NFC East: Baltimore Ravens

Here at the NFC East blog, we appreciate the extent to which ESPNDallas.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor has been helping us out with provocative Dallas Cowboys columns during a slow time. The ability to link to and discuss Jacques' work has helped carry us through a few days recently, and today is no different. Today Jacques writes that, rather than extend Tony Romo's contract this offseason to create salary-cap relief and ensure that they're not left without a quarterback a year from now when Romo's deal expires, the Cowboys should let Romo play out the final season of his deal.
[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Tim SharpTony Romo threw for 4,903 yards and 28 touchdowns this past season.
The Cowboys should let Romo play out his deal just as the Baltimore Ravens did with quarterback Joe Flacco. Make Romo play his best football for himself -- and the team -- next season. And if Romo still hasn't earned a contract extension with his performance, Jones should place the franchise tag on him in 2014. And 2015 too, if necessary.

The Cowboys could absorb Romo's salary this season, but it would mean saying goodbye to players such as nose tackle Jay Ratliff, Doug Free, Marcus Spears, Dan Connor and Anthony Spencer. Then the Cowboys would have to restructure the contracts of Brandon Carr, DeMarcus Ware and maybe, Miles Austin. Bottom line: It could get done without too much pain.

Now, I am a great fan of Jacques personally and of his work, but I could not disagree with him more on this particular point. While the premise isn't a bad one -- the idea that the Cowboys would like to see more from Romo than they've seen to this point in terms of his ability to deliver big wins -- waiting a year is completely impractical.

First of all, I fail to see how losing Ratliff, Spears, Connor and Spencer and then working to restructure Carr, Ware and Austin isn't "too much pain." That sounds like a lot of losses on defense and a lot of work on deals (Carr's in particular) that may not be as restructure-friendly as the cap-strapped Cowboys would like them to be.

Second of all, there is the persistent problem of the lack of strong alternatives to Romo should they lose him in a year. Say Romo plays great, as he did in 2011 and for most of 2012 (the final game notwithstanding), and the Cowboys continue to struggle to put a representative offensive line in front of him. Maybe he doesn't want to come back. Maybe he wants to go to a team that can protect him better, where his reputation as a big-game flop isn't as integral a part of the way the team's fans feel about him. Maybe he'll want out of the Cowboys circus completely. And if that's the case, woe to the Cowboys trying to find a solution on next year's market without a decent candidate already in the fold. Look around the league at teams like the Chiefs, Browns, Jaguars, Jets and the Eagles for goodness' sake. You don't want to be the team looking for a quarterback on a market that might not have any. That's not a fun place for a franchise to be.

The Flacco comparison fails because it's not as though Flacco outperformed his prior résumé this season. He muddled through an up-and-down regular season and played well in the playoffs, as he always does. The Ravens lost last year's AFC Championship Game to the Patriots because of a dropped pass and a missed field goal that weren't his fault. This year, they won that game and the next one. Yes, the Super Bowl MVP award will help Flacco make more money on this next deal, but it's not as though the Ravens saw anything from their quarterback this year they didn't already know or believe he could do. Flacco didn't have a prove-it year. He just had a better ending than he's ever had before. If that's what the Cowboys need to see from Romo, then as we have discussed at length, they need to get him a lot more help.

But in the end, the biggest reason to extend Romo is the fact that it makes too much financial sense. The Cowboys have major salary-cap problems. One of the easiest ways for them to get relief is to give Romo an extension that his performance relative to his peers says he deserves anyway and which would save them cap space they'll need over the coming months. Standing on principle and saying Romo has to win a big game before he can get his money simply isn't the best thing for the franchise right now. Warts and all, Romo as the quarterback now and for the foreseeable future is.

How you feeling? Giants-Ravens

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
12:10
PM ET
As the New York Giants prepare to face the Ravens in a 4:25 p.m. game in Baltimore, here's one reason for Giants fans to feel good about the game and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: This is the exact spot at which the Giants turned it on last year, when they were 7-7 and beat the Jets to begin their run to and through the playoffs and Super Bowl. They're 8-6 now, and they can still reach the playoffs by winning their final two games of the season. So there's plenty of good, positive memory to remind them that they are capable of accomplishing the task in front of them. As bad as Eli Manning looked last week in Atlanta, there's no quarterback in the league with a shorter memory. A big game from Manning and the maligned Giants pass rush would not surprise anyone.

Cause for concern: It's Week 16, which means counting on stuff that happened a year ago isn't quite as encouraging a means of confidence building as it might have been earlier in the season. The Giants have had some great games, against very tough opponents, this season. But too often, whether it's week to week or even on third-and-short within a certain game, they haven't shown that same ability they showed last year to dig down deep and come up with that little extra to they need to make the big play or win the big game. No shame in that. Some years are like that and some aren't. But to this point, and in spite of the fact that their record is better, the 2012 Giants have not looked like the 2011 Giants. And time is running out for them to do so.

Giants' Week 16 game moves to 4:25 p.m.

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
1:55
PM ET
The New York Giants' Dec. 23 game against the Ravens in Baltimore, originally scheduled for 1 p.m. ET, has been changed to a 4:25 p.m. ET game as part of the NFL's "flex" scheduling program. All other NFC East games that week will remain at their originally scheduled times.

The NFL had originally scheduled a Jets-Chargers game for the prime time Sunday night game in Week 16, but it decided instead to move that game between two teams with losing records to 1 p.m. ET and move the 49ers-Seahawks game to prime time. Because they play in the same market, the Giants and the Jets are almost never scheduled to play at the same time. So the Giants-Ravens game, between two teams playing for spots in the playoffs, gets the more prestigious 4:25 p.m. slot while Jets-Chargers becomes one of the week's early games.

Just letting you Giants fans know, in case you were headed down to Baltimore for that game. You can sleep in a little bit now.

The only remaining week whose flex scheduling is undecided is Week 17, and the league can wait until Dec. 24 to announce that week's prime time Sunday game. Since they try to pick a game with playoff implications, there remains a strong chance that week's Giants-Eagles game or Cowboys-Redskins game could move to prime time on Dec. 30. But we won't know that for a while.

Rapid Reaction: Redskins 31, Ravens 28

December, 9, 2012
12/09/12
4:40
PM ET

LANDOVER, Md. -- It was a thriller at FedEx Field, and not your old-school defensive battle, either.

What it means: The Redskins improve to 7-6 and keep within striking distance of the New York Giants in the NFC East. The win is Washington’s fourth straight and puts it above .500 after 13 games for the first time since Week 16 of the 2008 season. Baltimore fell to 9-4 and has lost consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 4-6 in 2009.

The game was won basically when: After Washington held Baltimore to a three-and-out on the Ravens' first possession of overtime, Redskins backup cornerback Richard Crawford took a 56-yard Baltimore punt 64 yards to the Ravens' 24-yard line, setting up Kai Forbath’s 34-yard game-winning field goal.

Time stopped when: Robert Griffin III injured his right knee on Washington’s final drive when, after scrambling for a short gain, he was tackled by Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Rookie backup Kirk Cousins came in for one play, then Griffin III came back, played four plays essentially on one leg, got called for intentional grounding and hobbled off the field with the help of two Washington staffers. He was flat on the trainer’s table when Cousins found Pierre Garcon in the end zone for a touchdown and then successfully ran a quarterback draw on the two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28 and force overtime.

The Redskins announced Griffin III “strained” his right knee and was doubtful to return. He did not.

Points off turnovers: Washington forced Joe Flacco into two turnovers, both off sacks. The first came on the Ravens' first possession of the second half, leading 21-14. Washington outside linebacker Rob Jackson sacked Flacco from behind. Flacco fumbled, and the Redskins recovered.

On Baltimore’s next drive, Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan hit Flacco, again from his blind side, while Flacco was in his throwing motion. The ball came out and Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher intercepted it.

However, Washington converted those two turnovers into only six points to pull to within 21-20 near the end of the third quarter.

Baltimore injuries mount: The Ravens were without linebackers Terrell Suggs (torn biceps) and, again, Ray Lewis (torn triceps), marking the first time in nine years that neither Suggs nor Lewis was in the lineup. That’s a long time. Courtney Upshaw started in place of Suggs, while Brendon Ayanbadejo started in place of Dannell Ellerbe at weakside linebacker. Tight end Dennis Pitta started for Ed Dickson.

What’s next: The Ravens host Denver at 1 p.m. next Sunday. Washington plays at Cleveland.

How you feeling? Redskins-Ravens

December, 9, 2012
12/09/12
11:30
AM ET
As the Washington Redskins prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens at 1 p.m. ET in a game critical to their newfound playoff hopes, here's one reason for Redskins fans to feel good about their team's chances and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The game is at FedEx Field, which matters. The Ravens are 27-4 at home and 18-17 on the road the past four seasons. Even with key defensive players such as Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and probably Terrell Suggs out with injuries, the Ravens would seem a far more daunting opponent if the game were being held 33 miles up the road in Baltimore. The Ravens' defense isn't what it used to be. Baltimore allows 125.8 rushing yards per game, while the Redskins' rush offense is the best in the league at 167.2 yards per game. Most people expect the Redskins to confuse the Ravens' defense with their pistol formation and read-option plays behind fantastic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and that's entirely possible. But they're also pretty good when they just line up and run it between the tackles with rookie running back Alfred Morris.

Cause for concern: I don't like the secondary matchups for the Redskins, particularly with cornerback Cedric Griffin starting a four-game suspension this week. The Ravens' receivers are either fast enough (Torrey Smith) or savvy enough (Anquan Boldin) to win consistently against what's left of the Washington defensive backs, and it's easy to see this being a nice rebound game for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco after a tough game last week against the Steelers.
DeMarco MurrayJames Lang/US PresswireThe Cowboys' DeMarco Murray rushed for 91 yards in the first half before leaving with an injury.

BALTIMORE -- No, of course there are no moral victories in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys understand how tough it is to beat the Ravens in Baltimore, and they justifiably felt much better about the way they played in Sunday's 31-29 loss than they felt two weeks ago after the Bears thumped them. But they're professional football players, and they believed they could and should have won the game. They rushed for 227 yards, possessed the ball for 40 minutes, recovered an onside kick at the end and set their kicker up with a 51-yard field goal attempt that would have won it. The feeling in their locker room was disappointment.

"I'm sick about losing this game," owner Jerry Jones said. "We made our share of mistakes, but I thought we had a shot to win at the end. With our time of possession, it's hard to understand how we didn't win. Everybody is as frustrated as I am."

But there's a bigger picture here, and it's one that keeps getting missed as Cowboys fans wail and gnash their teeth about every single loss (and even some of the wins). These Cowboys are a work in progress -- a team and a staff and a roster that is piecing itself together and building something it hopes can be sustainable well into the future. You may not want to hear it, and you may not be able to believe it about the Cowboys, but they are in a rebuilding phase right now and much more likely to be a playoff contender in 2013 than this year. So as disappointed as Cowboys fans are about the loss, the penalties, the late-game clock management and everything and everybody else you want to blame, that bigger picture really needs to be the one on which the conversation about the 2012 Cowboys centers.

"We have to win the game, and we didn't do that," coach Jason Garrett said. "But I loved how our team battled. I was proud of our football team today, and we believe that we can grow from this football game."

A growth opportunity. A learning experience. These are valuable things for the Cowboys at this point in their history, and as Cowboys fans you may just have to accept that. Sure, this is the NFL, and the NFC East required only nine victories to win it last year, so nothing's impossible. The Cowboys' schedule gets easier, and if the run game and the offensive line can play the way they played Sunday, they could be much better in the second half of this season. But this season isn't the central focus of the people running the Cowboys right now. What they're looking for is growth and improvement, and they saw plenty of it Sunday.

"A lot of this game, you look at and you say, 'Those are the Cowboys we're talking about,'" tight end Jason Witten said. "Those are the kinds of players and leaders you want to grow with and build on."

He's talking about guys like Sean Lee, who remains a terror on defense, and DeMarco Murray, who ran for 91 yards in the first half before a foot injury forced him out of the game. But lots of Cowboys played very well Sunday, including Dez Bryant, who caught 13 passes for 95 yards, and Felix Jones, who rushed for 92 yards in relief of Murray, and Phil Costa and the rest of an offensive line that's been pulverized all year but on this day looked tough and mean and physical for the first time.

All of it comes with warts, though, and they're mainly the result of the team and many of its players being unfinished products. Bryant's big game is likely to be remembered for his drop of the two-point conversion attempt that would have tied it in the final minute. Murray got hurt again, which is a problem with Murray. And the line had its issues, contributing extensively to the fact that the Cowboys were penalized 13 times for 82 yards. The Cowboys made mistakes in this game, and at this point they are not a good enough team to make as many mistakes as they did and win in a place like this, even in a game they dominate physically. They had their shot, they came up short and they have a bunch of film to watch as they keep working to get better.

"I'm all right with anything as long as it's moving forward," Jerry Jones said. "I'm not for taking any steps back. We knew this was going to be a challenge, but looking at the overall game, as a team, I felt we played well enough to win the ballgame. I'm a lot more encouraged than I was after Chicago."

So before you start asking whether Garrett's job is in jeopardy (it's not) or crying about poor late-game clock management or looking at the standings and worrying that the sky is falling, it's important to step back and see Sunday for what it was -- a critical and encouraging step in the development of a team that's thinking well beyond the borders of just one season. Someday, the Cowboys believe, they'll win games like this routinely. And if they do, part of the reason will be Sunday's experience, which showed them how they could.

 

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 31, Cowboys 29

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
4:25
PM ET

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: The Cowboys did a lot of good things in this game, especially on offense. But a rash of penalties (13 of them, for a total of 82 yards) and the defense's inability to get a stop on critical Ravens drives late in the second and fourth quarters did them in. They had a chance all day to pull the upset at one of the toughest places in the league in which to play, but they are not a good enough team to overcome the kinds of mistakes they made. They are now 2-3 for the season. There are no moral victories in the NFL.

Injuries: Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne returned to the game in the second half after leaving in the first with a knee injury, so that was good. But running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 91 yards in the first half, couldn't shake off a foot injury and had only one second-half carry. Felix Jones, who looked good replacing him, also left the game for a time with an injury and left the running back duties to Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. Jones came back on the final drive. The Cowboys also were without linebacker Anthony Spencer for the second straight game, since he has a pectoral muscle injury. Spencer's absence almost certainly impeded the Cowboys' ability to stop Ray Rice when they needed to the most.

The big play: After Dallas cut the Baltimore lead to 17-13 with an early third-quarter field goal, Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. The return tied an NFL record for the longest ever and built the Ravens' lead to 24-13. The play was well blocked, but it was a complete breakdown by the Cowboys' coverage unit, which never laid a finger on Jones.

Credit where it's due: The criticism here and in many other places of the Cowboys' offensive line this year has been justified, but Sunday's game showed marked improvement in strength and toughness across the line. They still got too sloppy with the penalties, but they were able to physically pound the Ravens' defensive front all day, pushing forward to make holes for the backs and even protecting Tony Romo better than they normally do (with some glaring exceptions, yes, but Rome wasn't built in a day). The Cowboys' line must continue to improve if the offense is going to have any chance of being effective this year, and Sunday was an encouraging sign that improvement is possible. Dallas rushed for 227 yards -- the most ever allowed by the Ravens in a game in their history -- and possessed the ball for a stunning 40:03 of the game's 60 minutes.

The quarterback: Romo's one interception was a damaging one, but it's tough to criticize the game he played Sunday. Especially after he led the Cowboys on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to cut the lead to two. Romo's two-point conversion pass hit Dez Bryant in the hands, but Bryant could not catch the ball, and even though they recovered the onside kick and moved into long field goal range with a pass interference penalty in the final seconds, Dan Bailey's 51-yard attempt missed wide left.

What's next: The Cowboys travel to Carolina to play the Panthers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Fans of Andre Brown and the Giants know that this means the Dallas run game will have a chance for another big day.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Ravens

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
11:00
AM ET
BALTIMORE -- As the Dallas Cowboys get set to take on the Ravens here at M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m. ET (noon CT), here's one reason for Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern.

Feeling good: The Cowboys aren't as bad as they looked two weeks ago in that Monday night loss to the Bears. But because they haven't played since, that's the impression the rest of the world has of them. Prior to the second half of that game, the Dallas defense was playing as well as any in the league. And especially with nose tackle Jay Ratliff expected back from injury for this one, there's no reason to believe it can't get back to that level against Joe Flacco and the Ravens. They also have a chance to get DeMarco Murray and the run game going against a Baltimore defense that's allowing 118.4 yards per game on the ground. The matchup isn't as prohibitive as a lot of people seem to believe it is.

Cause for concern: Ray Rice. The Baltimore running back is the key to the Ravens' offense, as both the run game and the passing game operate through him. He must be Dallas' primary concern, and he presents a tough task for star inside linebacker Sean Lee. If they have to bring safeties up to help play the run, they could leave themselves vulnerable to a downfield strike from speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith, but it may be a risk worth taking, especially given the faith they have in their cornerbacks. Stopping Rice is that important.

Cowboys head to NFL's toughest venue

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
3:09
PM ET
This week's NFL "Hot Read" by Greg Garber addresses the issue of which NFL stadiums are the toughest on visiting teams. And the place at the very top of the list is the Baltimore Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium, which is where the Dallas Cowboys will play this Sunday. The toughest-venue rankings were compiled by polling more than two dozen NFL players, owners, GMs, scouts, analysts and writers, but in the end it was the numbers that put Baltimore's home field at the top:
The numbers are, quite frankly, astonishing: In 14 seasons at the building now known as M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens are a giddy 84-31 (.730). The road record in that time is a less-than-stellar 50-64 (.439). No NFL team in recent years has had more dramatic Jekyll-and-Hyde mood swings.

So good luck to the Cowboys this Sunday as they come off the bye still trying to wash the taste of their most recent loss to the Bears out of their mouths. Not going to be easy.

A couple of interesting ancillary NFC East elements to this week's very interesting Hot Read package:

The New York Giants are the only NFL team over the past decade whose road record is better than its home record.

The Washington Redskins' .478 home winning percentage over the last 20 years is the fourth-worst in the league.

Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com writes that Cowboys Stadium is among the most welcoming and comfortable venues in the league for opposing teams.

Eagles showing a whole new toughness

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
7:31
PM ET
Joe FlaccoAP Photo/Mel EvansDeMeco Ryans and the Eagles' defense held off Joe Flacco and the Ravens for a narrow victory.

PHILADELPHIA -- Despite everything, the Philadelphia Eagles had the lead. Despite four more turnovers, six more penalties and a slew of significant injuries to offensive starters, the players in the Eagles' defensive huddle were looking up at a scoreboard that showed them leading the Baltimore Ravens 24-23 with 1:55 to go and the ball on the Baltimore 20-yard line, and they were fired up.

"This is the play!" middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans shouted at his teammates, before each of the eight plays the Ravens would run on that final series. "This is the play we make to close the game!"

And the Eagles bought it. And make those plays they did. Rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin went high in the air to break up a Joe Flacco pass. Safety Nate Allen busted up a couple. Nnamdi Asomugha got one, too, though he got called for illegal contact on his and handed the Ravens five yards with 1:21 to play. Just one more obstacle, and Ryans kept barking, kept urging. The defensive line swarmed Flacco, who threw incomplete on third-and-1, incomplete on fourth-and-1, and Ryans' prophecy came true. The defense held.

The Eagles held on for a 24-23 victory over the Ravens. Despite it all, and for the second week in a row, the Eagles had come back in the fourth quarter to win a game by one point. And if you watched the Eagles play the fourth quarter last year, there's no other way to put it: This is new.

"I think the belief is what's new," Asomugha said. "I think we would say the same thing in the huddle last year, but we'd be wondering what play we were going to run and not really be believing it. So I think that belief is there now that, when it comes down to the end of the game, we can finish it off."

The turnover problems, the penalty problems and the general sloppiness are not new. Those were here last year, and they're still here. Whether the Eagles can correct those things will go a long way toward determining what kind of season they have. But there has been enough talk so far about what's the same about this year's Eagles. Sunday's game, in the end, and same as last week, was about what's different. Last year's Eagles didn't come back to win games in the fourth quarter. Last year's Eagles didn't stop teams on that final drive. Last year's Eagles were giving away September games they should have won. This year's Eagles are winning September games they should have lost.

"We've been put in that same position two weeks in a row, and we love it," safety Kurt Coleman said. "It builds character. We're glad we've come away with two wins, but what's just as important is the way games like that, and proving to yourself every week that you can win them, really help build the character of your football team."

This was one of the big questions about the 2012 Eagles. Last year's flop gave everyone reason to doubt whether this group had it where it counts -- whether it had the guts, the heart, the whatever-you-want-to-call-it that teams need to win games in the fourth quarter. Adding Ryans at middle linebacker, picking rookies such as Boykin, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks to infuse the defense with energy, intensity and depth -- these are moves that have so far paid off. The Eagles have needed their defense to stiffen up when the offense was struggling and repeatedly handing the ball to the other team in each of their first two games. Twice now, that defense has responded. The Eagles gave up just 146 yards in the second half of the game while Michael Vick and his crew erased a 17-7 deficit. They watched starting center Jason Kelce, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and left tackle King Dunlap get carted away to the locker room. They watched Vick somehow figure out an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final five minutes, nearly turning it over again but holding just tough enough to get it done.

"It was obviously like, 'Here we go again,'" said Vick, who has thrown a stunning six interceptions in his first two games but also completed 23-of-32 passes for 371 yards in Sunday's contest. "But you just look at your teammates, your coaches, the people who depend on you, and you just want to get it done. It's just another opportunity to be 2-0, and that's all it boils down to."

For the most part, that's true. It's not as though the Eagles don't still have issues. They won't be able to average 4.5 turnovers per game and expect to win every week. Kelce's injury appears serious enough to end his season, and that's going to matter. Maclin looks like a guy who's going to be playing hurt, at best, for some time. Many of the play-calling and discipline issues that have been driving Eagles fans for years remain in evidence, and as the weeks go along they will want to see them taken care of.

"Look, there's nothing I can tell you," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I don't like turnovers. I don't want turnovers. The players don't want turnovers, so we have to get better at it. You have to hang onto the football when you're given a chance to handle the football, and you have to make sure you throw it to the right person. This isn't something we planned on having."

But despite it all, the Eagles are 2-0. And just as they all believed in each other to come back and beat the Ravens this week, they believe they can fix their problems over the long haul. And amid all of this, they've already shown more toughness and heart and grit in two games than they showed last year in 16. And that's got a chance to serve them extremely well if they ever get the sloppy stuff fixed.

Rapid Reaction: Eagles 24, Ravens 23

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
4:45
PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- A few thoughts following the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-23 comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field:

What it means: The Eagles are 2-0 with a pair of one-point victories in games that have seen them turn the ball over nine total times. Sloppy, yes, but 2-0 is 2-0, and for all of the mistakes he's made, quarterback Michael Vick has also led two game-winning drives. If the Eagles can get their turnover problem solved, they will be very tough, and very glad they swiped these first two.

My goodness, with the turnovers: The Eagles turned the ball over five times in their opener last week in Cleveland and yet somehow managed to come back and win that game. This week, they turned it over three times in the first half alone and four times in the game. Some seemed avoidable, like Vick's first interception. And some seemed less so, like his second. But the problem is significant, and it undercuts everything they do. They have playmakers on offense, and everyone from LeSean McCoy to DeSean Jackson to a banged-up Jeremy Maclin to tight end Brent Celek showed off while the Eagles piled up the yards. But you can string together as many nice-looking offensive plays as you want -- if you keep handing it to the other team, and the other team is as fundamentally sound as the Ravens are, you're not going to win very often.

Give it up for the D: Turnovers also put a ton of pressure on your defense. And while they were victimized by a few big plays here and there, overall the Eagles' defense looked dominant in this game. They had consistent pressure in Joe Flacco's face. When Ray Rice got through the line, they swarmed to stop him. Linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks made all kinds of plays. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie covered well. Rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was disruptive. The Eagles' defense is good and deep and built to last the full 60 minutes, and it's the main reason they were still in the game with a chance to win it late in spite of the errors on offense.

One exception: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha struggled badly with Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones, who burned him for a touchdown early and appeared to have caught another one late before an offensive pass interference call wiped it out. He was also flagged for illegal contact on the Ravens' final drive. Asomugha may be playing well most of the time, but the spotlight is on him as the team's biggest 2011 free agent, and he's going to be judged on these big plays he gives up, unless he stops giving them up.

Medical ward: Left tackle King Dunlap, center Jason Kelce and Maclin were among the significant Eagles to leave the game with injuries. Waiting to hear, obviously, on long-range consequences. But Maclin was playing with a bad hip, and that's what he injured. He came back in the game, but it might make sense for the Eagles to try to manage that injury by limiting Maclin's playing time in the next couple of weeks or sitting him out for a game.

A note on the officiating: The NFL should be ashamed of itself. The officials' lockout is the height of arrogance, and the NFL believes it can pull it off. But the crew it sent here was a mess all day. Couldn't work the microphone. Didn't know the appropriate distance on penalties. Clearly nervous, and moreso as the close game went on. It's not these guys' fault they're in this impossible situation. It's the NFL's, for locking out the real officials. The league is cheating its fans and demeaning its product, and more people should be angry at the owners for what they're doing.

What's next: The Eagles travel to Arizona, where they will take on the Cardinals next Sunday afternoon at 4:05 p.m. ET. Former Eagle Kevin Kolb played quarterback for Arizona in place of the injured John Skelton in Sunday's upset victory over New England. It's possible Skelton could return, but right now it looks as though the Eagles should get ready for Kolb, whom they traded to Arizona last summer for Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick.

Maclin, Jackson will start for Eagles

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
11:55
AM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- Good morning and hello from the press box at Lincoln Financial Field. They have just announced the inactive players for today's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens, and neither of Philadelphia's starting wide receivers is on the list. That means that DeSean Jackson, who missed practice time last week with a hamstring injury, and Jeremy Maclin, who injured his hip in last week's game and missed practice time as well, will start the game as they said they would Friday.

Good news for the Eagles, of course, who need all the help they can get against a tough Baltimore defense, and quarterback Michael Vick, who's looking to get his season on track after throwing four interceptions in last week's victory in Cleveland.

Among the Eagles' inactives is backup running back Dion Lewis, who also missed last week's game due to injury. That means Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are the backup running backs for LeSean McCoy. The Eagles ran 56 pass plays and 30 run plays in last week's games, and while they're not likely to get 86 offensive snaps in this game, if they're looking for better balance they're going to have to find plays for at least one of the backup running backs.

Tackle Demetress Bell, inactive for last week's game, is active for this week's game, though King Dunlap remains the starter at left tackle.

For the Ravens, starting strongside linebacker Paul Kruger is inactive due to a back injury. That's a tough blow to that aforementioned Ravens defense, and it could offer the Eagles more of a look at Baltimore rookie Courtney Upshaw.

I'll be here all day with updates on this game while also keeping an eye on the other three games in the division today. The full list of inactives for Eagles-Ravens:

EAGLES
RAVENS

Countdown Live: Ravens-Eagles

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
11:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. See you there.

People have been asking me all summer who's winning the Washington Redskins' kicker competition, and we now have our answer. It's the guy who lost the Baltimore Ravens' kicker competition.

Cundiff
One day after cutting veteran Neil Rackers (and ostensibly leaving the job to Graham Gano), the Redskins have signed former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff, Adam Schefter reports. And according to ESPN 980 in Washington, Gano says he's been cut.

Cundiff was released by the Ravens on Sunday in a surprise move after undrafted rookie Justin Tucker outperformed him in camp. Clearly, the Redskins think the Ravens made a mistake, as they raced to sign him and cut both of the guys who'd been kicking for them all summer. The surprise part of today's move is the cutting of Gano, who hasn't been the most reliable of kickers but has a strong leg and might have been able to win a competition with Cundiff if given the chance. I mean, Justin Tucker did...

But kicker is really an eye-of-the-beholder thing, and Mike Shanahan must see something in Cundiff that he likes. Cundiff was a Pro Bowler in 2010, when he hit 89.7 percent of his field goals. And over the past two years, he's 53-of-59 on field goals of less than 50 yards and leads the NFL in touchbacks. Last year, he was 28-for-37 on field goals -- a more pedestrian 75.7 percent that compares closely with Gano's 75.6 and with Cundiff's career percentage of 76.7. But Cundiff was 1-for-6 from beyond 50 yards while Gano was 4-for-6 from that distance.

Cundiff did also, of course, famously miss a 32-yard field goal that would have tied last year's AFC Championship Game and sent the Ravens to overtime against the Patriots for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

So what to make of this? Cundiff is more reliable inside the 50, which matters more than the ability to boom the occasional 50-yarder. But the main difference is on kickoffs, where 83 of Cundiff's 154 kicks (53.8 percent) have resulted in touchbacks over the last two years while just 40 of Gano's 144 (27.8 percent) have done the same. That's the part that matters most to coaches, who know kickers are eventually going to break their hearts on field goals but really want them to deliver in terms of field position. That's got to be the main reason Cundiff is the Redskins' new kicker while Rackers and Gano are looking for work.
I know you guys and I have had our moments, and that we've fought and argued over matters regarding your favorite teams. But I like to think we're all in this thing together, and that... well, that you have my back. So, to that end, as I prepare to spend all day in airports and in the air, I offer you this video, which is a new ESPN.com feature called "The Huddle" that we plan to do every week. It's a look at three hot topics around the league, but this week the NFC East hook is, unfortunately, the story of Andy Reid losing his son. With Ashley Fox and Jamison Hensley, we discuss that, the Terrell Owens signing in Seattle and whether Joe Flacco has a chance to make a big leap this year with the Ravens.

Like I said, this won't always be NFC East-related, but they seem to like using me on this kind of stuff, and I'd like to do a good job with it. So you know, since I feel like you guys probably have my back, give it a click, give it a watch and let me know how you think we can make it better. Preciate it.

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