Trying to figure out this game is hard. Atlanta played poorly last week and lost bad. We were sloppy, but still won by 18. The quality of competition had a lot to do with that, but so did the fact we’ve got the kind of playmakers who can deliver the big plays that change a game.
We beat the Falcons easily last year. Here are a couple of things I wrote after that game.
“The Eagles brought their A game and the Falcons had no idea what hit them. Early on the offense was incredible. We threw a variety of packages, formations, and plays at Atlanta. They were on their heels and we had a 14 point lead before you could blink. Great gameplan by the coaches. Great execution by the players. The defense was equally good, right from the start. First play of the game – run for no gain by Turner.
We controlled the LOS on both sides of the ball. No Jason Peters. No Brodrick Bunkley. No problem. The O-line and the D-line played outstanding as whole units and really took it to the Falcons. We have played 2 of the most physical teams in the league in the last 2 weeks (SF, ATL). We out-physicaled both of them. That ain’t easy to do. Just ask Olivia Newton John.
The beautiful thing about this game is that while we played well it wasn’t as if any player did insane things that can’t be repeated. This was our A game, but it wasn’t our impossible game. We didn’t get every call. We didn’t get every bounce. We didn’t have every thing go right. We played at a high level. We whipped some butt.
The Falcons never quit, but they did look overwhelmed for large parts of the game. Mike Smith is a good coach and they’ve got a real good core of players, but something has to happen with that offense. Either they aren’t calling aggressive enough plays or Matt Ryan isn’t being vertical enough.
* We won TOP, 34:03 to 25:57. Normally that’s overrated, but not so vs ATL. They were #1 in the league in TOP prior to the game. Ball control is their game.
* Field position was in our favor. We had 6 drives start at our 42 or better.
* Eldra Buckley had 12 carries for 40 yards. Michael Turner had 15 carries for 45 yards. That gives you a big hint as to who won.
* John Abraham wasn’t just a non-factor. He was damn near invisible. 1 tackle. Little pressure. No impact. “
Based on everything I’ve written so far you’d think I would be beaming with confidence. I’m not. I do feel like we’re the better team, but Atlanta has a couple of things going for them. First, they’re at home. The Falcons are a different team at home. They love playing in the dome and know how to take advantage of that.
The other factor that helps them is desperation. They’re 0-1. They have Super Bowl aspirations. Going 0-2 would be near disastrous for them. Up next is a trip to Tampa to take on the Bucs. That’s no gimme either. Coach Mike Smith will use every trick up his sleeve to come up with a win this week. The Eagles want to win this game. The Falcons need to win this game.
Now, those factors don’t guarantee squat. The Falcons went 7-1 last year at home. The loss was to the Saints. Then they lost in the postseason to Green Bay in the Georgia Dome. Good QBs and good teams can win in Atlanta. As for the desperation factor, that doesn’t automatically override talent. Remember the 90s when the desperate Eagles would get whipped by the confident Cowboys?
EAGLES OFFENSE vs FALCONS DEFENSE
Last week was a sloppy showing by the offense. Vick was 14 of 32 passing. We allowed too many blitzers to come free. The stretch play looked like a kindergarten fire drill more than an NFL running play. We still scored 24 offensive points and moved the ball fairly well.
I expect a much better showing this week. Vick got better as the game went on. He got into a comfort zone. DeSean Jackson played really well. The OL shut down the Rams when they rushed 3 or 4. And that Shady guy did okay. The rust is gone. The coaches had actual game tape to show the players when pointing out mistakes. Football players are visual. Looking at a sheet of paper isn’t going to be the same as seeing game tape when trying to figure out who to block.
So what specifically will we try to do? Andy and Marty will throw the ball downfield. That’s Atlanta’s weakness. They love to play the run. Pass defense isn’t nearly as much fun. The first focus from Andy and Marty will be on pass protection. Last year we opened the game in an empty set, but had TEs chip block the DEs as they released down the field. Expect Brent Celek to spend a lot of time blocking on Sunday. The OTs don’t need the help, but fear of blitzers will mean less time as a receiver for Celek.
Jeremy Maclin becomes important this week. We need the passing game to be more balanced and efficient. That requires Vick to spread the ball around. Maclin got targeted a few times last week, but should be a much bigger part of the offense on Sunday night. It wouldn’t surprise me if the first pass of the game went his way.
Vick must play a “cleaner” game. He missed some open guys. He threw without setting his feet a couple of times. Like I mentioned earlier, he got better as the game went along. I think he’ll play better this week. The lack of a conventional offseason and then the OL experimenting in preseason hurt him. It’s just a matter of getting back in the full flow of things.
Atlanta had some holes in their downfield pass defense last week. Cutler had the arm and accuracy to get the ball to his guys and burn the Falcons. I expect more of the same this week. When Vick is given time, he can throw strikes.
One thing I’m not too sure about is how Atlanta will do when Eagles spread them out. Chicago didn’t do much of that. We didn’t do too much last year since Dunlap was playing LT. Atlanta is going to be tested when Vick lines up in the shotgun with Shady beside him. The play will flow one way and if the Falcons are over-aggressive, there could be big cutback lanes for Shady. The Eagles did burn the Falcons with mis-direction runs last year, but used DeSean on those plays. I also wonder if the Eagles will call up some kind of QB run early in the game to get Vick going and let him get the butterflies out of his system.
The book on Vick is to send DBs from his blindside. I think FS Thomas DeCoud and SS William Moore could both be key blitzers this week. They didn’t have any sacks last year, but have the skill set to be dangerous off the edge. Todd Herremans must communicate well with whatever skill players are to his side and part of the blitz protection scheme.
The Falcons I’m sure are hoping to exploit RG Kyle DeVan with their quick DTs. They’d love to have him go up against Jonathan Babineaux, but he’s injured. Pressure up the middle is tough on all QBs. We’ll see if Peraia Jerry can get into the backfield and make his presence felt.
If the OL blocks well, we could see more of the 4-WR set. The Eagles want DJax, Mac, Avant, and Smith on the field at the same time. The goal is to improve the short passing game so that we’re not as reliant on big plays in every game. Whether we use 2, 3, or 4 WRs, I do like the matchup of the Eagles receivers and the Falcons DBs. Grimes and Robinson are good CBs, but I think our WRs are even better.
EAGLES DEFENSE vs FALCONS OFFENSE
Control Michael Turner. That’s the key. We don’t have to completely shut him down. We need to keep him from getting 25 carries. Atlanta wants to control the game. They want to run Turner and then throw the ball based off of that. I’d rather have Turner go 15-98 than 23-88. His number of carries really is important.
The Falcons won’t be as conservative as the Rams in terms of alignments. St. Louis was pretty boring for most of the game. The Falcons are conservative, but will mix in some different looks. They’ll run from 3 WR sets. They’ll go empty and put Ryan in the shotgun. They’ll move Tony Gonzalez around.
I’m not sure what specific matchups the Falcons will try to exploit. Last week they threw a lot of short passes. OC Mike Mularkey said that wasn’t by design, but was a product of facing the Bears Cover 2. That limited what Atlanta could do. I do think the Falcons will try to get the ball to Roddy White on short throws against Asante Samuel. White is tough and physical. He’s got good RAC ability. CB Peanut Tillman was physical with him last week, but Peanut is a tougher corner than Asante (pretty bold statement, huh?).
We know the Falcons will attack our LBs with the run. We can win this battle if the D-line is able to penetrate and then the LBs do their job. The LBs must stay in the correct gaps. They must get off blocks. They must tackle well. The run defense got better last week as the game moved along. That’s nice, but we need to see the team play good run defense for a whole game before we can start to really believe in this group.
While fans were screaming for Casey Matthews to get benched, it turned out Moise Fokou was the LB on the hot spot. He lost some reps in practice to backup Brian Rolle. Fokou was very sloppy when it came to gap responsibility. That’s unacceptable. The coaches can live with physical mistakes, but mental mistakes, especially ones that get repeated, are not as forgivable. Fokou has the potential to be the Eagles best run defender, but he must play smarter.
Another player who must improve is S Kurt Coleman. Danny Amendola blocked Kurt relentlessly last week. Kurt needs to be more of a factor in the run game. He doesn’t need to make plays right at the LOS, but he needs to make the kind of tackles that prevent 5-yard runs from turning into 10-15 yard’ers.
I do like the matchup of the Eagles DEs against the Falcons OTs. I’ve never believed in Sam Baker as a good pass protector at LT. Trent Cole had 2 sacks last year and I expect him to be a force off the edge once again. I think Jason Babin can give Tyson Clabo fits. Clabo is a very good run blocker, but isn’t as good at pass protection.
The Falcons are at their best when they can run the ball and then Ryan is hot on 3rd downs. Tony Gonzalez becomes a key weapon in those situations. They don’t even have to throw to him. He can just be a decoy. Ryan is a master at moving the chains. We must pressure him and then tackle well when he does get the ball out.
I’m looking forward to seeing Cullen Jenkins go against RG Garrett Reynolds. Jenkins is tough for talented veterans to block. Reynolds is a young guy. He’s more of a natural fit at RT. He struggled in pass pro at times last week. Expect more of the same with Jenkins on him. I also want to see what Antonio Dixon can do in this game. Atlanta was his coming out party last year. Their interior guys don’t match up with him well. He’s big and quick. I would expect them to try and double him a decent amount.
Field position will be critical. Ball control teams have a much easier time of it when they don’t have to go 80 yards for a TD. The Falcons had poor FP last week and it hurt them. We also had poor FP, but it wasn’t as much of a hindrance.
We do need Chas Henry to punt better. We also need Dion Lewis to kneel down on KOs that are more than a couple of yards deep. Something tells me he learned his lesson.
Crowd noise will again be an issue, but we dealt with that last week and that helps us quite a bit. If we can get up 10 points that will take the Falcons out of their comfort zone and their fans out of the game.
I don’t know what to make of the Falcons as a bounce back team. They responded to all 3 losses last year with wins, but the opponents were Arizona, Cincinnati, and Carolina…teams that combined for 11 victories. That is worlds different from Sunday’s situation.
Finally, there is the Vick factor. This is some sort of a homecoming game for him, but I don’t know if we’re making too much of that. The last time he was their QB was December 2006. He’s played in Atlanta since then. He’s in his 3rd year as an Eagle. I’m not sure how emotional Vick will be. It’s hard to read him sometimes. If he loses focus and plays sloppy, that does give them a big edge. If he’s locked in, watch out.
The Eagles are the better team. The matchups favor us. I feel pretty good, but we’ll get Atlanta’s best since they’re at home and will have something to prove. I can see either team winning. I can see us blowing them out. The only thing that would surprise me is for the Falcons to blow us out. I think we’d have to see a turnover-fest for that to happen.