5 matchups to watch as Eagles kick off season vs. Falcons

5 matchups to watch as Eagles kick off season vs. Falcons

The Eagles’ 2018 season is going to get off to a challenging start when they host the Falcons at the Linc on Thursday night. 

Of course, this is a rematch of the divisional round game when the Eagles took down the Falcons ,15-10, and went on to win the next two games and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. 

But it was close against Atlanta. And the Falcons are a really good team still. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Nick Foles vs. Cover 3

Dan Quinn comes from the Pete Carroll school of defense, which means we’re about to see a ton of Cover 3 on Thursday night. And Nick Foles has notably had a lot of success against these defenses. Our Andrew Kulp took at look at that before the divisional round in last year’s playoffs (see story).

After beating the Falcons in January, Foles is now 4-0 against Cover 3 defenses, which — in layman terms — is a zone concept with three defensive backs. The Falcons don’t hide what they do. They just play and Pederson said it’s a tough defense to scheme against. 

Foles wasn’t great in that divisional round game, but he was efficient and didn’t make major mistakes. Foles completed 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards and didn’t throw a TD or an INT.  (He also got helped when Keanu Neal let a pass bounce off his knee and into Torrey Smith’s hands.) Foles was the only QB to complete at least 76 percent of his passes in a playoff game last year — he did it twice. 

Julio Jones vs. Jalen Mills

Mills had a really good game in that divisional round and didn’t let Jones beat him for a jump ball at the end of the game. If Jones comes down with that ball, the Falcons win and the Eagles’ season is viewed much differently. 

Jones still got his in that game, though. He caught nine passes for 101 yards, but Mills and the Eagles’ corners were still able to minimize his impact on the game. 

Mills, in his third season, is coming off a great summer and preseason. He was a seventh-round pick a few years ago, but he deserves to be starting and will face a big test early. 

Falcons run game vs. Eagles LBs

This one is especially interesting because the Eagles don’t have Nigel Bradham for this game. That means the Eagles are likely going to start Jordan Hicks, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry. Normally, the Eagles spend most of their games in nickel, but the Falcons use a fullback and use two-running back sets, so it’ll probably force the Eagles to stay in their base defense more than they’d like. For perspective, Dannell Ellerbe played 23 snaps in the playoff game against the Falcons last year. 

The good news for the Eagles is that they shut down Devonta Freeman in that game (7 yards on 10 carries), but Tevin Coleman had 79 yards on 10 carries. 

The Falcons also throw to their backs out of the backfield, but with two former safeties playing linebacker — KGH and Gerry — the Eagles might be uniquely positioned to stop the passing game to running backs. But can they stop the run? 

Jason Peters vs. Vic Beasley

The future Hall of Famer hasn’t played a game since he tore his ACL against Washington last season. The Eagles say they didn’t need to see him in the preseason and that practice was enough. Obviously, Peters is a veteran and his teammates have no doubt he’ll be great as long as he’s on the field. 

He’ll be welcomed back by quite a challenge in Beasley. The former first-round pick, in his fourth season, played linebacker last season but will be back at defensive end this year. After just 5.0 sacks in 2017, he’s hoping to put up numbers like he did in 2017, when he had 15.5 sacks to lead the NFL. 

Jay Ajayi vs. Falcons run D

The Eagles weren’t able to run over the Falcons in the playoff game, but they clearly wanted to use Ajayi a ton. He got 15 carries, while LeGarrette Blount got just nine. Ajayi (foot) returned to practice this week and will play Thursday; if he’s healthy, expect him to play a lot. 

A big game for Ajayi starts with the offensive line, but it could really help take some of the pressure off Foles. 

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Snubbed Eagle Lane Johnson added to Pro Bowl team as alternate

Snubbed Eagle Lane Johnson added to Pro Bowl team as alternate

Lane Johnson is a Pro Bowler after all.

Johnson, snubbed in the original Pro Bowl announcement, has been added to the NFC Pro Bowl team as an alternate, according to Adam Caplan of Sirius XM Radio.

This is Johnson’s third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. There was no word on which offensive lineman dropped out of the game.

It was a little surprising that Johnson didn't make the team initially. He's considered one of the NFL's most dominating right tackles and was a first-team all-pro in 2017.

He didn't seem thrilled when the original team was announced a month ago:

Johnson missed the last three games of the regular season and the playoff loss to the Seahawks with a high ankle sprain, and it’s unknown whether he’ll be able to play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday in Orlando.

But for the purposes of bonuses and status, he’s now officially a three-time Pro Bowler.

Johnson becomes the seventh offensive lineman in Eagles history selected to three or more Pro Bowls.

Jason Peters was picked to seven between the 2009 and 2016 seasons. Tra Thomas, Bob Brown, Bucko Kilroy, Jason Kelce, Jim Ringo and Brandon Brooks have all been picked to three.

The 29-year-old Johnson becomes the Eagles’ sixth Pro Bowler, joining Brooks, Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz and Rick Lovato.

Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, recently signed a contract extension that runs through 2025.

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Jim Caldwell out as Dolphins QBs coach, possible OC candidate for Eagles

Jim Caldwell out as Dolphins QBs coach, possible OC candidate for Eagles

On Monday night, the Dolphins announced their 2020 coaching staff and there was a notable omission.

No Jim Caldwell.

So now the 65-year-old former head coach, OC and quarterbacks coach has plenty of free time if the Eagles want to interview him for their offensive coordinator opening (if they haven’t already).

According to ESPN, Caldwell is interested in coaching after missing the 2019 season for health reasons.

Shortly after the Eagles fired Mike Groh earlier this month, ESPN’s Tim McManus mentioned Caldwell and Kevin O’Connell as candidates. O’Connell has since joined the Los Angeles Rams as their offensive coordinator, a position that is somewhat like the one in Philly because the head coach is the primary play-caller.

Earlier on Monday, we learned that USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who interviewed with the Eagles, is expected to return to Southern California for next season. So cross him off the list.

Caldwell is an intriguing name because of his history with quarterbacks. It would make sense for the next offensive coordinator to be someone who could have a positive influence on Carson Wentz as he enters what should be the prime of his career.

While candidates like Harrell and Chiefs offensive coordinator Mike Kafka are fast-risers in the coaching world, Caldwell has been coaching longer they’ve been alive. He has an impressive resume.

Caldwell has been an NFL head coach twice (Colts and Lions) and was the quarterbacks coach with the Colts from 2002-08. Peyton Manning went to nine straight Pro Bowls with Caldwell coaching him.

The Eagles are taking their time choosing a coach but their brass is in Mobile, Alabama, this week for the Senior Bowl and that can often be an opportunity to meet with several coaches within a few days. It would make plenty of sense if Caldwell is on their list; and now his schedule should be wide open.

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