In yet another heart-wrenching game, the Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) escaped Lincoln Financial Field with a 24-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens (1-0). Led by Brent Celek (8 catches, 157 yards) and DeSean Jackson (7 catches, 114 yards), the Eagles offense overcame four turnovers to score 24 points and Michael Vick once again led a game-winning drive in the final minutes to help his team stay undefeated.
While the day has—and rightly so—been about what the offense has and hasn’t done thus far, the MVP of the win was certainly the defense, which got fantastic performances from rookies Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox, offseason acquisition DeMeco Ryans and emerging cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They were able to keep the Ravens at 23 even with four turnovers by the offense and a poor performance by star CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
Given all that, here are five major things we learned from the team’s second straight one-point win:
1. Andy Reid Is Capable of Change
Coming into this game, the two biggest topics—both negative, I might add—stemming from the Browns game were Michael Vick’s turnover problems and Andy Reid’s inability to change for the better and run the ball with consistency. I, frankly, am guilty on beating the dead horse on both accounts. To rectify my past transgressions, however, I’d like to be one of the first to admit that Reid does have the ability to change his game plan and incorporate more running, a new skill he found that helped the Eagles clip the Ravens Sunday afternoon.
Unlike last week, when Vick attempted 56 passes and 72% of plays were called as passes, Reid found a better offensive balance and that’s why, apart from turnovers, they moved the ball up and down the field against the Ravens’ defense with ease. Vick only the threw the ball 32 times with the other 40 plays either being scrambles or designed runs. On those 32 passes, Vick completed 23 of them for an impressive 371 yards. That efficiency stems from less predictability with the play-calling, a trait I didn’t believe Reid possessed. Now, after seeing it in action, I can feel confident going forward that Reid will make the right decisions when it comes to guiding his offense throughout the course of a game.
2. Replacement Refs Are Really Bad
This one doesn’t need explanation, does it? I mean, even ESPN’s Dan Graziano took time out of his day to mention how bad the group sent to Philadelphia were.
Not only did they have trouble with penalty yardage and the microphone, but they almost called an obvious incompletion a fumble and missed one or two defensive pass interference calls on both teams. The NFL—especially Goodell and the owners—need to lose the arrogance, pay the refs and give NFL fans the best product they possibly can.
3. 2012 Draft Class Has Bright Future
The Philadelphia Eagles have never been known to hit many jackpots in the draft, but this year just might be different. In addition to quarterback prospect Nick Foles, the Eagles managed to get two defensive players in the first two rounds who will likely be Pro Bowlers when all is said and done: Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks.
Cox was fantastic throughout the game, making disruptive penetrations into the backfield and consistently locking onto Ray Rice and making sure the Ravens’ running had a tough time with five tackles, one of which was for a loss. Kendricks was equally as impressive; he was all over the place against Baltimore, making first-down saving tackles and playing great coverage on Ray Rice, especially on a key 3rd down late in the first quarter when Flacco was forced into an incompletion because of Kendricks’ airtight coverage on Rice. Both are proving that they were worth the value Howie Roseman used to get them, and hopefully this act of making solid selections in the draft becomes a trend instead of an aberration.
4. Ryans and Rodgers-Cromartie Are Stars
Coming into the season, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and DeMeco Ryans were on different paths. Ryans, a highly-touted trade acquisition from Houston, had struggled during the preseason and was simply trying to prove his worth as the team’s prized offseason acquisition. Rodgers-Cromartie, who struggled in 2011, came out of the preseason with Eagles fans on his good side thanks to three excellent performances; the regular season was a chance for him to cement his place as an elite cornerback in the eyes of the rest of the league. Both are doing what they set out to do.
After making a bunch of key tackles against the Browns in Week 1, Ryans put in a repeat performance on Sunday. With six tackles, a sack and an impressive interception, he was definitely the defensive MVP of the game for either team. If he can continue to play downhill and wrap up on tailbacks like he has over the past couple weeks, there is no doubt in my mind that the Eagles defense can continue to be one of the best in the league.
DRC was almost as good. After a two-interception performance against Cleveland that earned him an A-plus in most gradebooks, DRC may not have put up huge stats but his airtight coverage on Anquan Boldin throughout the game helped the secondary survive mistakes by Nnamdi Asomugha on a long touchdown to Jacoby Jones and other big plays down the middle to Dennis Pitta. He is proving that he can be the shutdown, Pro Bowl-caliber corner the Eagles thought they had two years ago when they dealt Kevin Kolb to Arizona.
5. Only the Eagles Can Beat the Eagles
Like always, it’s the Eagles who always seem to shoot themselves in the foot. Michael Vick’s first inception in the end zone? Completely unforced; he had the option of running out of bounds and taking the three points but instead forced the ball into coverage. Bryce Brown’s fumble? QB-RB exchanges are the first thing teams go over in training camp. Nnamdi Asomugha’s poor coverage on the Jacoby Jones TD? Overcommitting on that ball is something a so-called elite CB can’t do.
Two games, nine turnovers, two one-point victories. The Eagles have given their opponents every chance to win games thus far this year, but in both instances they’ve come back in big ways to open up the season 2-0. This just proves what every Philadelphian thought before the season started: The Eagles have the talent to beat anyone in the league, but it’s them who will decide whether that talent gets them where they want to go.
6 (bonus). Brent Celek Is A Monster
Not only did Celek have 157 yards receiving, the most by anybody not on the Giants this year, but he had what should be the No. 1 play on Sportscenter’s Top 10 list on Monday. Mad props, Brent.