If the Eagles were going to upset the Falcons, they had to keep the ball out of Matt Ryan's hands. Which meant they had to run the ball well.
Both those things happened.
If the Eagles were going to upset the Falcons, they had to pressure Ryan without blitzing too much. And the secondary had to recover after last week's mess at the Meadowlands.
Both those things happened too.
Ryan Mathews — remember him? — rushed seven times for 34 yards on the Eagles' opening drive. His 4-yard TD was the Eagles' first on their initial drive since Week 1 vs. Cleveland.
Mathews finished with 109 yards rushing on 19 carries, an average of 5.7 per pop (see standout plays from the win).
"I've always had confidence Ryan Mathews," head coach Doug Pederson said after his team improved to 5-4 with a 24-15 victory (see Instant Replay). "I think what you saw today is the guy I kept seeing, the guy we all wanted to see, and I fully had confidence in him as I do Darren (Sproles) and Wendell (Smallwood) and Kenjon (Barner). Put the ball in his hands, and he did a nice job today."
After two fourth quarter fumbles in three weeks, Mathews spent much of the last two games watching Sproles as the primary rusher. But his absence was more due to an infected tooth than anything else.
"The Dallas game, he had a root canal the next day," Pederson said. "He couldn't put a helmet on the Cowboy game. And then we kept with Darren the next week. Ryan was still a part of the bigger picture."
Which resumed Sunday. Smallwood had 13 carries for 70 yards, and Sproles' role was primarily as a receiver. He had two runs for 19 yards and eight catches on 10 targets for 57 yards.
The Eagles called 34 run plays, 42 pass plays, rushed for a season-high 208 yards (most since 2014 at Dallas when they had 256) and dominated the time of possession category, 38:10 to 21:50 (more on all that here).
"That's an explosive offense on that side," Pederson said. "I felt coming into this football game that we were going to have to possess the ball, and in order to do that, I thought the running game ws going to be a huge factor."
As was the defense, which limited Atlanta to season lows in points (15) and several other categories (see story).
Through three quarters, the Falcons had nine points. Through three quarters, Matt Ryan's longest completion was 29 yards. He had just 149 yards passing (see Roob's 10 observations from the win).
Yes, that number ballooned when Leodis McKelvin bit on a stop-and-go on Taylor Gabriel's 76-yard TD reception. But for someone who's been hampered by a bum hamstring all season, he played OK. Earlier he had Gabriel blanketed on a bomb and on the play almost had a pick. And after dropping another, he finally came down with one to seal the game.
The secondary was solid, and that was at least partly because the D-line pressured Ryan, who finished just 18 for 33 passing for 267 yards and a pedestrian passer rating of 78.7.
He was sacked twice and hit six times. The Eagles were able to pressure without blitzing often, which allowed them to drop more defenders into coverage.
"If we could try to get pressure with four guys — it was much like the Pittsburgh Steelers plan a little bit with Ben (Roethlisberger)," Pederson said. "With Bennie back today (Logan missed three games with a groin injury), it was a chance to have eight fresh guys and rotate the defensive line there and put as much pressure with the front four as we could."
Other notes from Pederson's postgame press conference:
Caleb Sturgis' late 48-yard field goal
Pederson, on 4th-and-2 from the Atlanta 30, left the offense out there before (coming to his senses?) calling timeout and sending in the field goal unit.
"Obviously my gut instinct was to possibly go for it and win the game," Pederson said.
The Eagles were up 21-15 with two minutes left. Sturgis had hit field goals from 25 and 29 yards but missed a 44-yarder (wide right) and a 55-yarder (short).
So after further review, Pederson and special teams coach Dave Fipp had Sturgis kick it.
"Coach Fipp was standing next to me and we were both on the same page with that decision," Pederson said.
Where's the flag?
In the fourth quarter, rookie safety Keanu Neal drilled Jordan Matthews with a helmet-to-facemask hit (see it here).
And somehow there was no flag.
Did you get an explanation?
“No. No," Pederson said.
Did you ask for one?
"I did," he said. "Just … yeah. Next question."
On the final play of the third quarter, Mathews was brought down just short of the goal line, and the Eagles did not challenge.
"We didn't get a clean look on the play, and the indications from upstairs with the replays we got — just everything was short of the goal," Pederson said.