Les Bowen: Eagles can't make mistakes against Ravens defense

The Eagles' offensive line had protection problems in Cleveland, forcing Michael Vick into pressure situations.
The Eagles' offensive line had protection problems in Cleveland, forcing Michael Vick into pressure situations. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 14, 2012

MARTY Mornhinweg had the mop and broom out Thursday.

"We've got to clean an awful lot of things up," the Eagles' offensive coordinator said. "Much more to clean up after the first game than I certainly ever expected, at, really, all positions."

Well, at least they can take their time with it. It's not like Mornhinweg's offense is facing a really imposing defense this week, or anything, when John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens visit.

"They've been living on the defense for years. That's what they do in Baltimore; when you think Baltimore, you think defense," Eagles left guard Evan Mathis said Thursday.

Oh. So, this could be a problem, then.

You're not going to read much more here about Michael Vick, because Vick's four-interception performance last Sunday has been analyzed to death. Vick spoke his piece Wednesday. He is a proud man who will put everything he has into not making the same mistakes this week, but Vick also is a 32-year-old quarterback who has been throwing across his body, trying to make plays that aren't really there, pretty much his entire career.

Whether you buy into the spin the Eagles have been putting out all week, that Vick was only partly responsible for the offensive meltdown in Cleveland, it's a fact that the Eagles can cut down on the chaos around their quarterback, can make him feel less pressured to try to take the game on his shoulders. One of those things Mornhinweg was surprised to have to clean up was the offensive line, which played a really scattered first half in Cleveland.

The immediate inference was that the line really missed All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters; sub King Dunlap eventually settled down, but he had a really rough start, and even at his best, Dunlap is a pale imitation of Peters.

It has been suggested that Mathis might be less effective without a dominant tackle such as Peters lining up beside him.

"It can affect 20 percent of things, if anything, 'cause there's five of us out there," Mathis said. "It's not like a domino effect, where Jason Peters was making everybody superhuman, or anything like that."

Mathis said the protection problems the Eagles experienced in Cleveland were "all things that can be fixed. It's not anything that's based on us not having enough talent or not knowing what we're doing or anything like that . . . Usually, it's a little bit of communication, a little bit of technique. Those are things that we can clean up on the practice field."

Center Jason Kelce said: "We have a few things to clean up, really not a lot of major stuff. Some communication things. That'll help, being at home this week."

Crowd noise was a factor in Cleveland, Kelce said.

"There were a couple of times when the running back was a little unclear on what the offensive line was going to do, and a couple of times - Todd [Herremans, the right tackle] was telling me after one series, 'You need to make the MIKE calls louder.' I said, 'Dude, I'm screaming it as loud as I can' . . . Those are things, preseason games aren't that loud, you get to your first regular-season one, the stadium's packed, it's a little bit louder. Going through that, improving communication through the game, was a positive."

Mornhinweg said that even with Dunlap playing for Peters, this year's o-line has "an opportunity to become one of the best offensive lines in this league."

Last week was the debut of the new system that would share responsibility for blocking calls between Kelce and Vick, who had sole responsibility last year.

"I think we were in the right protection the majority of the time," Kelce said. "I think there was one play where [coaches said] we should have been in something else."

The Ravens, who have been simulating Vick in practice this week by using another mobile former Virginia Tech QB, Tyrod Taylor, ranked third overall in NFL defense last season, fourth in passing and second against the rush. That last stat might be especially relevant, given Vick's erratic throwing last week, and the injuries that caused wideouts Jeremy Maclin (hip) and DeSean Jackson (hamstring) to miss practice Thursday.

If the Eagles want to quiet the howling of the fan base and balance the offense a little more, they'll be doing it against a tougher group of run defenders than LeSean McCoy faced last week, in running 20 times for 110 yards (with three carries for 30 yards called back because of penalties) - though it might or might not be notable that the Ravens gave up 129 rushing yards Monday night in their 44-13 victory over the Bengals.

Mornhinweg didn't sound convinced Thursday that he needed more balance.

"Looking back, we could have done some other things," he conceded. "That's hard . . . Just because it didn't work very well because of the penalties and turnovers doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do."

Baltimore plays a 3-4 anchored by 6-4, 340-pound, three-time Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata. Kelce said Ngata doesn't always line up over center, so the undersized Eagles interior will have to shift its strategy depending on where he is.

Tight end Clay Harbor, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Cleveland, said he and Brent Celek "need to do a better job of protecting, running better routes, giving him windows to throw.

"A lot of times we didn't have great separation, and a lot of times he was under duress," Harbor said.


Contact Les Bowen at bowenl@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily NEws' blog at eagletarian.com.

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