The Eagles are in Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Sunday Night Football, with kickoff set for 8:20 p.m. Our live coverage begins with the Kickoff Show presented by Axalta at 7:50 p.m. before the game is ]televised nationally on NBC.
Coming off a come-from-behind win over Washington to open the season, the Eagles battle a familiar foe in the Falcons, a team they've played in each of the past four seasons (including playoffs). The Eagles have won the past three meetings, but the last two battles have come down to an incomplete fourth-down pass to Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones in the end zone.
This is Atlanta's home opener and the Falcons are looking forward to being home after being humbled 28-12 in Week 1 by the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, the Vikings led 28-0 entering the fourth quarter before the Falcons put some points on the board.
The Vikings forced three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) and blocked a punt, and all four of those instances eventually resulted in touchdowns. The Falcons were gashed for 172 yards on the ground as Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins attempted just 10 passes.
Get ready for tonight's prime-time showdown in our Game Preview.
1. Which team gets off to a fast start?
The Eagles trailed 17-0 in the second quarter and 20-7 at halftime against Washington before coming back to life. Atlanta was down 21-0 at halftime, but unable to recover. The Falcons were 7-9 last season and missed the postseason. They don't want to kick off the 2019 campaign 0-2, especially with the home opener tonight.
Yes, the Eagles have won three straight in the head-to-head series, but all three matchups were in Philadelphia. The Falcons scored just 22 points in the last two games combined (2017 NFC Divisional Round and 2018 season opener). At home in 2018, the Falcons scored 31 points or more in five of their eight games. And the Falcons brought back Dirk Koetter to run the offense. Koetter was the offensive coordinator before leaving to take the head coaching job in Tampa Bay.
2. Can Carson Wentz continue his third-down magic?
The franchise quarterback was phenomenal in the season opener, especially on the money down. Wentz was 12-of-13 (he completed his last 12 attempts) for 197 yards and all three of his touchdowns. And a good chunk of those conversions came on third-and-long. Head coach Doug Pederson said this week that the team can't rely on Wentz to always keep drives alive under those conditions, so the Eagles must be better on first and second down to get Wentz in more manageable situations. What's one way to do that? The run game, so ...
3. What will be the running back rotation for the Eagles?
Miles Sanders led the Eagles with 11 carries and that doesn't include the brilliant touchdown run that was taken off the board by a penalty that should not have been called. Darren Sproles matched Sanders with 12 total touches and also led the team in rushing yards last week. Against Atlanta's fast defense, expect more of Sanders and Jordan Howard, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry in his Eagles debut.
4. What's the DeSean Jackson effect?
Jackson had eight catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in his Eagles homecoming last weekend. Wentz said this week that he expects the Falcons to force the Eagles to be patient and take a lot of underneath throws. That points to an added emphasis on the run game. It also means that Jackson should open things up for the "other" big-play pass catchers like Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert. Still, when you have a strong-armed quarterback like Wentz, a take-the-top-off playmaker like Jackson, and a national audience, No. 10 will want to help make a statement.
5. How will the defensive line rotation change?
The Eagles won the game against Washington, but lost defensive tackle Malik Jackson for the season with a foot injury. Jackson's length and speed were expected to provide a pass-rush element alongside Fletcher Cox. Now, Tim Jernigan returns to his role as a starter and there will be more snaps for Hassan Ridgeway as well as new addition Akeem Spence. And, of course, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will move ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry inside on passing downs.
The Falcons, who spent two first-round picks along the offensive line, will be without top draft pick guard Chris Lindstrom. The second first-round pick, Kaleb McGary, will match up against Graham off the edge.
By The Numbers
5 – Julio Jones has five 100-yard receiving performances against the Eagles since he entered the league in 2011. No other receiver in the league has that many vs. the Eagles.
51 – It should come as no surprise as Jones has been targeted 51 times in the last three meetings (including playoffs). However, Jones has scored no touchdowns in the three-game span and the Falcons lost each matchup.
.750 – Philadelphia ranks third in the NFL in prime-time winning percentage (.750, 12-4) since 2016 (including playoffs), behind New England (.773) & Seattle (.767).
64.7% – In Week 1 vs. Washington, the Eagles enjoyed the best regular-season third-down performance (64.7%, 11-of-17) of the Doug Pederson era.
.630 – Doug Pederson has produced a 34-20 record since 2016 (including playoffs), marking the highest winning percentage (.630) by a head coach in team history.
46.3% – Philadelphia leads the NFL in opponent red zone TD efficiency (46.3%) since 2016 (including playoffs). The team ranked first in that category in 2018.
25.8 – The Eagles own the sixth-highest scoring offense (25.8) in the NFL since 2017 (including playoffs), trailing only the L.A. Rams (29.9) and New Orleans (29.2) in the NFC.
11-4 – Dating back to 2000, Philadelphia has won 11 of its last 15 (.733) games vs. Atlanta, including a perfect 3-0 mark under Doug Pederson (since 2016).
22.2% – In Pederson's three wins, the Falcons were 2-of-9 (22.2%) in red zone offense, including 1 for 5 in the 2018 season opener.
.727 – Philadelphia is tied for the fourth-best winning percentage (.727, 8-3) in September since 2016.
– Most of the stats provided by John Gonoude
The Eagles signed rookie wide receiver Marcus Green to their practice squad on September 1, just one day after the Atlanta Falcons waived him. The 5-8, 191-pound Green was a sixth-round pick of the Falcons in 2019 and provided some insight into the talented trio Atlanta has at the wide receiver position.
On Julio Jones: "If Julio had a cannon and could throw it, he'd be a quarterback because being in the meeting room with him, pre-snap, he can tell you where this guy or that guy (on defense) is going. He's just an Einstein of the game. He's one of the smartest players I've been around. Even being around Matt Ryan and how smart Matt Ryan is as a quarterback, Julio is just as smart. He not only hones in on the physical skills of the game, but the mental skills as well."
On Calvin Ridley: "I actually forgot this was his second year. He prepares like a vet being under the wings of Julio and (Mohamed) Sanu. Calvin, he came right in and fit like a glove. He prepares like a vet. He works like a vet. He just follows the lead of the older guys and blends right in."
On Mohamed Sanu: "A lot of people forget about Sanu, but Sanu, he does the dirty work. Kind of like what Nelly (Agholor) does here, motioning behind the tight end, blocking the safety. Sanu does all of the dirty work, too, the big blocks. He'll get in Wildcat sometimes, play-action, and throw the ball over the top. You just got to be ready."