The Eagles will look to pick up their first win at home this weekend against the Atlanta Falcons. In anticipation of the game, I was able to ask Rob Kelley of DirtyBirdBlog.com a series of questions regarding the match-up.
Rob gives us his impressions of the Falcons so far, tells us where each team will have the advantage on Sunday, and weighs in on which Eagles quarterback he’d rather see the Falcons play against. In the end, Rob also gives us a final prediction on the game.
BirdsFan: Right now, the Falcons stand at 4-1 with their only loss coming in an overtime game. What are your impressions of the team at this point in the season?
DirtyBirdBlog: Atlanta has looked impressive at times, but they are still susceptible of allowing the occasional big play on defense. The game winning run by Rashard Mendenhall still haunts me. But their revamped defense seemingly improves with each passing week, although they will face another stiff test when they take on the Eagles on Sunday. Head coach Mike Smith has these guys hungry, and it has really shown. They are clearly the class of the NFC South right now with the New Orleans Saints still in Super Bowl hangover mode, but they cannot afford any slip-ups. It would also be nice not to see almost every one of their games come down to the final few minutes.
BF: As an outsider, it seems like the Falcons offense is the powerhouse. What can you tell us about the Falcons defense? What players have stood out so far this year?
DBB: The Falcons’ offense still runs through Michael Turner. When he hits the hole strong and wears down the defense, it really opens things up for Matt Ryan and the passing attack. But like many people figured, the offense is doing what was expected of them. It has been the defense that has exceeded expectations to this point. This revamped unit has come up huge, and many of that started when Kroy Biermann became a starter. He is going to be a sack-master in the NFL for many years, and anyone who saw his interception against the Cleveland Browns to seal the deal knows how athletic he is. Also, although he will be questionable for Sunday’s game, rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has been an absolute beast as well.
BF: Which Falcons player has been the most pleasant surprise so far this year? Who has been a disappointment?
DBB: Biermann is one of my favorite Dirty Birds, but for those who follow the Falcons, many people will tell you that Biermann’s strong play is no surprise. But along with Weatherspoon, he is very much responsible for the change in mindset on defense.
For a 4-1 team who has the best record in the NFL, it is tough to find many disappointments. But if I had to pick one player, I would have to say it would be defensive back Erik Coleman. Big things were expected out of Coleman to start the season, but after missing time with a knee injury, it now appears as if William Moore has supplanted him at strong safety.
BF: Now that we’ve seen Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick both play at a fairly high level, who would you rather play against on Sunday? Why?
DBB: From a fan’s standpoint, I would obviously like to see Vick. And not necessarily just for revenge, but I have to admit that he is exciting to watch. But from a Falcons’ standpoint, I would have to go with Kolb. No disrespect to him, but I feel that he has lost confidence in himself as the team has lost faith in him. I think the Falcons can get to Kolb behind the line, whereas Vick is more elusive. If Kolb still shows that he is hesitant to take a few shots deep down the field, then he will struggle to get his play-makers the ball.
BF: LeSean McCoy has been a real standout for the Eagles this year. What will the Falcons defense do to try and slow him down on Sunday?
DBB: McCoy, as far as I am concerned, has been an MVP candidate to this point. I will admit that I was not sold on him at the beginning of the season, but Philly has done an excellent job at getting him involved – both on the ground and in the passing game. To me, Atlanta has to treat him like they did Frank Gore when they beat the 49ers a couple of weeks ago. Try and limit him on the ground and shadow him when he comes out of the backfield as a receiver. I think that the best you can hope for is to try and slow him down, because I haven’t seen any team who can flat out stop him.
BF: On Sunday, where will the Falcons have an advantage on offense? On defense?
DBB: Although he has struggled to get things going at times, Turner will have to get off to a strong start on the ground. As the game goes on, he does a better job of wearing down the defense than the defense does against him. He keeps punishing anyone who gets in his way, and those hits certainly take their toll. And while Philly is not quite as good against the run as they are against the pass, the Falcons will lean on Turner to open up some holes.
Atlanta is the opposite of the Eagles, where they rank higher against the run than the pass on defense. They have great strength and speed up front, and their linebackers are some of the quickest in the league. They are a bit undersized, especially up front, but they more than make up for it with their speed.
BF: Where will the Eagles have an advantage on offense? On defense?
DBB: To me, Philly has to open it up on offense. Spread five wide and line up Jackson and Maclin on the ends. With their speed to open up the middle of the field, they should rely heavily on Brent Celek. We all know that McCoy will get his, but Celek is a much better player with Kolb throwing the ball than when Vick is in the game. The Falcons can give up some big yardage totals to tight ends when the field is spread wide.
On defense, the Eagles will need to try and take Roddy White out of the mix. No team has been able to do it so far, but Asante Samuel is more than up to the task. Ryan has tendency to lock in on White and ignore a receiver who may be more open. If they can slow down White, Ryan could be in for a long day.
BF: What player could be a potential x-factor for the Falcons on Sunday?
DBB: I think that it is going to be Matt Bryant. He has been very solid in the kicking game for the Falcons, but I know that Lincoln Financial Field is not the easiest place to kick. I really feel that this game will come down to the wire, like most of them for both teams, and that the kickers may win – or lose – the game. Bryant has been great so far, and the Falcons hope that Sunday will be no different.
BF: Give me a score prediction.
DBB: While I like both offenses, I see this being a defensive struggle. Falcons 20 – Eagles 16