clears up after this contest with two of the next three games against the winless New York Giants. Ravens over Eagles 30-24.