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.

Ominous injury news for Alshon Jeffery

Ominous injury news for Alshon Jeffery

Updated: 4:20 p.m.

The Eagles’ wide receiving corps, already in shambles, is now without Alshon Jeffery, who reportedly suffered a season-ending injury in the win over the Giants Monday night.

The oft-injured Jeffery was carted off the field after suffering a non-contact injury in the ankle or Achilles area early in the second quarter.

Head coach Doug Pederson declined to specify exactly what the injury is at his day-after presser, but he did say it’s “more significant” than a week-to-week injury. At this point in the season, it's no surprise that this is a season-ending injury for the 29-year-old Jeffery.

Pederson said he was waiting for more test results later Monday before saying anything more definitive, but it didn't sound good.

He did allow that, “We have to do a course of action, a plan, with him here pretty soon probably,” which presumably means placing Jeffery on Injured Reserve and figuring out how to replace him.

Jeffery's season ends after he played just 10 games. He finished with 43 catches for 490 yards and 4 touchdowns. 

Complicating matters is the continued absence of Nelson Agholor, the Eagles’ other starting wide receiver. He missed the Giants game with a knee injury he suffered in the Dolphins game a week ago, and Pederson said there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready to play against the Redskins.

“That one’s still up in the air,” he said. “We’ve just got to continue to work through his injury and where he’s at and continue to have conversations with him and see where he is prior to this week.”

With Jeffery out and Agholor’s status unknown, the Eagles have just two healthy wide receivers — J.J. Arcega Whiteside and Greg Ward, who have 19 combined career catches. Tight end Josh Perkins, who can also play in the slot, has 13 career receptions.

Things got so bad Sunday the Eagles were preparing backup quarterback Josh McCown to play wide receiver when Arega-Whiteside left the game. McCown played some receiver with the Lions in 2006. He’s now 40.

Most likely, the Eagles will add one and perhaps two wide receivers this week. Marken Michel, Marcus Green and Robert Davis are on the practice squad, and Jordan Matthews is always on Howie Roseman’s speed dial.

This late in the season it's difficult to bring in somebody from outside who hasn't been in this offense either in training camp or during the season.

“We definitely have a couple guys on practice squad if we have to make a move,” Pederson said. “Obviously, we could look outside the building if we need to. But we’re going to work through that today and try to get something in place here pretty quick. We’re back on the field (Tuesday).”

Jeffery has been in and out of the lineup with injuries for much of the last two years. The one-time Bears Pro Bowler had only 43 catches for 490 yards and four TDs in 10 games this year.

Pederson said right tackle Lane Johnson is week-to-week with a sprained ankle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who finished the game Monday night at right tackle, will start against the Redskins Sunday. Pederson didn’t have a timetable on Johnson’s possible return.

The rest of the injury news was a little more positive.

Rookies Arcega-Whiteside and Miles Sanders, who both missed snaps Monday night, are “fine,” according to Pederson.

Cornerback Jalen Mills, who hurt his elbow, “should be OK,” Pederson said: “The only thing you’ll see probably is a brace on his elbow. Other than that he’s good.”

More on the Eagles

Carson Wentz reveals his baby’s gender in classic Carson Wentz style

Carson Wentz reveals his baby’s gender in classic Carson Wentz style

Did we expect anything less from Carson Wentz?

If you haven’t been following our beloved quarterback’s personal life, Carson Wentz and his wife Madison announced on Thanksgiving morning that they are expecting their first child. 

On Tuesday, Wentz posted an Instagram video from their gender reveal party, where the couple found out the sex of their baby in the most Wentz way possible — by throwing a football full of colored powder into the air and skeet shooting it down to reveal the colored powder.

The football doesn’t lie. It’s a girl! 

Baby Girl Wentz is due this spring and we can’t wait. Let’s begin the name guessing now.