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Eagles-Falcons Preview: Rolling Out the Welcome "Matt"

Updated on November 10, 2016

It's appropriate that both teams are birds, because when the Atlanta Falcons visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the ball is going to be flying around quite a bit. Yes, I know the football is actually a pigskin, but "when pigs fly" really didn't work for me as an introductory sentence to this preview.

This is a game of opposites, actually. The Falcons have one of the best offenses in the entire NFL, thanks to an MVP-caliber season from their QB and the best WR in the NFL, but their defense is among the worst. Meanwhile, the Eagles offense has struggled with a rookie QB and not much talent at the skill positions, while the defense has been very good.

The two teams are also going in opposite directions, as the Falcons (6-3) have won two in a row, while the Eagles (4-4) have lost two in a row and four of their last five overall. Anyway, let's take a look at the matchup.

Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz needs to improve
Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz needs to improve

Eagles Offense Versus Falcons Defense

After a great start to his NFL career, Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz is struggling. He had a 103.5 QB rating through the first 4 games, but has a 72.4 QB rating in his last 4. The main difference is turnovers. Luckily for Wentz, the Falcons only have 6 INTs on the season. And while the Eagles total offense is ranked only 25th in the NFL (333.4 yards per game) and their pass offense is ranked a lowly 28th (225.6 ypg), the Falcons defense is 26th overall (381.1 ypg) and 31st against the pass (289.9 ypg). Wentz might have to throw a lot to keep up with the high-powered Atlanta offense, so he needs to cut down on the turnovers.

Yes, the Falcons pass defense is bad, but it's not like the Eagles have any weapons that will be able to take advantage of Atlanta's weak secondary. When a rookie WR, who has played all of one game, is your one and only deep threat on offense, you know you're in trouble. Bryce Treggs will get more snaps so Wentz actually has somebody to throw to deep, while Jordan Matthews and TE Zach Ertz work the underneath routes. Ertz finally got into the offense last week and he's going to be covered by rookie safety Keanu Neal this week. The Atlanta secondary will also be missing veteran CB Desmond Trufant, so second-year CB Jalen Collins will replace him. This will be the Eagles receivers' best chance at a big game this whole season.

Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz
Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz

RB Darren Sproles is usually the smallest guy on the football field, but he's carrying a big load for the Eagles. Sproles is clearly the lead back for the Eagles now that the coaching staff doesn't trust Ryan Mathews not to fumble. So far, the diminutive Sproles has held up to the additional workload, but he won't last the year at this rate. The Eagles run offense is a respectable 17th (107.8), but the Falcons run defense is ranked 7th (91.2). But that ranking is deceiving. Atlanta has faced the 4th fewest rushes in the NFL, mainly because other teams are always playing from behind and are forced to abandon the run.

The Eagles need to fight the urge to get pass-happy in this game. The Eagles offense plays better when they are more balanced. Plus, if the Eagles can run a ball-control offense, that keeps Atlanta's offense off the field. The Eagles are still without LG Alan Barbre and RT Lane Johnson, so Stefen Wisniewski starts at LG and rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai starts at RT. Atlanta's front four are not very good without DE Dwight Freeney, who is out with a quad injury, but their LBs are pretty good. Rookie MLB Deion Jones is very good and OLB Vic Beasley Jr. is 5th in the NFL with 7.5 sacks. He'll be rushing on Vaitai's side. Watch out Carson.

Atlanta Facocns QB Matt Ryan: MVP?
Atlanta Facocns QB Matt Ryan: MVP?

Falcons Offense Versus Eagles Defense

Atlanta QB Matt Ryan is the front-runner for NFL MVP through the first half of the season. He leads the NFL in passing yards (2,980), TDs (23) and yards per completion (13.7). He is also 2nd in QB rating (119.0) and has only thrown 4 INTs. That helps explain why the Falcons have the 2nd ranked offense (429.2 ypg) and the NFL's highest scoring team (33.9 points per game). The Eagles defense will have its hands full, but they are ranked 6th overall (325.5 ypg), 6th against the pass (218.4 ypg) and 6th in scoring (18.1 ppg). Normally, you would think a QB who plays in a dome would be bad outdoors on the road, but Ryan is actually playing a bit better on the road this season than he is at home.

Of course, it doesn't hurt for a QB to have one of the best WRs in the NFL on his team and that's exactly what Ryan has in Julio Jones. Jones leads the NFL with 970 yards receiving. He's had over 100 yards in 3 of the last 4 games. And he has 5 TDs. I would say that the Eagles should do everything in their power to make sure that CB Nolan Carroll covers Jones and not Leodis McKelvin, but the Falcons move Jones around and are sure to pick on McKelvin. McKelvin was so bad last week against the Giants he got benched for rookie Jalen Mills. WR Mohamed Sanu is also having a nice season opposite Jones, due to all the single coverage.

Julio Jones Highlights

The Falcons 10th ranked rushing attack (114.2 ypg) is led by RB Devonta Freeman. Freeman's 620 rushing yards are 9th most in the NFL. He is also a threat out of the backfield, so MLB Jordan Hicks is really going to have his hands full this week. Backup RB Tevin Coleman is almost as good as Freeman, but he hasn't practiced all week due to a hamstring injury. The Eagles are ranked 18th against the run (107.1 ypg) but that number is skewed by giving up 230 yards rushing to the Redskins.

The Falcons offensive line is only average. They have given up 22 sacks, which is tied for 5th most allowed in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Eagles are 5th in the NFL with 23 sacks. DE Brandon Graham and DT Fletcher Cox both have four, but Cox has been largely silent the last few games. This week he'll have a tough test. Atlanta center Alex Mack is a Pro Bowler who gives Ryan the ability to step up into the pocket and into his throws. Cox will need to change that on Sunday.

Philadelphia Eagles RB Darren Sproles is due for a punt return TD
Philadelphia Eagles RB Darren Sproles is due for a punt return TD

Special Teams

The Eagles have the best special teams in the entire NFL. They are first in starting field position after kickoff (29.8) and opponent average field position after kickoff (22.5). They are the only team with a kickoff return for a TD this season and they have two. And Darren Sproles is overdue for a punt return TD. Eric Weems is a decent enough return man for Atlanta, but he's nothing special (pun intended). The Eagles even have the advantage at kicker, as Caleb Sturgis has made 20 of his 22 FG attempts and one of the misses was blocked. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant is a veteran who has only missed one of his FGs this season, but had a lowly 77.8% conversion rate last season kicking in a dome half the time.

What stupid thing will Doug Pederson do this week?

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Coaches

The Eagles have the best special teams in the entire NFL. They are first in starting field position after kickoff (29.8) and opponent average field position after kickoff (22.5). They are the only team with a kickoff return for a TD this season and they have two. And Darren Sproles is overdue for a punt return TD. Eric Weems is a decent enough return man for Atlanta, but he's nothing special (pun intended). The Eagles even have the advantage at kicker, as Caleb Sturgis has made 20 of his 22 FG attempts and one of the misses was blocked. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant is a veteran who has only missed one of his FGs this season, but had a lowly 77.8% conversion rate last season kicking in a dome half the time.

Eagles fans won't make a happy homecoming for Matt Ryan
Eagles fans won't make a happy homecoming for Matt Ryan

The Prediction

The Falcons are among the elite teams in the NFL and the Eagles are looking like a rebuilding team we all through they were before the season started. The 3-0 start for the Eagles is a distant memory and Wentz looks like a rookie who started all of 23 games in college. Normally you would favor a team hosting a dome team, but the Falcons are 4-1 on the road this season. Plus, the Falcons have had extra rest after playing the Thursday night game in Week 9.

The best the Eagles can hope for here is to get a few turnovers and keep it close. I just don't see how the Eagles offense can score enough points to keep up with the high-powered Atlanta offense, led by Matt Ryan who is from the Philly area.

Falcons 34 - Eagles 24

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