5 matchups to watch as Eagles face Falcons on Sunday Night Football

5 matchups to watch as Eagles face Falcons on Sunday Night Football

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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40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

The Eagles entered Monday night’s game with just three healthy wide receivers and after Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got hurt, they were down to just one. 

So who would have been the next guy in? 

Well, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was getting ready. 

“I was ready to go,” McCown told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark. “We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can’t have two green dots on the field at the same time.” 

McCown didn’t end up playing in Monday’s 23-17 overtime win. The Eagles got by with what they had, which meant playing third tight end Josh Perkins in several different spots. 

But the oldest player on the roster was ready. 

“We were ready to roll,” he said. “Shoot, I’d get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it.”

That game McCown was talking about was on Dec. 3, 2006. That was the last time he caught a pass in an NFL game. 

In that game, McCown caught two passes for 15 yards from Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. He also caught a 31-yard pass but it was brought back on an offensive pass interference call that he claimed was “a little suspect.” 

“Hopefully, I don’t get retroactively fined,” McCown said late Monday night, 13 years after the call. 

Is there a statute of limitations on that? 

Anyway, the fact that a 40-year-old McCown was even preparing to enter a game as a receiver is telling. First, about the injuries at that position. And, second, about the poor decision to go into a game with just three healthy receivers. 

Doug Pederson said the Eagles were hoping to have Nelson Agholor for the game, but he came in questionable and was inactive. 

At least they had McCown. 

“I’m not quite the option that J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) is or Greg (Ward), obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit,” McCown said. “Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll.”

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Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

It was Carson Wentz’s best stretch of football this year and it occurred under some of the most unusual circumstances you can imagine.

Tight ends playing receiver. Slot receivers playing outside. Practice squad guys in key roles.

A week after the Eagles blew a 14-point second-half lead to one two-win team, they rallied back from a 14-point second-half deficit against another two-win team.

And Wentz, after another slow start, finally looked like his old self.

Wentz not only rallied the Eagles back after they trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, he did it while throwing to Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – none of whom were even playing a month ago – as well as Zach Ertz.

It is not easy,” Ertz said. “As a quarterback, chemistry, trust and timing is the No. 1 thing, and he’s putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him. Being able to go out there, and it doesn’t really matter who is out there, NFC East opponent, down 17-3, and play his best football in that second half all year? I am extremely proud of him tonight with the way he led us.

Wentz threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ critical 23-17 overtime win over the Giants at the Linc.

But look at his numbers on the Eagles’ five drives during their late comeback: 21-for-28 for 226 yards with two TD passes to Ertz, including the game-winner in overtime.

You go into the game with three receivers and now you’ve got Greg Ward usually in the slot and he’s out there playing (outside)," Wentz said. "You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes I’ve never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays. They did a great job.

This was vintage Wentz. But it couldn’t have happened without guys making plays around him.

And it's been a while since we've seen that.

With Nelson Agholor out, Alshon Jeffery leaving with an early injury and Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews long gone, Wentz had to rally the Eagles back from 17-3 with guys he’s barely practiced with.

With a shot at the playoffs at stake.

Just keep believing,” Wentz said. “Keep believing and it’s time to make a decision how this is going to define us. Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, ‘Keep believing and keep staying together.’ Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win.

Wentz has had his issues this year, and he had his issues in the first half Monday night.

But it’s amazing how much better he looks when guys are actually catching footballs for him.

This was the first time the Eagles have come back from a 14-point halftime deficit since the 2014 opener, when they beat the Jaguars 34-17 after trailing 17-0.

Before that? Giants in 2010 at the Meadowlands. You might remember a DeSean Jackson punt return as time expired?

In all, the Eagles were 2-45 in their last 47 games when they trailed by at least 14 points at halftime.

Wentz was asked how big it was for him to win his first overtime game and engineer a rally from 14 down at halftime for the first time in his career.

This is huge for this whole team,” he said. “To come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game … and get the win and drive down to score right away? It’s huge for me personally and for this entire team.

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