The Eagles (1-0) are heading to Atlanta to face the Falcons (0-1) for the first time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Falcons were crushed last week 28-12 by the Vikings, but Doug Pederson isn’t buying into that result too much. He called the Falcons a “playoff caliber” team.
“Sometimes it's strange that way, how games unfold,” Pederson said. “I think it was 14 passes or something like that (just 10 actual passing attempts for Kirk Cousins) in that game. Obviously, the Vikings did a great job in the run game and doing some things there.
“But, again, this is a team that — they're going home, they're going to play in front of their crowd, a home opener for them. It's going to be a different atmosphere for us, but it's going to be a different team that we’re going to see. I can't speak for why it happened, but just what I saw on tape.”
Pederson noted a few times that this game is in Atlanta. The Eagles are 3-0 against the Falcons (including playoffs) in the Pederson Era, but all three games were at the Linc.
Here are five matchups to watch this Sunday:
Miles Sanders vs. Falcons’ run D
In the Falcons’ Week 1 loss, the Vikings ran for 172 yards against them and 111 of them came from Dalvin Cook. The Falcons are known for having good team speed on defense, but I found it surprising that Cook was able to get out to the edge for some of his biggest runs. A quick glance at the film showed some clear discipline issues of edge players losing contain and safeties getting fooled by misdirections.
Check out Cook’s rushing chart against the Vikings:
That’s why I think Sanders needs to have a big role in this game. The Eagles are going to utilize their RB committee, but Sanders is the guy who has the best chance to bounce outside, clear the edge and find room down the sideline. A few of these chunk plays would go a long way.
Jamon Brown vs. Fletcher Cox
The Falcons finally tried to fix their shaky offensive line in this last draft. They used two first round picks on offensive linemen and plugged them in at right guard (Chris Lindstrom) and right tackle (Kaleb McGary). But in his first game, Lindstrom already broke his foot and is now on IR. That means veteran Jamon Brown is expected to start at right guard in this game.
Fletcher Cox has faced Brown twice in the last two years, once when Brown was with the Giants, once when he was with the Rams. In those two games, Cox has six tackles and six QB hits. He was able to get pressure, even through double teams. And Cox had 1 1/2 sacks when these teams faced off in Week 1 last season.
To expand this even more, it’ll be interesting to watch the entire right side of the Falcons’ offensive line: Brown and McGary against Cox and Brandon Graham. Graham against the rookie could be huge.
Falcons’ receivers vs. Eagles' secondary
In Week 1, the Eagles gave up 380 yards and three touchdowns to Case Keenum, who was throwing to a bunch of unknown receivers. This week, they’ll face former league MVP Matt Ryan, who will be throwing to one of the most talented trios of receivers in the NFL: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley. This will not be easy.
The Eagles are going to rotate their corners again this week. That means Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones will rotate at the two outside positions and Avonte Maddox will likely man the nickel CB spot against Ridley.
Ryan, 34, is a former MVP but hasn’t been great against the Eagles recently. In three games (including the playoff game in 2017) against Jim Schwartz’s Eagles D, he has completed 61 of 112 passes (54.4 percent) for 728 yards (242.7 per game), with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He has a passer rating in those games of 73.07. To put that in perspective, his overall passer rating in the last four years is 105.1, so the Eagles have had his number.
In those three games against Schwartz’s defense, Jones has 29 catches (9.66 per game) for 405 yards (135.0) but zero touchdowns. Jones has hurt the Eagles, but they’ve managed to keep him out of the end zone, even on the last plays of games.
Carson Wentz vs. Dan Quinn
It was fun to watch Wentz air out passes to DeSean Jackson last week, but that’s not going to be as easy against the Falcons’ defense, which uses a ton of Cover 3. Quinn’s defense is designed to take away those deep plays. The Falcons are happy keeping everything in front of them. That doesn’t mean opportunities for deep shots won’t be there, but it does mean Wentz has to be willing to check down in this game and take what the defense gives him. We’ve seen Wentz be over-aggressive at times during his career; this game would be a bad time for that. This could be a big Zach Ertz game.
Quinn has taken over defensive coordinator duties this season. While that won’t change the defense in general terms, he will call a different game than previous DC Marquand Manuel and the Eagles have just one game on tape this year off of which to work.
Austin Hooper vs. Malcolm Jenkins
With all those big-name receivers on the Falcons’ offense, guess who led the Falcons in receiving in Week 1? Austin Hooper had nine catches (on nine targets) for 77 yards. Hooper was a Pro Bowler last year and his numbers have climbed in all three of his NFL seasons. If that continues in 2019, he’ll go over the 660 yards and four touchdowns he had last year.
In two career games against the Eagles, the Eagles have held Hooper in check. He has just four catches for 32 yards. Last year, the Eagles were among the league leaders in defense against TEs, giving up 67 catches for 697 yards and two touchdowns all season.
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