Eagles-Falcons Preview: Are You Ready For Some Football?
After all those offseason moves and useless preseason games, the Eagles 2015 season is about to begin on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons.
It's hard to preview the first game of a new season, since it's hard to tell how different a team is from one season to the next. Most of the skill position players are different for the Eagles, so are last year's stats useless, or was it more about Chip Kelly's offensive scheme? Both teams had horrible defenses, but will the changes they made in coaching and players make a difference? Let's take a look at the matchups and find out.
Sam Bradford will be taking his first regular season snaps in almost two years, but he did look great in the preseason. His quick release is a perfect fit for Kelly's offense and the Falcons defense is the perfect opponent. The Falcons had the NFL's worst pass defense and worst overall defense last season and they might be just as bad this season. It remains to be seen how much of an impact new head coach Dan Quinn can make in his first year without all those great Seahawks players making him look good.
Eagles Offense Versus Falcons Defense
When Bradford throws the ball, his first read on most plays should be WR Jordan Matthews. Matthews had 872 yards receiving as a rookie with 8 TDs and will be covered by CB Robert Alford. The 5-10 Alford won't be able to handle the much bigger Matthews. It remains to be seen how the rest of the Eagles WR snaps will be split up and TE Zach Ertz won't be playing after summer sports hernia surgery. Expect to see plenty of RB Darren Sproles as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot. He is a matchup nightmare for any defense.
The Eagles offensive line has two new guards, but the Falcons won't present much in the way of a pass rush except for rookie DE Vic Beasley. It will be a good test to see if LT Jason Peters is still an elite pass protector. The rest of the line should be just fine as the Eagles will look to establish the run early to set up the pass to keep the pressure off Bradford. Plus, the Falcons' 22 sacks last season were fewer than any other team except the Cincinnati Bengals.
Leading that running game will be DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews against a Falcons defense that was 21st against the run in 2014. Both backs come into the season healthy, so both should get ample opportunities to shred the Atlanta defense. The only thing to watch is that Murray has a bit of a fumbling problem; losing six fumbles last season alone.
Falcons Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The Falcons offense is led by Matt Ryan and the passing game. Atlanta was 5th in passing, but only 24th in rushing offense last season and their offense should look the same again this season. Ryan threw for 4,694 yards and 28 TDs last season, so this will be a huge test for the rebuilt Eagles defensive secondary.
The premier matchup of the game will be WR Julio Jones against CB Byron Maxwell. The Eagles brought Maxwell in as a big-money free agent to lock down No. 1 receivers like Jones. Jones was 3rd in the NFL last season in both receptions and yards (1,593). It remains to be seen whether or not the Eagles have Maxwell shadow Jones all over the field. If they don't, I'll be covering my eyes every time CB Nolan Carroll tries to cover Jones, even with safety help over the top. And even though he's been hobbled during the preseason, Roddy White is still a dangerous receiver that the Eagles will have to watch.
The Falcons running game was terrible last season, so they'll be using rookie RB Tevin Coleman on Monday night. The entire Falcons team rushed for only 1,498 yards last season, while Murray rushed for 1,845 himself. Coleman was great in college, ranking second in the nation in 2014 with an average of 142.6 rushing yards per game, but now he's in the NFL behind a bad offensive line that's facing a good run defense. Don't expect much in the running game, but it will be interesting to see the Eagles LBs in coverage. Kiko Alonso hardly played in the preseason after missing all of last season and DeMeco Ryans looks slow after his Achilles injury. And OLB Brandon Graham still isn't good in coverage.
The Falcons line allowed Ryan to be sacked 31 times last season and they don't appear to be much better this season. LT Jake Matthews is just coming back from a back injury suffered in the preseason and things looked so bleak along the line that they just acquired LG Andy Levitre last week. Going up against the formidable front seven of the Eagles, this looks like the biggest mismatch of the entire game. Ryan might not have enough time to get the ball downfield to Jones.
Who will Julio Jones burn for a TD on Monday night?
The Eagles defense and special teams scored 11 TDs last season, which is nearly double the next closest teams, who had only six TDs. Seven of those TDs were scored by the special teams. With Darren Sproles returning punts, the Eagles are a threat to take one to the house any time. The one concern is the hamstring injury PK Cody Parkey nursed throughout the preseason. The Falcons have the steady Matt Bryant at PK, but what they won't have is Devin Hester returning punts and kickoffs. Hester has been ruled out for the game on Monday night, which is great news for the Eagles. Hester holds the NFL record for most punt return TDs (13 and combined return TDs (19).
Chip Kelly completely revamped his offense in the offseason, so the weight of this season is squarely on his shoulders. Kelly is 2-0 in season openers though, so he's got that going for him. Dan Quinn is in his first year as the Falcons head coach after having a bit of success running the Seattle defense. It's impossible to tell what kind of head coach Quinn will be just yet, since he couldn't bring his Seahawk players with him. Atlanta's offensive coordinator is Kyle Shanahan, who the Eagles got to see multiple times when he held the same role in Washington.
The game looks like a total mismatch in favor of the Eagles. The Atlanta defense will have trouble stopping the Eagles offense and their offensive line will have trouble keeping Ryan upright against an Eagles defense that was tied for second in the NFL with 49 sacks last season. The Falcons only hope is if the Eagles rebuilt secondary isn't very good and Julio Jones runs wild. Even then, they would have to outscore the Eagles offense and I just don't see that happening.
Eagles 34 - Falcons 24