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Having a home game coming off of a bye week is usually a good thing. You get a bunch of rest, extra time to for injuries to heal, and more time to study film on your opponent. The problem is usually rust and maybe too much rest. The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in that very situation. Their specific problem: an Atlanta Falcons team that has a ton of momentum coming into the game.
Keys to the Game
The Eagles are the best team in the NFC by record and play on the field is not far behind. Winning without injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz will be tough but not impossible. Why, you ask? Philadelphia has not one, not two, not three, but several running backs in their arsenal. The Eagles shouldn’t toy with Atlanta’s defense but rather run it right at them. One of the problems teams have versus the Falcons is they abandon their rushing attack. The Falcons have a fast, free flowing defense. That can be counteracted with tough, physical, plays inside. Expect Philadelphia to pound LeGarette Blount and Jay Ajayi inside and not give Atlanta chances to run plays down on the backside. Nick Foles should be comfortable with third and short situations, but the Eagles need to avoid situations where he has to get the ball deep. Short quick hits, ins and outs and especially double moves against the secondary should be where Philadelphia looks to get big gains in the passing game. The key is to get the linebackers (and safety Keanu Neal) matched up in pass plays.
The Eagle defense will have have a tough task. Despite their dip in scoring production, the Falcons have an elite array of weaponry at their disposal. The Eagles’ run defense seems impenetrable at times. Fletcher Cox and company will need to make Atlanta one dimensional on offense. If they can get Atlanta in obvious passing situations, they can strike them with blitzes. Any downs where they can get pressure without blitzing will be a plus. The Falcons are a team that will make you pay for stupid penalties and missed tackles. Finishing plays means finishing drives.
Atlanta will indeed try and spread the Eagles out and for good reason. Their best chance will be to max protect Matt Ryan and attack a (overall) young Eagles’ secondary. It sounds like a recurring theme, but Atalanta usually has the advantage with Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu versus opposing secondaries. When trying to run versus the Eagles, Atlanta should try more misdirection and gadget plays. Their goal should be to get the defense flowing one way and swing it back the other way. Employing more of Sanu in the “Wildcat” formation or Tevin Coleman in swing out screens may produce some big plays.
The defense will have have a tough time against the Eagles’ rushing attack. Using run blitzes and bigger packages on first and second down might help. The truth is Atlanta will have to get physical upfront. They can’t allow the Eagles to establish their run with ease. The Falcons do a great job at keeping opposing quarterbacks nervous, so they’ll look to keep the heat on and force Foles to throw faster than he wants to. The linebackers aren’t the greatest in coverage so the pass rush is even more vital in man coverage. The secondary matches up well, but will need to stay away from silly holding and pass interference penalties.
For the Eagles the x-factor is tight end Zach Ertz. Atlanta can give up big plays to tight ends when matched up with their linebackers. Ertz has been hurting opponents all year, and will look to keep it up on Saturday.
For Atlanta the x-factor is defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. The Falcons will need somebody right at the line of scrimmage to step up and make plays. We’ve seen Jarrett have a few big games, and this could be another.
Prediction: The Falcons’ defense can be one of the stingiest in the league and seems up to any task. The Eagles are out to prove they are still the number one seed without Wentz, but he’s what got them here and they aren’t the same without him. Falcons win on the road, 25-16.