For the Baltimore Ravens (6-4), preparing for Sunday’s game against the Eagles (5-4-1) will mean doing more than their traditional homework.
They’ll need to match the imagination of crafty Eagles veteran defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who has built a reputation for innovation with his willingness to attack the line of scrimmage with blitzes from any of his 11 defenders from a variety of angles.
"Jim has got a pretty exotic package," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who coached under Johnson as his secondary coach last year. "Now, if he comes up with a new blitz that we haven’t seen before, it will be a new blitz nobody has seen before. He’s got them all.
"We’re going to have to anticipate a little bit how he’s going to attack our protections, a what if type of a deal. He’ll have a couple blitzes ready for every type of protection we’ve run, so that’s part of the guessing game. Just being prepared for what he might do, that’s what we do."
One week removed from limiting the New York Giants’ blue-chip defensive end tandem to one sack in a 30-10 loss, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is now in the crosshairs of a defense tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers with 36 sacks for the most in the NFL.
Philadelphia generated eight sacks against the Cincinnati Bengals in last week’s 13-13 tie.
Fourteen different Eagles have recorded at least a half-sack. Defensive ends Darren Howard and Trent Cole lead the team with eight and six sacks, respectively.
"They definitely walk a lot of guys up to try to beat the offensive linemen here and there, but we just have to be alert and smart on all the blitzes," center Jason Brown said.
Cole, who had two sacks against Cincinnati, made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season with 12 1/2 sacks. Working out of the Eagles’ nickel package as a situational pass rusher, no reserve has as many sacks as Howard. Defensive end Juqua Parker has five sacks.
"Philadelphia brings it from a lot of areas, and you have to make sure your eyes are up and you know where to go with the ball," Flacco said. "They’re good at what they’re doing, so we’re going to make sure we have a good scheme going into the game and we’re running plays that we’re good at executing. I think we’ll put together a good plan."
The Eagles actually registered n ine sacks in a win over the Steelers earlier this season.
Only the Chicago Bears have more tackles for losses than the Eagles.
"They’re definitely a threat," offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "They do a variety of different things. Along with great players and a great scheme, that makes for a great defense.
Since 2000, the Eagles’ 378 sacks ties them for first in the NFL.
They rank second over that span with 440 tackles for losses.
Will the Ravens need to speed things up with three-step drops as well as employing maximum protection blocking tactics?
"Of course, we’re not going to rush anything," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We have faith in our offensive line that they’re going to hold up against a very good defensive line. They’re in the business of trying to get you to rush things.
"Typically, rush things in this league and you mess up sometimes. We’re going to be fast, but we’re going to be under control."
The Eagles have posted one sack every 10.2 pass plays, and opposing quarterbacks have a 57.6 passer rating whenever they blitz.
Plus, hard-hitting safety Brian Dawkins has 33 career interceptions and 20 sacks.
"They kind of resemble what Indy does," offensive tackle Adam Terry said. "It’s not just the defensive ends that get the sacks. It’s the interior guys and safeties. They bring a myriad of different blitzes, and they’re effective."
Adding to the Ravens’ problems this week are injuries to offensive tackles Jared Gaither (right shoulder) and Anderson (sprained ankle).
That may trigger a line shuffle with Terry shifting from right tackle to left tackle and, possibly, rookies Oniel Cousins or David Hale needing to step in on the right side if Anderson is unable to play.
"Hopefully, everybody will be back by the end of the week," said Terry, who is nursing a sprained ankle. "Jared is getting better."
Gaither was relegated to blocking with one arm against the Giants prior to leaving the game in the fourth quarter. He’s expected to miss this game.
"We’ve had tests before," Brown said. "We’ve been rotating a lot of guys in and out on the offensive line. The thing is we still have to perform someway, somehow."