We don't know how good the 2010 Eagles are at this point. While they are tied for first place in the NFC East with a record of 3-2, we have yet to really find out who this team is. The game against the Falcons on Sunday won't tell us anything for sure, but it could start to point us in the right direction.
Atlanta will be the best team we've faced this year. The Falcons are 4-1. They are second in the NFL in points allowed on defense. They have an outstanding ball control offense. They don't put up a lot of points, but they are second in rushing, first in time of possession and third in third down conversion percentage. It isn't a flashy style of play, but that's OK because it works for them.
This game should be a good challenge. Power running teams have given us some problems over the years. We did a good job on the Niners, but Atlanta is running the ball better than them and has a better overall offense. Our defense is still struggling to play consistently well. We had a terrific showing from the entire defense in the win over Jacksonville. We played very good run defense last week, but the pass defense gave up 309 yards and three touchdowns. That's not good enough.
You can't go into games hoping to shut down just one part of the offense. You must be able to play well as an overall unit. I'm sure Sean McDermott is focused on stopping Michael Turner and the running attack, but you can bet he's plenty worried about tight end Tony Gonzalez, receiver Roddy White, and quarterback Matt Ryan. White has more than 100 yards in three of five games this year. Gonzalez is a Hall of Fame player. Ryan is a talented player, but as a young quarterback he's also inconsistent.
McDermott has been working on the defense all season. We've got a lot of new faces and that means there will be struggles. It takes time to get everyone on the same page. Against Washington, McDermott tweaked the defense during the game and we were able to slow down the running game that had hurt us on the first couple of drives. Then he made a lineup change before the Niners game, putting Moise Fokou at SAM linebacker. That move worked well and the defense really stifled Frank Gore.
McDermott had to feel good about the run defense, but the pass defense was another story. The pass rush was inconsistent. The blitzing we did wasn't working as much as it should. Our back seven wasn't covering as well as they needed to. It wasn't a one or two player breakdown. Watching Alex Smith sit in the pocket and pick us apart was highly frustrating.
The good news is that I don't see this as a lack of talent. McDermott has to get the players functioning better as a unit. Every game is a chance for him and the players to get better. I'm a believer that one of the ways you improve is to play in big games. That often brings out the best in players and coaches. McDermott will go over the numbers and show the tape to the defense. Our guys will know how talented the Falcons are. On Sunday we'll find out how they handled the challenge.
I'm excited by the matchup. I want to see if our run defense can play at a high level for a second week in a row. We'll be missing Brodrick Bunkley (elbow injury), but Antonio Dixon stepped up for us last week and could be important in this game. Dixon is about 325 pounds. He's powerful at the point of attack. Atlanta's line doesn't always fare well against bigger defensive tackles. I could easily see Dixon having a good game for us.
This is a game where you want to get some penetration. Turner is an excellent power runner, but he's much less effective if you make him start and stop as he looks for a hole. We don't need our tackles to necessarily shoot gaps. If they can push back offensive linemen a step or two, that will have the same effect.
The linebackers will do some run blitzing. They need to be disruptive when they do attack up the field. The linebackers also need to be careful about over-pursuing. Turner can turn cutback runs into big plays. Fokou played well last week. We need another good showing from him. Stewart Bradley started in the middle against Atlanta in 2008 in a game where we limited them to 77 rushing yards on 24 carries. I hope that experience helps him out. We're still waiting for Bradley to get back to his old form. This is the first time all year that he's facing a team and a scheme that he knows.
The secondary gets back Asante Samuel and that's important with a receiver like White coming to town. Atlanta likes to throw a lot of short passes. Samuel and Ellis Hobbs will be looking to jump routes all game long. That can pay big dividends, but also can be dangerous. Atlanta can use double moves and pump fakes to get behind the corners. We need the safeties to cover well in case any receivers do get deep on us. Nate Allen is especially important.
Kevin Kolb will start for us at quarterback. He played well last week and I expect him to have a good game against Atlanta. The more a quarterback plays, the better he should get. Kolb has now played seven straight quarters. He's no longer rusty. He should be getting more and more comfortable.
The big story on offense is that King Dunlap will start at left tackle. He'll face John Abraham most of the time. Dunlap would be out-matched if asked to win this battle alone on the majority of pass plays. We won't do that. We'll use backs to chip block on the defensive end. We'll use tight ends to chip and help double team the end. We'll also use Jason Avant to help on that side. He's a good blocker and also becomes a good outlet receiver if he releases after blocking for a second. There will be some snaps where Dunlap has to block him one-on-one. The one bit of good news with the matchup is that Dunlap struggles more with power rushers than speed guys. Abraham is more of a speed guy.
Starting Dunlap is the way to go. Our offensive line has shown progress in the last two weeks. The promotion of Max Jean-Gilles to starting right guard has made a big difference. He has played that position for us before. Now that he's in better shape, Jean-Gilles is a changed man. His play still needs work, but he's been a big help in just stabilizing the offensive line and getting the five blockers to play as a cohesive unit. Shuffling guys around would have created instability at multiple spots. By playing Dunlap we can focus on helping him and then letting the other four guys do their thing.
I'm really interested to see how the Falcons handle LeSean McCoy. Back in 2008, Brian Westbrook ran for 167 yards against Atlanta. We blocked them well and Westbrook gave their defenders fits with his elusiveness. McCoy is also a very elusive runner. The Falcons have faced power runners most of this season. They have yet to deal with a guy quite like McCoy. We need another good game from him to keep the offense rolling. Plus, the more we run, the easier things are for Dunlap.
The pass catchers need to help Kolb out like they did last week. DeSean Jackson has had a couple of quiets weeks. I'm hoping that he and Kolb can get going. Defenses are doing a lot to take him away, but we've got to find a way to get him touches. Jackson is too dynamic to only have a few touches a game. Brent Celek had a lot of chances last week, but wasn't able to come up with the ball on a few plays. A couple of extra catches would have made a huge difference in that game. We need Celek to make tough grabs for us.
We must score touchdowns in this game. The Falcons don't put up a lot of points. Every touchdown we score puts pressure on them. If we can get a 10-point lead that will really get the Falcons out of their comfort zone. They have the weapons to throw the ball and be aggressive, but that isn't what they want to do. They prefer to run the ball and be methodical. Our offense can help our defense out in a big way by getting into the end zone.
We need to win this game for a variety of reasons, but one of the most simple is because we're 0-2 at home so far this year. You almost take winning at home for granted. Obviously winning is also important for staying atop the NFC East and among the leaders in the NFC. I think a win would be huge for the confidence of our young team. They need to know that they can beat good teams.
I know a lot of Eagles fans are nervous about this game. Many think we'll struggle if not lose. I can understand that. I can easily see us winning this game. In fact, I won't be surprised if we play really well and win big. We have too much talent to be erratic every week. Things are going to come together one of these weeks and we'll see just how good the team can be when everything clicks. We've beaten Atlanta by double digits the last couple of years. We know this team and what they want to do. We've faced power running teams the last couple of weeks. Atlanta is much better at home than on the road. Maybe just maybe this is the game when everything comes together and we see how good the Eagles can be.