The Eagles vs. Falcons match-up in Week 2 of the NFL season promises to be great game. It pits two of the NFC’s best teams against each other along with the added byline of Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta.
This is also an early season test for both teams.
The Eagles beat a relatively weak Rams team and the Falcons were surprisingly dominated by the Bears in Week 1. Both squads have questions that need to be answered in order to find out exactly where they stand at this point.
The Eagles have beaten the Falcons in each of the past three seasons by an average of 18 points, including a 31-17 win in Philadelphia last year. I’m sure Atlanta is very aware that it appears the Eagles have their number.
But all streaks are bound to come to an end at some point. Will it be this week?
Since this is a national prime-time game, there will be many eyes watching the battle of these birds. Some people will watch just to see how Michael Vick does against his old team. Others will watch in hopes to see an entertaining game.
Eagles and Falcons fans will be watching, rooting, sweating, analyzing and overdosing on Rolaids for team-induced indigestion.
Many times there are certain aspects of games that people like to observe. Basically, they are the “games within the game.” What are some things to look for Sunday night?
For starters, here’s six things to keep an eye on…
Falcons RB Michael Turner vs. Eagles Linebackers
The Eagles defense was torched by the St. Louis Rams running game in Week 1. They gave up 169 yards on 25 carries which means every time the Rams ran the ball, they gained an average of 6.7 yards.
That’s terrible run defense.
The Eagles defensive line has changed to what defensive coordinator Jim Washburn calls a “Wide 9” technique. In a nutshell, the defensive ends line up further to the outside of the offensive tackles in order to get a better angle on the QB.
It’s also a one-gap scheme where the DTs and DEs attack up-field immediately with the goal of pressuring the QB quickly.
This puts more pressure on the Eagles’ young linebacker corps. Already a weak spot on the defense, they really have to maintain gap-control in the running game as well as cover tight-ends and running backs out of the backfield.
You could see several times last week against the Rams where the Eagles’ LBs overran their gaps and provided a wide open cut-back lane. This was painfully evident on the Rams’ first play from scrimmage when Steven Jackson went 47 yards for a TD.
Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, and Moises Fokou also have to show they can take on, and shed, blocks by offensive linemen.
The Falcons have an excellent running game with Michael Turner. He runs with good power and leverage and is difficult to stop. In Week 1, he rushed for 100 yards on 10 carries. That’s an outstanding average of 10 yards per touch!
And that was against a Bears defense with much better linebackers.
Turner didn’t play against the Eagles in last year’s game. He could end up being a huge factor for this one if the Falcons decide to try and exploit the Eagles’ run defense.
This will be a big test for Matthews and co.
Roddy White & Julio Jones vs. Nnamdi Asomugha & Asante Samuel
Roddy White is a premier receiver in the NFL. Last season he caught 115 passes for 1,389 yards and 10 TDs. He is both an excellent big play threat as well as a possession receiver.
In other words, he’s the total package.
On the other side is rookie WR Julio Jones. The Falcons traded up into the top 10 of April’s draft in order to select the gifted receiver.
Jones was a highly touted receiver coming out of Alabama. He has an excellent blend of size (6′ 3″, 220 lbs), speed (4.39 40-time), and athleticism. In Week 1 vs. the Bears, he caught five passes for 71 yards.
Even though Jones is a rookie, he is still a threat and capable of making big plays. The Eagles certainly can’t afford to sleep on this guy. White is still the man, but Jones could be even better in a year.
These two receivers will pose a dramatically different test for the Eagles’ cornerbacks. They’re basically the anti-Rams when it comes to wide receiver skills.
DeSean Jackson & Jeremy Maclin vs. Dunta Robinson & Brent Grimes
The Eagles’ cornerbacks aren’t the only ones who have a challenge on their hands. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin bring tremendous speed and skill that all secondaries have to respect.
Jackson had a good game in Week 1 when he caught six passes for 102 yards and one TD. His day could have been even better had he been able to haul-in what would have been an 87-yard TD pass.
You won’t see Jackson drop many of those.
Jeremy Maclin only caught one pass for 20 yards in the season opener but it was also his first real action after missing all of training camp and preseason while undergoing numerous tests for an unknown illness.
Last season, Maclin was the Eagles’ most consistent receiver when he hauled in 70 catches for 964 yards and 10 TDs.
Even though Maclin has good speed, he is still seen as the possession receiver. But don’t let that fool you because he can also break one at any time.
Jackson is the big-play threat. Everybody knows it. The question is, can you stop it?
Most times cornerbacks will get over-the-top help from a safety playing deep on Jackson. If the free safety plays too shallow and Jackson gets by him, it’s all over.
However, one way to defend Jackson is how Dunta Robinson did it in last year’s game between these two teams.
That is when Robinson knocked out, and concussed, Jackson with a vicious hit on a crossing pattern. If you can’t cover him, take him out of the game, right?
You can bet that Jackson will be wary of where Robinson is on Sunday night, especially if he ventures across the middle of the field.
Communication on Offense vs. Crowd Noise
In the Edwards Jones Dome, the Eagles offense had some trouble with communicating plays from the sideline. They were penalized three times for delay of game and had to burn two timeouts in order to avoid two more penalties.
I’m sure the noise in the stadium had something to do with it.
This week, the crowd will surely be in a frenzy at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It’s going to be loud, to put it mildly. Crowd noise can also impact communication along the offensive line as well.
Snap count and protection adjustments can be effected which leads to false start penalties or missed assignments that lead to big sacks.
The Eagles’ offensive line is still a fledgling unit and haven’t had enough time to gain the cohesiveness they need in order for times like this to run smoothly. This will be another big test in this area.
Michael Vick vs. Atlanta
When I say Michael Vick vs. Atlanta, I actually mean two things: their defense as well as his return to the town where his professional career began.
Atlanta had the 16th overall ranked defense in the NFL last season. However, they ranked 5th in points allowed, created 31 turnovers and scored three TDs.
The Falcons also signed DE Ray Edwards in the offseason in order to bolster a pass-rush that ranked 20th last season (31 sacks). However, starting defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, who has accounted for 10 sacks in the past two seasons, will miss this week’s game with a partially torn MCL.
Atlanta’s secondary is highlighted by CB Brent Grimes ans S William Moore. Both of these players recorded five interceptions in 2010.
If Grimes had hit the open market this past offseason, he would have been one of the top corners available. Moore is a young safety who is equally adept in pass coverage, run support, and can be an effective blitzer.
Michael Vick will have a bigger test this week than he did against the Rams. He’ll have to make accurate reads and be more patient with the football while his receivers work to get open against a better secondary.
He’s also needs to not press too much. Making his return to Atlanta for the first time as a starting QB, Vick will be hyped up and want to put on a show.
Pressing leads to bad decision making. The Eagles can’t afford for him to try forcing passes into tight coverage, hold the ball too long, take off running too early, or run too often.
There is a delicate blend to all those aspects of his game. When done well, Vick can play “lights out” (as he terms it). If not done well, the results could be disastrous.
Vick will also have to deal with the Atlanta crowd. You know they’ll be giving him a not-so-warm homecoming. I’m sure he has heard many things from people in the stands but with his emotions already being in overdrive, he needs to block out the the same fans who provoked him to do this…
Vick is a changed man since his Atlanta days. But while I’m sure he won’t display any of the kind gestures such as the above, he could be somewhat extra-sensitive to some vicious words from the home crowd.
Just keep it cool Mike, keep it cool.
The Eagles Need to Get Off to a Fast Start
Michael Vick and the offense need to put the Eagles out in front on the scoreboard early in this contest. They need to score early and often.
The Eagles’ run defense is very suspect right now. If the offense falters, it could allow for Michael Turner to have a day that fantasy owners drool over.
Don’t let Atlanta’s performance against Chicago lull you into thinking their offense can’t score. They have the talent to put up the points and control games with Turner.
Andy Reid’s philosophy will be put to the test this week. Score early and put the opponent in a position to where they have to pass the ball and allow the defense to wreak havoc.
If the Eagles are forced to play from behind and Atlanta can grind it out with their running game, things could get ugly.