The Atlanta Falcons' road to the Super Bowl hit a bump last year in a November 13 loss at Lincoln Financial Field as the Eagles put one of their best efforts together in a 24-15 victory. While the offense played ground and pound to keep the ball out of the Falcons' explosive offense's control, Jim Schwartz's defense brought the heat.
Combining an attacking front and a sticky coverage scheme on the back end, the Eagles limited the Falcons, the best offense in the NFL in 2016, to just 11 first downs, 48 rushing yards, and two successful conversions on 11 third-down attempts.
But if you think Schwartz is taking that blueprint into Saturday's Divisional Round playoff game, you might want to think again. Atlanta's offense is different. The Eagles are different on defense. So the approach is going to be different.
"There are still a lot of challenges with that team," Schwartz said on Monday at his weekly news conference at the NovaCare Complex. "It goes well beyond a player like (wide receiver) Julio Jones. It goes well beyond the quarterback (Matt Ryan). Their tight end (Austin Hooper) is having a great year. Their running backs (Devonta Freeman, 865 yards; Tevin Coleman, 628 yards), if you combine their running back stats, you're talking about a first-team All-Pro, 1,500 yards, I think 12 touchdowns. We have to look at it that way.
"There are going to be a lot of challenges this week."
Atlanta showed it could control the football and eat up game clock in its Wild Card win over the Los Angeles Rams as Freeman and Coleman combined for 32 carries, 106 yards, and a touchdown. Atlanta had possession for 37:35 in the 26-13 road victory.
The Falcons, then, are a multi-pronged, extremely dangerous offense and Schwartz and his Eagles defense are preparing for, well, everything.
"It puts urgency on us. I like that," Schwartz said. "We're going to have to do a good job stopping the run, mainly because of the talent they have there."
Being at home, where the Eagles are 13-3 over the last two seasons, will help.
"I think you look side by side our home games and our road games and we're significantly better at home. That's why it was important for us to get home-field advantage," Schwartz said. "You take the travel out of the equation. It's tough on opponents when the fans are loud. I know our fans will be loud. It's tough on the opponents in a hostile environment and that's what Philly is. That's what the Linc is. It's been a great home-field advantage over the course of the season. It's not just the players on the field. The fans in the stands are going to mean an awful lot to coming out with a victory on Saturday."