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Lawlor: The Blueprint For Victory

Posted Nov 12, 2016

The Atlanta Falcons are in town for a big game Sunday. They are 6-3 and have the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, so this is going to be a big challenge for the Eagles. Your first thought is to think about how Jim Schwartz and his defense will try to stop Atlanta. The Eagles' offense could also play a key role in that.

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.

Carson Wentz and the offense need to score points on Sunday. You aren't going to be the Falcons with 14 or 17 or 20 points. You need to get into the mid-20s to have a realistic chance to win. It will be important for Wentz to make some plays in the passing game. Last week, the Eagles attacked vertically. This week it might be smarter to focus on ball control. If you score quickly, it gets the Falcons right back on the field. They are comfortable in shootouts. They have won five games where the opponent scored 28 or more points. You need to move and score against them, but sustaining drives is also important. Turn Ryan into a spectator.

The passing game got a boost last week from Bryce Treggs. It will be interesting to see if he is more involved this week. His speed is obvious, with Treggs getting behind the Giants' defense twice on passes that came his way. The Eagles completed one of those for 58 yards. The Falcons' defense will pay more attention to Treggs. They have seen what he can do. That might open up some underneath throws. I hope the Eagles feed the ball to tight ends again this week. Trey Burton and Zach Ertz played really well against the Giants. Throwing the ball to them also puts a lot of stress on linebackers. Do they focus on the run or covering the tight ends? You can't do both at the same time. The run game helps the pass game.

Darren Sproles has been the featured runner in recent weeks. The Eagles need to get the ball more to the other backs. There is nothing wrong with going "running back by committee," as it is known. The Eagles need to give more touches to the entire group. Last week, there were 25 touches. In the team's 3-0 start, running backs averaged 32 touches per game. You want to feed the ball to your backs. It can be run or pass. It can be a workhorse or spread among a group of players. You just need to make sure you feed the backs.

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.

It looks like Bennie Logan will play this week. That would be a big boost to the defense. Beau Allen has done a good job in his absence, but adding Logan helps the starting unit and the defensive line rotation. Logan is a better player than Allen so adding him makes the starters better. Having Allen come off the bench makes the rotation better. That should mean fewer snaps for the defensive tackles. Hopefully, it will also mean more production. That group has been a little quiet recently. Fletcher Cox remains a disruptive force on the inside, but he hasn't had a sack since early October. He needs to make more plays.

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

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