5 key Eagles matchups vs. Falcons

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Falcons

If you've been living under a rock this week, you might not have heard that the Eagles are underdogs against the Falcons at home.

Yeah, that's a No. 6 seed as the favorite over a No. 1.

It seems like some of the Eagles are using that as a little extra motivation; some don't give a hoot. But it's not all that surprising given the way the Eagles finished the season and given the way backup Nick Foles played down the stretch.

While the Eagles aren't favored, they absolutely can win on Saturday. They have a pretty good shot too. Winning these five matchups would go a long way in making it happen:

Julio Jones vs. Eagles' corners
Julio Jones is the closest thing the NFL has to one of those Monstars from the movie Space Jam. Yeah, I know it's a different sport, but Jones is kind of what it would look like if a football player got incredible skills pumped into him to make him some alien super freak. He's 6-4, 220 and plays just as big. The scary part is he's just as speedy and dangerous with the ball in his hands. He's not just a fade or go-route risk. He can catch a slant and take it to the house.

The Eagles have seemed hesitant all season to travel a corner, so don't expect Ronald Darby to follow Jones on Saturday. It seems likely that Jalen Mills will stay on the left side of the defense and Darby on the right. They'll see Jones as much as he lines up on their sides.

Jones has been dealing with an ankle injury but he's going to play in this game and he'll probably have a big role too.

Lane Johnson vs. Vic Beasley
Lane Johnson has played at a ridiculously high level all season and finally got his due when he was named to the Pro Bowl and a first-teamer on the All-Pro team. Johnson has handled some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL all season, so he should be able to stop Beasley, but it won't be easy either.

Beasley's sack numbers were way down in 2017. He had just five sacks after a 15½-season in 2016. A big reason for the drop-off was his role in the defense. The Falcons asked Beasley to drop into coverage more often in 2017, but they've gone back to asking him to rush the passer more. He got a sack on the third play of the game against the Rams and is absolutely a threat on Saturday afternoon.

Ben Garland vs. Tim Jernigan
In general, the play of the Eagles' defensive line is going to be huge on Saturday afternoon against the Falcons. Getting to quarterback Matt Ryan and stopping what Doug Pederson called a "two-headed monster" running game is going to fall on the D-line. This is just the matchup inside of the matchup.

The Falcons lost left guard Andy Levitre for the season, so Ben Garland is filling in. Garland is a veteran but has just three starts in his NFL career. Jernigan normally lines up on the left guard, which is important to remember because the Falcons have a great center. Alex Mack is a Pro Bowler so he's tough inside, but Fletcher Cox requires so much attention on the left side of the defensive line. If Mack goes over there to help, that means Jernigan will have 1-on-1s against a backup left guard.

Jernigan has been dealing with an ankle injury for most of the season, but this extended break — he didn't play in the finale either — should help him more than anyone. He'll have a big role on Saturday.

Jay Ajayi vs. Falcons' run D
Unlike his teammates, Ajayi has actually played Atlanta once already this season. On Oct. 15, when he was still in Miami, he helped the Dolphins beat the Falcons 20-17 in Atlanta. Ajayi carried the ball 26 times for 130 yards in that game. In fact, it was his best game of the season as a Dolphin and it's the biggest rushing game the Falcons allowed by any player all season (see story).

Ajayi, who has a long-term chronic knee injury, didn't play in the season finale and got one day off last week, but is now well-rested and ready to go for the playoffs. Last week, he said he was preparing for "war" in the playoffs. That's a good sign.

The most carries Ajayi has had as an Eagle came when he got 15 against the Rams, but look for him to have a big role in Saturday's game. Pederson didn't rule out the possibility of using him as a workhorse back and it might be time for him to do it.

Nick Foles vs. Nick Foles
Foles, to put it simply, needs to play better. He just does. It seems like he has plenty of confidence and it seems like the team has plenty of confidence in him. But Foles just has to play better against the Falcons than he did in the last five quarters he's played in the regular season.

In those five quarters, Foles completed only 46 percent of his passes. He threw two interceptions to one touchdown and had a passer rating of 48.2. That's not going to get it done in the playoffs.

Now, Foles doesn't need to come out and be Carson Wentz. No one really expects him to do that. But he needs to at least be the good version of himself. He needs to play more like the guy who threw four touchdown passes against the Giants. If Foles can do that, the Eagles have a pretty good shot at winning this thing.

Eagles careful to maintain team culture through NFL draft

USA Today Images

Eagles careful to maintain team culture through NFL draft

Measuring their speed, strength and verticle jump, that’s the easy part.

The far more difficult aspect for NFL teams preparing for the draft or free agency is finding guys who can fit into what they want to do on the field, but who can also fit into a team’s culture.

And for an Eagles team coming off a Super Bowl championship, it’s one of the big challenges of the offseason.

The Eagles have built a powerful chemistry and culture over the past two years that was pivotal in their drive to the franchise's first championship in 57 years.

It was a remarkably close team, a remarkably unselfish team. And now the Eagles are in the process of trying to add talent without ruining that unique chemistry.

Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said Thursday the Eagles’ scouting department spends a tremendous amount of time and resources not just evaluating players’ physical attributes but trying to determine whether they’re good fits for what the Eagles have built.

“I think that’s one of the conversations that we probably have the most,” Roseman said. “Background’s really important. We’ve had some guys who’ve come here, who’ve maybe had a (bad) reputation and fit really well, and there’s also the flip side of that.

“So you try to balance all of those and really rely on coach (Doug) Pederson and his leadership council and the ownership he gives them.”

Roseman revealed that he, vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas and Pederson actually involve players already on the roster in the decision-making process.

“We talk to our players about a lot of things, and we talk to them about guys that we’re going to potentially bring in,” Roseman said. “We try to pick their brain.”

It’s not a perfect process. Every team has been burned by a Darryl Worley. But the Eagles clearly are doing a better job than most teams getting 53 unique individuals to mesh together.

“I accept responsibility for the mistakes we made, that’s on me,” Roseman said.

“But we try to get a lot of information and then also talk to our players so a lot of these moves that we’ve made the last two years … and that’s probably not the norm in the National Football League, but that’s really from the leadership of coach Pederson and what he wants us to do.”

Roseman mentioned something called the “Co-habitation Matrix,” devised by Douglas and Eagles director of football administration Jake Rosenberg — "and Keanu Reeves," Roseman joked. That’s basically a way to connect anybody in any role within the organization that has had any previous experience at a previous spot with potential new additions.

It’s all a part of minimizing the risk of shattering the franchise’s powerful culture.

“That’s something that we work so hard to build and it could be the hardest thing to build and it could be the easiest thing to lose and that’s something that we have been working hard on, is just pinpointing the guys that can come in and just add to our culture,” Douglas said Thursday.

“Chemistry really isn’t a thing you can quantify. It’s not an objective thing, but you know when you’ve got it and obviously for us to do what we did last year we had it. So now it’s us trying to keep adding to it.”

Eagles-Jaguars London game time and date set

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Eagles-Jaguars London game time and date set

Now, everything is official.

After finding out in January the Eagles are headed to London, the NFL on Thursday morning confirmed the time and dates for its three regular-season games overseas this season.

The Eagles will square off at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 28. Kick off is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Eastern time.

It will be the Eagles' first London game. Jacksonville has been playing in London in each of the past five seasons.

The other two games are the Titans and Chargers, played on Oct. 12, and the Seahawks and Raiders, set for Oct. 14. 

The NFL will announce its 2018 schedule Thursday night at 8 p.m.