By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
After a thrilling week one victory over Washington last Sunday, the Birds travel south to take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. It is a Sunday night game, the first of five prime-time games for the Eagles.
The Falcons are coming off an embarrassing week one loss to Minnesota, a game they lost 28-12. The game wasn’t as close as the score may indicate. Atlanta didn’t score their first points of the game until five minutes into the fourth quarter, when they were down 28-0. In no uncertain terms, it was one of the worst performances by any team last week.
With that being said, I expect the Falcons to play a lot better this weekend. It seems like Atlanta always gives the Eagles a tough game. It’s easy to remember their last two match-ups, which came down to eerily similar final possessions for the Falcons that were denied by the Eagles defense.
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The Eagles and Falcons have played every season since Doug Pederson took over as head coach, and the Eagles are 3-0 in those match-ups. All of those games were in Philadelphia. This game is in Atlanta, so it will be a new experience for Pederson. Furthermore, Carson Wentz hasn’t played against the Falcons since his rookie year. Nick Foles started the previous two match-ups with the dirty birds.
Eagles Offense vs. Falcons Defense
The Eagles offense got off to a very sluggish start last week against Washington. However, after Wentz connected with DeSean Jackson for their first of two 50+ yard touchdowns, the offense soared. In the second half, the Birds offense was nearly unstoppable, scoring 25 unanswered points. They dominated time of possession and moved the ball with ease through the air and on the ground.
This week, I, along with every other Eagles fan, would really like to see Jordan Howard get more than six carries. There were some short-yardage situations last weekend where I was absolutely flabbergasted that 5’6” Darren Sproles was in the backfield instead of Howard. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Darren Sproles, but aren’t short yardage situations exactly what Howard was brought in for? Expect to see him have more of a role Sunday night.
In the passing game, I expect Zach Ertz to have a much larger role in the game plan this week. Ertz only had five receptions on seven targets last week. With the Falcons certainly going to be paying more attention to DeSean Jackson after his two touchdown performance last week, Wentz is going to be looking for Ertz over the middle. Also, look for Nelson Agholor to get more opportunities this week in the slot, running similar routes as Ertz over the middle of the field.
As for the Falcons defense, to say they underperformed last week would be an understatement. Looking at their depth chart, they look like a pretty solid defense unit.
Takkarist McKinley, Grady Jarrett, and Vic Beasley make up a solid defensive line. Deion Jones is one of the better young linebackers in the game. Desmond Trufant, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen fill out a decent secondary.
Yet, this unit was abused by the Vikings offense last week, particularly in the run game. Minnesota rushed for 172 yards as a team against Atlanta, with three rushing touchdowns. They were so dominant on the ground, the Vikings only asked Kirk Cousins to throw the ball ten times. TEN! In this day and age of the NFL, that is unheard of. Although, that could have something to do with Kirk Cousins being, well, Kirk Cousins.
I expect the Eagles to pound the ball with a dangerous rushing attack Sunday night. Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, and Darren Sproles will all get double-digit touches. Because of that, the play-action game will work beautifully for Carson Wentz, mixing up some intermediate throws with a couple deep shots to DeSean and maybe even Agholor or Jeffery. I think Pederson will try to dominate time of possession much like he did in the second half of last week’s game.
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Eagles Defense vs. Falcons Offense
After a putrid first half last week, the Eagles defense dominated in the second half. Washington’s only second half points were a garbage time touchdown when the game was all but over. The Eagles only gave up a whopping 28 yards on the ground, as they looked like the dominant rush defense they were in 2017.
However, the Eagles still have the same problem on defense that they’ve had for years: cornerback. My goodness they were terrible. Rasul Douglas resembled a burnt piece of toast more than he resembled an NFL cornerback. He was torched deep twice, one that resulted in a touchdown and another that would have been a touchdown if Case Keenum wasn’t playing quarterback.
Don’t even get me started on that Vernon Davis touchdown either. I’m looking at you, Andrew Sendejo.
Anytime the defense gives up 380 yards through the air, that’s not good, but when the defense gives up 380 passing yards to Case Keenum (Case. Bleepin’. Keenum.), there needs to be some changes made. I am praying, wishing, even begging that one of those changes is completely abandoning that idiotic picket defense when the opposing offense is in a long down and distance. Few things grind my gears quite like that defensive play call, because it seems like it never works (see week four, 2018, overtime against Tennessee).
As for the Falcons offense, they look very good on paper. Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, along with a decent offensive line. Yet, since their loss in Super Bowl LI and the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons offense has been anemic.
Atlanta’s offense has been the poster child for underperforming and inconsistency the past two seasons. They’ve been one of those teams that you just expect to be good, yet they aren’t. Last Sunday was no different. As aforementioned, the Falcons didn’t find pay-dirt last week until they were down 28 points in the fourth quarter.
However, in order to be a confusing and inconsistent team, there has to be just as many good weeks as bad weeks. I expect Matt Ryan and his gang of wide receivers to have a field day against the Eagles secondary. Ryan should easily throw for over 300 yards. Like last week, I expect the Eagles run defense to be solid though, holding the Falcons rushing attack under 100 yards.
While Atlanta will move the ball between the 20’s, I think the Eagles will continue their trend of being a bend, but don’t break defense. The Eagles will keep Atlanta out of the end zone and force the Falcons to attempt field goals just enough to give the Eagles the advantage on the scoreboard.
I think this will be a lower scoring game than most people expect. The Eagles and Falcons last two match-ups have finished with scores of 15-10 and 18-12. This game will be higher-scoring than that, but I think that kickers Jake Elliot and Matt Bryant will be busy. It will be a close game, but the Eagles escape with a 23-19 victory.
Howard and Sanders will score their first Eagles touchdowns. Eagles fans will be screaming at their television as Jim Schwartz inevitably lines up his six defensive backs on the first down line on a 3rd & 15. Oh, and we finally get our Jason Peters half-second too early false start. He didn’t have one last week, and I felt like I was missing a little part of the Eagles game experience.
Also, Sunday is my birthday. My mood will be determined by the result of this game. Please make it a good one, Eagles.
Time: 8:20 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass