Five weeks have passed; five games have been watched three times apiece. This team baffles me. Frankly, the whole league baffles me this season, but the Eagles have truly given me a headache trying to figure them out. They are the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team: Looking phenomenal one drive and pitiful the next. This week, our Eagles take on another set of birds, the Atlanta Falcons. The two teams faced off last season, with the Eagles dominating an injury-riddled Falcons team and coming away with a 34-7 win. It was a game in which Vick showed the first flashes of still having “it.” However, last year’s matchup will hardly predict the tale of this matchup. The Falcons are much healthier and currently standing at 4-1. As always, let’s take a look at their offense.
The Falcons offensive line unit in the middle of the pack in terms of production. They’ve let up 10 sacks (16th overall) and 20 quarterback hits (13th overall). Last weekend, they allowed the Cleveland Browns to get after Matt Ryan for 2 sacks and 6 quarterback hits. The Cleveland Browns defense is certainly not very ferocious and I truly believe that the Eagles will exploit whatever weakness they find in the Atlanta offense. Last weekend, the Eagles defense ravaged the 49ers offensive line for 2 sacks and 5 hits. In the past, the Eagles have gotten after whoever is under center for the Falcons and I fully expect them to do the same.
Now, the run blocking is a different story. The Falcons are 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 148.8 yards. After a down season last year, Michael Turner seems to be finding his spark again and he’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry and has amassed 421 yards. However, he has only scored one TD. Behind Turner, the Falcons have a very nice second option in Jason Snelling, who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has gained 244 yards and scored two TDs. These guys scare me. A lot. The Eagles defense is letting up a pitiful 125.8 yards per game on the ground (24th overall). To make matters worse, they will be without starting defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. While Bunkley hasn’t played particularly well, he was still a key to slowing down runners. In his place will be Antonio Dixon, who did have a very good game against San Francisco, but he will be a key piece to the defensive game plan this week. The Eagles did an excellent job of shutting down Frank Gore against the 49ers, and a lot of that has to do with improved play by the linebackers.
Those linebackers have another huge challenge at hand this weekend. In addition to dealing with a phenomenal rushing attack, they will again be dealing with a stud tight end in all-time great Tony Gonzalez. He is the fountain of youth on the football gridiron. He is tied for 5th in the NFL with 24 receptions, 9th in the league with 246 yards, and among many tight ends with only one TD to date this season. Meanwhile, our defense continues to be ravaged by the tight end. In fact, I’m going to give you, my dear readers, a bit of advice: When you’re playing fantasy football and you cannot decide on a tight end to start, just take a look and see if either of your two or three guys are playing the Eagles. If they are, start them. Simple as that. The Eagles defense will invariably give up a ton of yardage and likely a TD to Gonzalez.
At wide receiver, the Falcons have a blue collar stud in Roddy White. When I say “blue collar,” I mean this is a guy who does more than the flashy stuff. He does the dirty work and never quits on a play. White currently leads his team in receptions (37), yards (463), and TDs (3). Luckily for us, we will be getting back cornerback Asante Samuel. We’ve missed him dearly last week as we let Michael Crabtree run wild in our secondary. While Samuel is lousy in the tackling game, no one can deny that he is still among the best corners in the league when it comes to covering and shutting down #1 wide receivers. The rest of the Falcons recievers have combined to catch another 22 balls for 250 yards and 2 TDs. A WR I’d expect the Falcons to try and use is 6-5 Brian Finneran, who has 7 receptions, 67 yards, and 1TD. He will match up well against our secondary and should be able to use his size to take advantage of the smaller cornerbacks such as Ellis Hobbs and Joselio Hanson.
Getting these weapons the ball will be the responsibility of third year man Matt Ryan. Ryan is proving to be one of the more clutch quarterbacks in the game, leading his team on many 4th quarter comebacks and sealing games in the final minutes. He struggled last season, suffering the typical “sophomore slump,” but has come back strong this season. He is 13th in the league in yards (1,165), tied for 4th in TDs (7), and he’s only thrown 3 INTs. Ryan knows how to take care of the ball and get it to his playmakers and this week he is facing a defense that can be gutted by the passing game. While doing my weekly research, I was shocked to find out that the Eagles rank 8th in the NFL in passing defense, giving up 192.4 yards per game. However, one must take into account that the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars really skews the numbers. In that game they let up only 105 yards passing. If you factor out that game and average the other 4 games, they are letting up a much worse 239.25 yards per game and that is still factoring in a game in which the opposing quarterback killed his own stats (I won’t name any names) by his own bad play. To put it simply, the Eagles secondary is very weak. What’s more worrisome is that teams can seemingly pass on this team at will in the 4th quarter. That fact combined with Ryan’s clutch performances late in game have me a little worried.
Moving over to the Eagles offense, they stand behind an offensive line that is falling apart more and more each week. Today (Wednesday), we got the happy news that Left Tackle Jason Peters will not be playing for the next few weeks. In his place is 6-9 turn-style King Dunlap. Now, I am not a professional coach by any means. However, when a guy is consistently getting beat in training camp, the preseason, and the regular season when he fills in, maybe it’s time to part ways or at the very least send him back the bench. Todd Herremans, the Eagles left guard, has played well at left tackle before and there’s no logical reason for him not to play at that position this week, especially given who he would be facing: Defensive end John Abraham. Abraham is 5th in the NFL with 4 sacks. Against the Browns he was able to get two of those. He also had 3 tackles for yardage loss in that game, making his total for the season 5. He appears to be back to his 2008 form and will wreak havoc on whoever is under center if he lines up against Dunlap. I can’t bring myself to believe that Reid will not start Herremans at left tackle and then someone such as Reggie Wells at left guard. I just can’t bring myself to believe it. This offensive line unit is going to get someone killed. Hopefully it isn’t our offensive MVP.
And that MVP is none other than LeSean McCoy. Give it up for this young man. He played one of the toughest positions in the game last week with a broken rib. He had 23 touches last week, scoring on one of them. That means he was tackled at least 20 times (I’m sure he sneaked out of bounds at some point, though I can’t remember for sure off the top of my head) and he played through what must’ve been a very painful evening. Kudos to him. Now he faces a new challenge in the Falcons defense- a defense that is yielding only 86.6 yards on the ground per game, 8th overall in the league. Backing up McCoy is a new face, Jerome Harrison. Harrison was just brought in via trade with the Cleveland Browns. Who did we send to the dog pound? Mike Bell, underachieving running back. I love the deal as it gives us a fresh face and someone who was very good last season. Time will tell, but I feel that this could develop into a great 1-2 punch for the Eagles rushing attack. Beyond those two, Owen Schmitt is continuing to blossom in this system. He is being targeted in the passing game and he’s making huge blocks in pass protection and run blocking. However, given the Falcons ability to stop the run this week, I’d expect the Eagles rushing attack to be stifled.
The Falcons defense is surrendering an average of 48.2 yards a game to tight ends. One team, the New Orleans Saints, gained 102 yards from their tight ends in their matchup during week 3. Other teams that they faced throughout the season generally don’t focus on getting the ball to their tight ends, with the exception of the San Francisco 49ers. The Eagles do focus on getting the ball to their tight end, Brent Celek. The issue this season has been that Celek is dropping passes left and right. Last weekend, he dropped three crucial passes, two that would’ve led to big first downs and one that was at best a TD, and at worst a first and goal on the two yard line. Celek will need to get his act together this weekend. Kolb or Vick are going to be looking to him all day, especially if Abraham is having a big day.
At wide receiver, the Eagles seem to be on a path of weekly underachievement. At least, that’s what the statisticians would have you believe. The real issue with the receivers not getting many yards lies with a terrible offensive line that isn’t giving quarterbacks time to throw. The receivers, DeSean Jackson specifically, are excellent at finding seams in the defense. This takes time, however, and time is not very plentiful for the Eagles this season. When Kolb or Vick has time they are more than capable of spreading the ball around to all the receivers. Meanwhile, the Atlanta defense is giving up a total of 223.4 yards per game through the air and those numbers have gotten progressively better the past two weeks. However, they’ve also faced teams quarterbacked by Alex Smith and Senecca Wallace. I do not buy into this secondary and my gut says the Eagles wide receivers will be able to get open. They’ve been gutted for huge numbers against good wide receivers.
Now, the biggest question for the Eagles is: Who is starting at quarterback? Will it be Kevin Kolb, who started last week and looked very solid? Or will it be Michael Vick, who prior to going down looked very good. As of writing this, word is unclear. Vick has been lifting weights but has been limited in throwing sessions. But, we all know that this is a game Vick is very eager to play in. Everyone loves to go against their former team. If by Thursday Vick has started throwing more consistently, then I’d expect him to start and that would bode very well for the Eagles in this game. Should Vick not be ready, I have full faith in Kolb. Kolb showed us that when he prepares as the starter and isn’t being interrupted every three plays for the “wildcat” that he can perform. I like the Eagles quarterback situation for this week a lot because both guys have proven to be solid or better so far. Both guys are also taking great care of the football, combining for a total of two turnovers, both belonging the Kolb. The Falcons defense currently has 10 INTs, which is 1st in the NFL. It certainly poses an incredible challenge for whoever the quarterback will be, but given their ability to take care of the ball, I see no reason to believe they can’t beat this Atlanta defense.
In my eyes the Falcons have a clear edge on special teams. While neither team has pulled off a long return the Eagles are weaker in the coverage department and I’m sure the Falcons will at some point have a big return against the Eagles. Part of me fully believes that it will be their first return of the game because that seems to be the norm now for the Eagles.
I am critical of Andy Reid every week. Anyone who reads my articles knows that. However, I must give the man his credit. Last week he called a good game overall against the 49ers and he had oddly impeccable time management. He had a few boneheaded calls but every coach does every week. The Falcons are being coached by one of the best in the league right now in Mike Smith. The Falcons do not beat themselves and just get the job done. Their only loss of the season came against the brutal Pittsburgh defense. Much of their success is due to head coach Mike Smith.
HOW I SEE IT:
The numbers tell me the Falcons will win this game. No question about it. However, football is a game that is far more than a few statistics, as statistics barely tell half the story. Football is a game of emotion and it’s because of that emotion that I believe the Eagles will win. No matter who starts under center, both teams have something huge to prove. The fans are going to wild at Lincoln Financial Field and the Eagles showed me something last week. They beat a 49ers team that is not anywhere near as bad as their record suggests. I like the Eagles this weekend in what will be an absolute thriller of a game.