To an extent, Michael Vick, the Eagles and the Falcons have been through this before. The one-time king of Atlanta banished to prison, leaving a quarterback-less franchise in his wake, returning to his old stomping grounds as a member of the opposing team. In 2008, Vick and the Eagles stomped on the Falcons 34-7 and, in front of a large contingent of his loyal fans, the ex-Falcon contributed a rushing and passing touchdown. Things are different this time around, however, after Vick's return to prominence in 2010. The quarterback of the 1-0 Eagles leads his team to Atlanta as the starting quarterback and as one of the league's brightest stars.
The Falcons, meanwhile, are looking to shed a few losing streaks heading into their home opener at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons have dropped four straight regular season games to the Eagles, and six of their last seven, including losses to Philadelphia in each of the last three seasons. Last year's No. 1 seed in the NFC is also coming off two consecutive losses, a playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers and the Week 1 opener in Chicago. Unlike Vick's trip to Atlanta in 2009, Falcons franchise quarterback Matt Ryan will be on the field this Sunday, now armed with first-round pick Julio Jones to accompany star receiver Roddy White. The final layer added onto a matchup already ripe with intrigue is the primetime Sunday night kickoff, ensuring that, if they weren't already, the eyes of the NFL will be squarely focused on Vick's re-return to Atlanta.
Last Time They Met
October 17, 2010: Falcons 17, Eagles 31
The Eagles Falcons met less than a year ago when the Falcons were welcomed rudely to Lincoln Financial Field in a 31-17 victory for the home team. With Michael Vick sidelined by a rib injury, Kevin Kolb led the Eagles offense and he put on a show, throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns on his way to a 133.6 passer rating and NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Under Kolb, the Eagles opened the game with touchdowns on three consecutive drives to take a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. The Falcons responded with a touchdown and field goal to make it a two-score game, however, the Eagles pulled away with an 83-yard touchdown reception by Jeremy Maclin. It was a career day for Maclin, who racked up 139 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Eagles clinch a 4-2 record.
When The Eagles Have The Ball
Despite a less-than-50 percent completion percentage, Vick still led a productive offense in the team's season opener against the St. Louis Rams. The Eagles gained over 200 yards on the ground, including 219 yards rushing between Vick and LeSean McCoy. Through the air, Vick threw for 187 yards, 102 of those going to DeSean Jackson. With Vick, McCoy, Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and the returning-to-health Steve Smith, the Eagles have a slew of weapons that rivals those of any team in the league. And after plenty of focus heading into Week 1 was placed on an offensive line that had yet to play a snap together, the big guys up front acquitted themselves quite well in the dome opener, communicating well and staying disciplined (they recorded no false starts).
The Falcons defense, meanwhile, comes off a disappointing Week 1 performance in which they surrendered over 300 passing yards to Jay Cutler and allowed six plays of over 20 yards or more, including two plays that went for over 50 yards. To add injury to injury, it looks as though both starting defensive tackles for the Falcons will be out on Sunday night. Corey Peters missed Week 1 with a knee injury and though the Falcons have a viable replacement in 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry, they now face the task of playing without one of the conference's better defensive tackles in Jonathan Babineaux, who is expected to miss up to five weeks with a partially torn ACL. That news portends good things for an Eagles run game that topped 200 yards in Week 1. The Falcons do have plenty of talent elsewhere on the defense, as free agent prize defensive end Ray Edwards joins John Abraham to form a solid pass rush tandem and Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes are a very solid cornerback duo.
When The Falcons Have The Ball
In April, the Falcons made the decision to mortgage parts of both this and next year's draft in order to move up 21 spots to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, thinking that combining Jones and Pro Bowler Roddy White would give Matt Ryan the weapons to make the Falcons offense a truly balanced attack. However, though running back Michael Turner is a bruising inside runner, the Falcons rushing attack has been more about insistence than production the last few years. In 2010, the Falcons finished 12th in the league in rushing, but 25th in yards per carry. With Turner's legs going a bit after his prodigious amount of carries over the last three years, the Falcons may need to rely more on Ryan connecting with his receivers, which, in addition to Jones and White, include future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and slot receiver Harry Douglas. Up front, the Falcons do have a very strong and experienced offensive line that returns four starters from 2010, all of whom started all 16 games last season.
That offensive line didn't get off to a great start against the vaunted Bears pass rush in Week 1 though, as Ryan was sacked five times in the opener. Conveniently, the Eagles notched 5.0 sacks of their own as the defensive line announced its presence with authority in St. Louis. If they can follow the lead of the Bears and pressure Ryan, it could spell a long evening for the home team. On the outside, White and Jones will have their work cut out for them, as the Eagles, of course, feature the terrifying trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback. On the second level, rookie linebacker Casey Matthews, along with Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou, will face the daunting task of corralling Turner. Hopefully for the Eagles, the run defense will start stronger than it did against the Rams, when Steven Jackson rushed 47 yards for a score on the Rams' opening play from scrimmage.
WR DeSean Jackson vs. CB Dunta Robinson
Eagles fans will remember this matchup for providing perhaps the scariest moment of the 2010 season, when Robinson laid out Jackson on a pass across the middle of the field, concussing Jackson and knocking him out of the next couple games. While Jackson will no doubt be looking for some measure of revenge on Robinson by burning him deep, don't forget that before Jackson left that game, he had already burned the Falcons for two touchdowns.
RT Tyson Clabo vs. LDEs Jason Babin and Juqua Parker
Coming off his first Pro Bowl, Clabo chose to return to the Falcons as a free agent this offseason where he's thrived as a mauling run blocker while improving his pass protection skills. He'll have his hands full Sunday though when he lines up against the rotating Eagles defensive line that promises to throw him plenty of "fastballs." In his second debut with the Eagles, Babin quieted any doubters with 2.0 sacks. Meanwhile, Parker scored the second touchdown of his career when he returned a fumble 55 yards.
Players To Watch
WR Roddy White
The 6-0 receiver out of UAB has steadily improved in each of his last four seasons - since breaking out in 2007 with 83 catches for 1,202 yards, he has racked up more receiving yards (5,158) than any player in the NFL. In his two seasons prior to 2007, the former first-round pick was labeled a bust by many analysts, as he managed only 59 receptions combined in those two seasons. In 2010, the All-Pro pass-catcher pulled in an amazing 115 catches for 1,389 yards and 10 TDs. White, who was targeted a league-high 179 times last season, is the focal point of an offense that ranked second in the NFC in scoring in 2010, behind only the Eagles. As expected, White got off to a solid start in the 2011 regular-season opener against the Bears, catching eight balls.
DE John Abraham
A model of consistency, the 12-year veteran is looking to show that, at 33-years-old, he can still post a double-digit sack total like he did in 2010. In fact, the dynamic pass-rusher has accomplished that feat in all but two of the eight seasons in which he has played 12 or more games. The 263-pound end has notched 49 sacks since joining the Falcons via trade with the Jets five years ago. Abraham is a three-time All-Pro (2001, 2008, 2010) and leads a defense that allowed the fifth-fewest points in the league last season. Like White, Abraham started the season on the right note, notching 2.0 sacks in the team's season-opening loss to the Bears.