Philadelphia Eagles News

Big Question: Can The Defense Lead The Way?

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Ahead of Saturday's Divisional Round showdown with the Atlanta Falcons, the PhiladelphiaEagles.com writers answer your questions below!

Dave Spadaro: We all hope the Eagles can strike early and take a lead and play with an advantage. That's the optimal scenario. But if you remember back to 2013, Foles brought the Eagles back from a 20-7 deficit in the playoff loss to New Orleans and he actually left the game with a lead. And this season, Foles came in when the Eagles trailed in Los Angeles and won the game. The Eagles trailed at New York and won. The Eagles trailed against Oakland in the second half and won that game to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Enough said.

Fran Duffy: The way I'd answer that question is that he already has taken the team back from an early deficit twice. He drove the Eagles to a lead against the Rams and then overcame a huge hole on the road against the Giants. Foles also drove the team on a potential game-winning drive in his last playoff start against the New Orleans Saints and left the game with a lead. Has he played to his standards the last two weeks? Of course not, but he is absolutely capable of playing better.

Chris McPherson: There are plenty of other examples. The season opener in 2014 against Jacksonville. The following week in Indianapolis. And he's done it this year as cited above to show that it's not just from the past. Watching the Panthers-Saints game on Sunday, it looked like New Orleans was going to run away with it. However, the Panthers showed how you must keep chipping away and that the game is never out of reach.

Fran Duffy: While Foles has not played well in the last couple weeks, the defense certainly has. The performance against the Raiders by the starting unit was huge. The outing against Dallas, albeit with mostly backups, was equally inspiring. The front four is going to be fresh for Saturday's game against Atlanta, and the defense has been so, so strong at home this season. There are a lot of reasons to be very optimistic about the defense going into the playoffs.

Dave Spadaro: I think the Eagles' defense is very well positioned to play great football in these playoffs. This is a rested group of players. They're healthy. They're hungry. And the Eagles match up very well with any offense out there now that Dannell Ellerbe is comfortable in the system as a two-down player at middle linebacker.

With a very strong front four and a secondary that is deep and lines up nicely with opposing passing games, the Eagles are going to be tough to beat. The key is to get off the field on third down and to give the offense some favorable field position. I'm excited to see the defense on the field. They've practiced well during the bye week. I think they understand the responsibility they have. And with a rabid crowd in South Philadelphia, the defense has a lot of things going in its favor.

Chris McPherson: The bye week and home-field advantage are two reasons to feel extremely optimistic about the state of the defense. Dave touched on the expanded role for Ellerbe, and I'll take it a step further. I'd compare it to the return of Jeremiah Trotter to the middle linebacker position toward the end of the 2004 campaign. Ellerbe is a thumper who brings a ferocious attitude to the run game which will be important against the duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. But the secondary is rested and ready for the challenge that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will bring to Philadelphia this weekend.

Dave Spadaro: There is no talk of "revamping" the offense. There might be some tweaks and adjustments and, of course, the Eagles are going to do all they can to take advantage of some favorable matchups to help the offense. But there won't be an overhaul. There is no time for it and, besides, the Eagles like their scheme.

It's going to come down to great playcalling and outstanding execution. That's how it works. The offense isn't going to all of a sudden become no-huddle all the time, for example. But there will be some changes. The Eagles have had a bye week to self scout and make adjustments.

Fran Duffy: That's the thing, I don't think they're going to need to completely revamp things schematically. Will they add some wrinkles into what they already do? Of course. But there are a lot of things that they already do in the passing game that work for Nick Foles. Last week, I went back and watched that 2013 playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, and I saw a handful of plays in that game alone that Foles has already run in the last four games this season. The Eagles will add things to the game plan, but I think that is something that they likely would've done anyway, regardless of who the quarterback is.

Chris McPherson: Thinking back to the Oakland game, there were some adjustments that made me wonder if the coaches were trying to see what they can do with Nick Foles. This system has worked for Foles in the past. The coaches have had three weeks essentially to craft a game plan that will work to Foles' strengths. I expect some tempo to help him get into a rhythm. I would expect some concepts to create well-defined throws. I also envision the running game being utilized to help take the pressure off of him. As offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Monday, it's going to take a team effort to beat the Falcons.

Fran Duffy: This is certainly an item of great importance. The starting offensive line didn't have a great performance in Week 17 in limited reps against Dallas. They gave up some pressures against stunts and twists from the Cowboys defense, allowing free defenders to get home to Foles. These stunts have hurt the Eagles over the last several weeks in more than a couple of games. The offensive line as a whole must tighten things up going into the postseason.

Dave Spadaro: Every quarterback needs help in the pocket. Foles isn't able to escape a lot of pressure, not to the level that Carson Wentz did, and the offensive line is going to see a lot of defenses playing pressure football starting with Atlanta. With three Pro Bowl linemen in Lane Johnson at right tackle, Jason Kelce at center, and right guard Brandon Brooks, the Eagles have an outstanding offensive line. They've got to create running lanes for Jay Ajayi and the backs and they have to hold up against the blitz game. Left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and left guard Stefen Wisniewski have to be outstanding against some of the trickery they will see.

Feel good about the offensive line. It's a strength that the Eagles intend to lean on in the postseason.

Chris McPherson: The bye week was big for getting Big V and Stefen Wisniewski healed up and ready to go. This is still an outstanding group even after losing Jason Peters. The Eagles know they must win in the trenches on both sides of the ball to come out of Saturday's game with the victory.

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