Eagles vs. Falcons Preview

Bye weeks are supposed to be a time to get away from football.  News, storylines, drama, ups and downs, all of which should be dismissed for a week.  Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Eagles did not get that memo.  Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was fired last Tuesday and Todd Bowles is taking over for a defense that is performing well, for the first 55 minutes of the last two Eagles losses.  Michael Vick has retained his job, and according to Vick his job was never in jeopardy.

“It was never a time when I didn’t know whether I was going to be the starter or not,” Vick said. “Quite frankly, I know what I can do when I’m out there, and I know what has to happen when I’m out there on the football field. That’s just my approach now, to go out there and get the job done. We’ll see what happens.”

Well, for anyone that’s been watching this Eagles season, Vick should be worried, and he better be prepared to take on his former team this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field as the Philadelphia Eagles take on the undefeated Atlanta Falcons.  Andy Reid coming off a bye week is 13-0 as well, which means that one undefeated winning streak is coming to an end this Sunday.  The Eagles are going to have their collective hands full as the Falcons have been rolling both offensively and defensively this season.


On a team that is 6-0 and playing at a high level, the best place to start is with Matt Ryan, who throughout his young career has looked like an elite quarterback from September through December but has struggled in the post-season.  Ryan is having a banner year, completing over 67% of his passes and has career highs in quarterback rating (98.8) and yards per game along with being on pace to shatter his highs in touchdowns and yards.  The bad side is that Ryan’s offensive line is allowing him to be sacked at a higher rate than he has in his previous four years. however Ryan was sacked seven times against Carolina in Week 4. The reason behind Ryan’s successes can be directly attributed to the offensive weapons he has at his disposal.  Atlanta Falcons all time receiving leader Roddy White, 2nd year phenom Julio Jones, and future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez are all having big statistical seasons, and making plays at opportune times to help achieve an unblemished mark thus far.  Kicker Matt Bryant has been exceptional as well missing only one of his 14 attempts on the season.


Defensively, the Falcons have been applying a bend but don’t break mantra that is reminiscent to the Eagles defense in the early 2000’s in many different ways.  First, the Falcons are ranked 7th in points allowed, 12th in passing yards allowed, 3rd in interceptions, and 9th in hits on the quarterback.  This has the makings of a potentially bad day for both the Eagles players and fans alike.  The silver lining to the Falcons’ strong pass defense, led by Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson (Eagles fans surely remember him and his helmet-to-helmet hit on DeSean Jackson) is that the Falcons run defense is abysmal.  They’re currently ranked 28th in rushing yards per game, have given up seven rushing touchdowns to six passing touchdowns, and have given up seven rushes of 20 or more yards.


What does this mean for the Eagles?  It means a heavy dose of Lesean McCoy and Bryce Brown and short to intermediate passes by Michael Vick in an attempt to maintain control of the clock.   The Eagles and Falcons are both in the top ten in the NFL in average time of possession, and at home the Eagles average 33:07 and on the road the Falcons average 33:46.  The Falcons have also been converting just over seven 3rd downs per game on the road this season.  The Eagles defense will need to get off the field and place a dynamic offense on the sidelines where they can practice being cheerleaders for Halloween.


Here are five things to watch this Sunday:


Return of the King:  Demetress Bell is no longer the starting left tackle, and King Dunlap has regained the starting gig.  Dunlap will have his hands full against John Abraham, one of the better defensive ends in the game who has six sacks this season, which is one less than the entire Eagles defense has accumulated in six games .  Dunlap surely cannot play worse than the offensive line has as a unit, and may provide a spark to keep Michael Vick off the ground.  Atlanta ranks middle of the pack in quarterback sacks as a team, but they get pressure and hits on the quarterback.  Dunlap and the rest of the offensive line must protect Vick and keep him upright if they want to win.


Run The Damn Ball Andy:    Surely, Andy Reid must have looked at the game tape of the Atlanta Falcons being gashed by Carolina for 199 yards.  A game-plan that featured all three starting running backs, Steve Smith, and Cam Newton running the football.  One would have to think that he saw the way Alfred Morris ran for 115 yards on 18 carries.  So, surely Andy Reid is devising a way to get LeSean McCoy heavily involved in the game-plan.  In games that McCoy has had over 20 rushing attempts, the Eagles are 3-0.  In the Eagles three losses, McCoy is averaging 14.3 carries a game.  Look for the Eagles to stick with the run, even if it isn’t working initially, in order to control the clock and the pace of the game.


What Scheme Will Todd Bowles Run?    For three quarters last Sunday, the Eagles were primarily in man to man coverage in the secondary and then inexplicably switched to a soft zone.  The Eagles have been relying on the front four to get pressure on the quarterback, and it has not worked.  Needless to say, the Eagles have not practiced a defensive scheme that has suited the skills of it’s playmakers.  Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha are best suited for man coverage, however both have struggled against elite receivers this season.  Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson both had big games, albeit Johnson was held to one catch through the first three quarters.


November 23rd, 2008 Seems Closer Than Ever:  Eagles fans will always remember this date and the game that occurred that day in Baltimore.   Second year back up Kevin Kolb got the start in the beginning of the 2nd half after Donovan McNabb turned the ball over three times with a 13.2 quarterback rating.  The game prior?  A tie against Cincinnati in which McNabb threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.  If this is sounding eerily similar to Michael Vick this season, it’s because it is, and the possibility of a change at quarterback is closer than a lot of people are willing to admit.  Said Reid following that game:
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I didn’t think it needed to be done at that time,” Reid said. “I’ll evaluate it and see what needs to be done here, coming up for this game on Thursday.”
Said Reid during the bye week this season:

“Right now, we’re with Michael and that’s what we’re doing,” Reid said [according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer]. “We’ll evaluate it as we go.”

It appears to me, that to believe Vick’s job is secure is to be short sighted.  If Vick and the Eagles offense is unable to take care of the football and limit careless mistakes, Nick Foles could easily make his home debut in a game that is a must win for Philadelphia.



Which Streak Comes to an End?  Andy Reid is 13-o after the bye week.  The Eagles have faced six teams with a winning record during that streak, including the 13-2 Rams in 1999 (yes the Eagles bye week was week 16 that season).  The only other time the Eagles faced a team also coming off a bye week was, coincidentally, against the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 where Kevin Kolb led the team to a 27-14 victory.  The six victories against the teams with winning records were by a margin of 7.2 points.  As for the other streak, Atlanta is 6-0 for the first time in franchise history.  Since 1970, all but three of the last undefeated teams in the NFL have made the playoffs.  However, the record in the Super Bowl is not what you would think.  Since 2000, only the 2006 Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl after being the last undefeated team.  For now, the Falcons are focused on winning lucky game number seven, and for Philadelphia, a win will calm the firestorm and put the Eagles right back in the thick of the NFC playoff race.


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