Ravens Launch Decisive Stretch Drive Against Fading Eagles

DAVID GINSBURG, AP Sports Writer

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles have veered in different directions after starting the season with three straight wins.

Employing a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback, Philadelphia couldn’t sustain its early success.

Carson Wentz threw five touchdown passes and no interceptions in helping the Eagles open with victories over Cleveland, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

He has since been picked off 12 times, with only eight TD passes. That’s just one reason why Philadelphia (5-8) has lost six of seven, including four in a row.

“Self-inflicted wounds and self-inflicted penalties have (prevented) us from maybe winning a few more games,” coach Doug Pederson said.

The Ravens followed their 3-0 start with four straight defeats, but have rebounded to remain in the thick of the playoff chase. Baltimore (7-6) will win the AFC North if it defeats Philadelphia on Sunday, Pittsburgh on Christmas Day and Cincinnati in the finale.

“The Steelers game doesn’t happen unless we win this game,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “The Steelers game is on the backburner right now. It’s all about Philly.”

Baltimore is on the rebound after losing at New England 30-23 on Monday night. The Ravens fell into a 23-3 hole before getting back into the game by taking advantage of two turnovers by the Patriots, but the overall performance of the team was disappointing following three wins in four weeks.

“Obviously, we weren’t good enough to beat the Patriots,” Weddle said. “That’s really what the reality comes down to, but that doesn’t mean that our ultimate goal to win the division and get in the playoffs isn’t attainable.”

Some things to know about the first meeting between Baltimore and Philadelphia since 2012:

FIRING AWAY: Wentz is 74 passes away from breaking Donovan McNabb’s team record for attempts in one season.

Despite Pederson’s desire to call a balanced game, he has relied more on the pass. Wentz has thrown 44.7 passes per game over the last seven after averaging 30.8 in the first six.

“I think it’s putting him in a tough situation,” Pederson said. “I would love to be able to manage it and lean on that offensive line more with the run game. Obviously, we’re going against a tough run defense this week, and yet we still have to be patient with that to help our quarterback.”

NEED TO RUN: Like the Eagles, the Ravens have all but abandoned the run recently.

Joe Flacco threw 52 passes against the Patriots, while the running game generated only 42 yards on 14 attempts.

“There is no doubt we are going to have to run the ball,” Flacco said. “We have to be able to hand the ball off and get yardage out of it because then it is going to get the play-action game going a little bit more and make it that much better.”

Baltimore owns the 28th-ranked rushing attack. Terrance West has the team’s lone 100-yard game, against Oakland in Week 4.

NO SACK ATTACK: The Eagles have only eight sacks in the last seven games after getting 20 in the first six games.

Philadelphia has proven pass rushers with big contracts putting no pressure on quarterbacks. Fletcher Cox leads the way with 5 1/2 sacks, but he went eight straight games without one. Brandon Graham has two in the last 10 games and Vinny Curry has 1 1/2.

“You’ve got to be careful with judging it only on sacks, but sacks do affect the game,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Not only do you stop drives and get them for lost-yardage plays, but there is a high incidence of quarterbacks either getting tipped balls or throwing when they’re getting hit and you’re getting interceptions or fumbles. Those are the plays that we’ve been missing.”

SMITH NEEDED: The Ravens could be without standout cornerback Jimmy Smith, who sprained an ankle against the Patriots.

With Smith out, Tom Brady torched Baltimore for 406 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’re not worried about who is going to play or who is not going to play,” Weddle insisted. “We’ll play with the guys we have out there.”

If Smith can’t go, that will put additional pressure on rookie cornerback Tavon Young, who knocked away two passes and had four solo tackles against New England.

“It’s really important that Tavon is focused and ready to go,” coach John Harbaugh said.

HAPPY RETURNS: Michael Campanaro will likely return kicks for the Ravens, who cut veteran Devin Hester on Tuesday.

Activated from the practice squad Wednesday, Campanaro has five career punt returns for an average of 13.2 yards and is averaging 26.3 yards on three career kickoff returns.

Lardarius Webb is also an option for returning punts, though he’s the starting safety.

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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