Philadelphia Eagles News

Big Question: Previewing The Falcons-Eagles NFL Kickoff Event

Dave Spadaro: It's going to be a challenge, but the Eagles have to take the energy from the stadium and harness it and maintain it for 60 minutes. I like what running back Jay Ajayi said the other day when he talked about the emotion. He said the team that plays the most sound football in the second half of the game will win it. Emotions are going to be high for both teams. There's going to be a "feeling-out" period for a bit because, let's face it, neither team looked particularly good in the preseason and the starters didn't get much time together. I think the Eagles and Falcons will play a competitive first half and then we'll see what happens in the second half.

I don't expect a repeat of 2003 when the Eagles opened Lincoln Financial Field and Sylvester Stallone made an appearance and then the team played a lousy game in a 17-0 loss to Tampa Bay. I think this Eagles team is ready to handle the emotions. 

Fran Duffy: That's a loaded question and one that all the best coaches find ways to answer. Emotion is hard to avoid in football, but the best teams can avoid riding the waves that come with the highs and lows of a given season. Focusing on the details, honing in on one game at a time, and shutting out all of the surrounding noise all sound like clichés, but they are all very relevant when it comes to staying focused in situations like this. I think Doug Pederson will have his team ready to do all of the above on Thursday night.

Chris McPherson: I think back to Doug Pederson's press conference on Sunday when he was animated with the media about the Nick Foles report. That to me set the tone for the week. It's back to business. The players asked to remove the Super Bowl sign from the locker room. They were tired in the summer of talking about the championship. They've talked all offseason about being the hunted and embracing that. I think Pederson prepared his team for the emotional aspect as much as he could. I love what Foles said about strictly being focused on the game and not worrying about seeing the banner being revealed. Defensive end Brandon Graham admits he'll take pride in seeing it, but the taste of winning one makes him want to get another.

When it comes to the X's and O's, Fran has that aspect covered in his Eagle Eye series. The question now is what new wrinkles have the Eagles been working on behind the scenes now that practices aren't open to the media? I can't wait to find out.

Fran Duffy: First, keep in mind that the Eagles will only play with three linebackers on the field for about 30 percent of the snaps, if that, in any given game. Kendricks did have a solid season last year, especially after Hicks' injury, but with his cap number being what it was, it made sense to move on. Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was named a captain this week for his work on special teams, is a better athlete than Kendricks and offers more in the third phase of the game. Nathan Gerry is another player who has made big strides throughout his young career as a converted college safety. I'm excited to see what both Grugier-Hill and Gerry bring to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night.

Dave Spadaro: Having Jordan Hicks on the field means everything to the defense. That said, losing Nigel Bradham hurts a whole lot more than having Mychal Kendricks gone. The Eagles will go with a lot of two-linebacker personnel groupings, using Malcolm Jenkins as a quasi-linebacker and inserting Corey Graham into a safety spot. It's fair to worry about the Atlanta passing game involving the running backs. This is an outstanding screen team. Atlanta brings a lot of weapons to the table for this game. The Eagles have to stop the run and put quarterback Matt Ryan in third-and-long situations and then get after him, as they did in the NFC Divisional Round last season. I look forward to seeing Grugier-Hill in action. He had a strong preseason. I'm just not sure how much playing time he'll actually have. As for Hicks, he knocked off some rust in the preseason, but I'm not sure he's all the way to where he was before the injury. Only the regular season and his performance can answer that.

Chris McPherson: All preseason long, the depth in the secondary was in the spotlight. Why not use that to their advantage? I wouldn't be surprised to see the dime (six defensive backs) personnel mixed in against the Falcons because of Jenkins' versatility. I truly believe that even though is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, Jenkins is vastly underrated. Either that or the big nickel with Graham in and Jenkins can play the slot if needed.

Chris McPherson: Defensive coordinators around the league have had the offseason to see what they can come up with to slow down the RPO game. Well, I think this is the Eagles' chance to see what they're going to do to stay ahead of the curve. The Eagles lost some quality coaches in the offseason in Frank Reich (Colts head coach) and John DeFilippo (Vikings offensive coordinator), but don't dismiss what new offensive coordinator Mike Groh and new quarterback coach Press Taylor bring to the table. And, of course, this is still orchestrated by Coach Pederson. Foles talked about getting into a rhythm, a zone the other day. The RPO and a strong run game are good ways to help ease him into the game. The Falcons' defense is fast and aggressive up front, much like the Eagles' unit. Use that against them.

Dave Spadaro: A ton. That's what works for this offense and for quarterback Nick Foles. I think the offense wants to establish the running game and grind it out against Atlanta, but the Eagles want to keep the Falcons off balance and using the RPO-based attack is a good way to do it.

Fran Duffy: The RPO will always be a part of what Doug Pederson and his coaching staff use to attack defenses, it would be crazy for it not to be. In some games, like the Super Bowl, it won't be a major part of the game plan. In others, like against Atlanta in the Divisional Round, it will be. Just like any other aspect of the offense, Pederson and his staff will mix it in on a week-to-week basis, as both Nick Foles and Carson Wentz have shown the ability to succeed running those schemes.

Chris McPherson: Surprised you're not there already.

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