Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles face another tough test in Week 8 when they take on the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons in Battle of the Birds Part II. If the defense can take away the middle of the field, they’ll not only win the game, but they’ll cover the one-point spread on the game as provided by SportsBetting.ag.
The Falcons have a dynamic, well-balanced offense led by Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan and two prolific receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones. When you sprinkle in the ageless Tony Gonzalez, who’s having an outstanding season, it makes for the 8th-ranked passing offense in the NFL.
After taking a look at the Falcons, one thing stood out to me: Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ passing game is all about the middle of the field.
Through 6 games this season Ryan has passed has completed a total of 160 passes for 1,756 yards and 14 TDs. Interestingly, 93 of those completions for 1,070 of those yards and 9 of those touchdowns came on passes completed in the middle portion of the field.
Cumulatively, that equates to just over 60% of Ryan’s total statistics. Ryan’s QB rating for passes anywhere in the middle of the field is 105.3. His rating for everywhere else on the field is just 93.
To be clear, when I say middle of the field, I’m talking about anywhere from a dump-off behind the line of scrimmage, to a deep down-field pass. With that said, Ryan’s favorite area of the field is up to 19 yards down the field.
From the line of scrimmage to 19 yards down-field, Ryan has completed 70 of 98 passes for 778 yards and 4 TDs. Who’s his favorite target in this area? Tight end Tony Gonzalez.
It’s fair to say that most quarterbacks have better success when throwing over the middle because those are the easier throws to make. But, just for the sake of a quick comparison, Michael Vick’s QB rating for over-the-middle passes is just 72.1.
I don’t think anyone will argue that Ryan is a better overall QB than Vick, but that is a drastic difference in efficiency in passing in an area of the field that many would consider to be the easier passes to complete.
So, what does all of this mean? It means that we will need good games by the Eagles’ linebackers and safeties. They’ll need to take away the middle of the field as much as possible and force Ryan to beat them on the outside.
DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will need to take away the short-intermediate passes while Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman take away the deep middle. If these guys come up big in these areas, it will allow Nnamdi Asomugha and DRC to do their thing on the outside.
Obviously, this is easier said than done because Gonzalez, White and Jones are a physical set of receivers. However, if they can at least limit them, the Eagles will stand a much better chance of winning.
On offense, the keys for the Eagles are just two things: don’t turn the ball over and run LeSean McCoy like a workhorse. In a game with potentially bad weather, these two things become even more important.
I just hope Reid and Mornhinweg don’t try to outsmart everybody by excessively passing the ball in hurricane-like weather. And if there is serious inclement weather, that might be the best defense against the Falcons passing attack as well.
*Stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus