Go back to the first three weeks of the year. The Eagles won as a team. The offense led the NFL in time of possession. It kept the defense off the field with long, time-consuming drives. The defense was fresh when it did get on the field that helped it play at a very high level. Special teams did its part by giving the offense favorable field position and not putting the defense in tough situations. Each part of the team helped the others.
Doug Pederson mentioned in a press conference this week the need for the Eagles to run the ball to try and keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense on the sidelines. Ryan is having an amazing year. His worst game so far came against the Chargers when he threw for 273 yards and had a rating of 87.0. The Falcons' worst game of the year was when they scored 23 points and that came against the elite Broncos defense. This is going to be a very tough test for the Eagles.
If Pederson can get his offense to run the ball and have sustained, methodical drives, that will help in a big way. Atlanta does not have a strong defense. The Falcons are 28th in points allowed and 26th in yards allowed. Statistically, they play the run better than the pass, but I think a big part of that is teams falling behind them and having to throw the ball to try and score points. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of over 100 against Atlanta this year so it is definitely vulnerable to the pass.
The way to go at the Falcons is to attack their linebackers. They start a pair of rookies and a converted defensive end. You go after those guys by running the ball, throwing to backs and tight ends, and also using wide receivers on crossing routes. The Eagles do all of those things, and do them pretty well. Wentz and the offense should have the chance to move the ball. It will be critical to score touchdowns when they get to the red zone. Atlanta has the worst red zone defense in the league. Teams score touchdowns on almost 79 percent of trips to the red zone. That is shockingly bad. Red zone struggles hurt the Eagles last week. The Giants lead the league in red zone defense and you could see why in that game. This week should be very different.
The Eagles' defensive line will have a chance to make a real impact in this game. Ryan is playing at an elite level, but all quarterbacks are affected by pressure. Atlanta likes to throw the ball downfield and that means five- and seven-step drops. Ryan has been sacked 22 times this year. He will hold the ball. The Eagles have a chance to get to him. Eli Manning got the ball out quickly last week, so the Eagles only had one sack. They have to come up with three or four this week to have a chance to beat Ryan.
Julio Jones is arguably the best receiver in the league. Going up against him will be a major challenge, but as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz pointed out this week, the Eagles have already faced some really good wideouts. Terrelle Pryor, Alshon Jeffrey, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. are all very good, if not great, players. There is no one defensive back who will shut down Jones. The Eagles have to double-team him and do creative things with their coverages. The problem that Jones presents is that he's so big, strong and talented that even when he's covered, he's open. Ryan isn't afraid to throw it to him in traffic and let Jones make a play. Ryan has great trust in his star receiver, and deservedly so.
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The Eagles also need to handle the Atlanta run game. In two of three losses, the Falcons ran for just 52 yards. As good as Ryan and Jones are, no team wants to be one-dimensional. Devonta Freeman is on pace to run for more than 1,000 yards this year and averages 4.7 yards per carry. The Eagles can't just sell out to stop the pass. They need to keep Freeman under control.
This is the first time the Eagles will be at home in the last few weeks. I'm sure playing in front of a fired-up crowd will give the Eagles a boost, something they will need to beat the high-flying Falcons to get to 5-4.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.