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Game Preview: Falcons Vs. Eagles


The Eagles return home on Sunday to face Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. Check out some of the key players to watch.

As soon as the 2016 NFL schedule was released back in the offseason, Weeks 8 and 9 jumped out for the Eagles: back-to-back NFC East games on the road against Dallas and New York. Winning divisional road games are never easy, yet the Eagles had their chances to come away victorious. A 10-point fourth-quarter lead in Dallas went by the wayside and a 14-0 deficit against New York was too much to dig out from.

The Eagles need to bounce back, and maybe some home cooking will do the charm this Sunday against Atlanta.

Lincoln Financial Field has truly provided a homefield advantage for the Eagles in 2016. They've gone 3-0 in front of the Philadelphia faithful, outscoring opponents 84-23. Fans will need to do their part on Sunday against a Falcons offense that is firing on all cylinders. There's a train of thought that teams that play their home games indoors struggle when they're on the road playing outside.

Not these Falcons.

Atlanta is 4-1 away from the Georgia Dome, and Matt Ryan's numbers are slightly better on the road than they are at home. Ryan is playing at an MVP level right now, leading the NFL with 23 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. It's going to be up the Eagles' defensive front to make Ryan feel uncomfortable in the pocket and not let wide receiver Julio Jones go off for another monster game.

The Eagles are halfway through the 2016 regular season. They've seen the highs, going 3-0 to start, and they've seen the lows, dropping four of five. Now, they're all squared away at 4-4 with eight games left. Five of the Eagles' final eight contests are at home, including the final three division matchups. But it's too soon to look ahead to them. The first order of business is beating Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.

- Alex Smith

Last Time They Met

Falcons 26, Eagles 24
September 14, 2015 – Georgia Dome

It hasn't been all that long since these two teams went head to head in the 2015 season opener on Monday Night Football, and unfortunately for the Eagles, that game didn't go quite as they had planned.

The matchup began slowly for the Birds, who started the year with a new quarterback in Sam Bradford and two new running backs in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. As the first half concluded, Philadelphia trailed the Falcons, 20-3, and needed something to spark its offense.

Coming out for the third quarter, the Eagles scored 14 points and their defense allowed none. But, Atlanta fired back with a field goal in the fourth to bring the score to, 23-17. Trailing still, the Eagles weren't ready to give up on their comeback just yet.

When the team got the ball back on offense, Philadelphia went on a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 1-yard Mathews' touchdown. Up by a point with just under nine minutes left to play, the team had its first lead and the game was in its control. The Eagles' defense took the field again and held Atlanta to a field goal. With plenty of time on the clock, the Birds were only down by two with possession of the ball.

Bradford and the Eagles' offense marched down the field before being stopped on a third-and-1 at the Atlanta 26. The team prepared to kick a field goal and regain its lead but Cody Parkey missed the 44-yard attempt, which gave the Falcons the ball back with 2:26 remaining in the game. The Eagles would have one more chance as they began what would be their last offensive drive with 1:49 on the clock, but on third-and-8 from their own 16, Bradford threw an interception that sealed the loss and ended the team's comeback hopes.

- Julie Bacanskas


When The Eagles Have The Ball**

Early in the year, ball control was the name of the game for the Eagles' offense.

Entering the Week 5 matchup in Detroit, the Eagles led the league in time of possession (36:47) which resulted in the defense only being on the field for a league-low 52.7 snaps per contest.

Establishing the run game will be critical Sunday against Atlanta for two reasons - the Eagles can keep the Falcons' high-octane offense on the sideline and it will limit the pressure on Carson Wentz, who has 90 total pass attempts in the past two games alone. He had 83 in the previous three matchups.

The Eagles' rushing attack has transitioned from Ryan Mathews getting the lion's share of the workload to Darren Sproles. In the season opener, Mathews had 22 carries for 77 yards, both season highs. He's had nine rushing attempts in the last two games, while Sproles has 28 over that span.

Atlanta's defense, led by head coach Dan Quinn who used to be the Seahawks' defensive coordinator, ranks eighth in rushing defense (91.6 yards per game), but fourth in terms of the fewest carries faced. The Falcons have not allowed an individual to gain 100 rushing yards in 14 straight contests.

The Eagles' offense must start fast after two early interceptions by Wentz helped put the team in a 14-0 hole against the Giants. In the four losses this season, the Eagles were outscored 42-6 in the first quarter. The Falcons lead the league with 67 first-quarter points this year.

Philadelphia will also look to finish strong as it has had the opportunity to either tie the game or take the lead late in the fourth quarter of each loss. Atlanta has allowed a league-high 98 fourth-quarter points, while the Eagles have scored just 35.

Quinn has inserted plenty of youth into the Falcons' lineup on defense. 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley Jr. leads the team and is fifth in the NFL with 7.5 sacks.

Middle linebacker Deion Jones, a second-round pick out of LSU, is second on the team and second among all rookies with 51 tackles. He also scored on a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown earlier this season against the Saints.

In the backfield, safety Keanu Neal leads the team and all NFL rookies with 57 tackles. Second-year cornerback Jalen Collins could be in the spotlight as he is slated to start on the outside if Desmond Trufant, a former Pro Bowl selection who received lots of praise from wide receiver Ronald Darby, is unable to go due to a shoulder injury.

The ball-control offense worked for the Eagles earlier in the season. It will be interesting to see the coaches' game plan against Atlanta.

- Chris McPherson


When The Falcons Have The Ball**

This will be the biggest test yet for the Eagles' defense.

On Sunday, it needs to stop the Atlanta Falcons, a team with the second-most yards gained per game (429.2), the most points scored per game (33.9) and the highest yards per play average (6.8). The Falcons also have the league's No. 2 quarterback with regard to passer rating in Matt Ryan (119.0) and the NFL's leading receiver in Julio Jones. Through nine games, Jones is only 30 yards shy of reaching 1,000 on the season and he also has five touchdowns to his name. Add in the fact that Atlanta boasts a solid run game (Devonta Freeman's 620 rushing yards is ninth most among all running backs) and the Birds understand this matchup is going to be a challenge.

The Eagles will need to play shutdown defense if they want any chance of ending their two-game losing streak. They continue to be one of the NFL's best units against the pass, coming in at sixth by allowing only 218.4 yards in the air per game. More importantly though, the team is still limiting opponents to an average of 18.1 points each week, which is significantly less than what the Falcons are used to accumulating. Philadelphia will have to continue that stingy scoring trend against the top-scoring team in the NFL.

Against the run, the Birds have not been as productive. They allow an average of 107.1 rushing yards each outing, which ranks 18th in the league. However, for the last three-plus games the team has been playing without defensive tackle Bennie Logan because of a groin injury he sustained in Week 6 against Washington. Expected to return this weekend, Logan should give the run defense a big boost. His return couldn't come at a better time.

Another key point will be getting to Ryan and disrupting his rhythm. The quarterback has taken 22 sacks, tied for fifth most among starters. The Eagles have been successful in this area of the game, registering 23 sacks (No. 5 in the NFL). Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham have led the way in 2016 with each player tallying four sacks thus far.

Overall, the Falcons are clearly one of the top offenses in every statistical category. Keeping Ryan and Jones under control while also stopping the run will be difficult for the Eagles, but they'll have to find a way to get the job done at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday.

- Julie Bacanskas


Key Matchups**

1. CB Nolan Carroll vs. WR Julio Jones - The Falcons could move Jones around, especially with cornerback Leodis McKelvin admitting that his hamstring injury will likely be a season-long challenge. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones has lined up either in the slot or to the side opposite of Carroll 55 percent of the time. In the 2015 season opener, Jones gained 141 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns against Byron Maxwell. Jones leads the NFL with 907 receiving yards this year. He gained 300 of them against the Carolina Panthers in October. He's posted at least 100 yards in three of the past four games.

2. T Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. LB Vic Beasley Jr. - After a rough debut against Washington, rookie right tackle Big V has only been penalized once and not allowed a sack. Vic Beasley Jr., the No. 8 overall pick in 2015, has 7.5 sacks on the year after getting four as a rookie. Beasley is an outstanding pass rusher off the edge with outstanding explosion at the snap of the ball and the athleticism to finish. As a team, the Falcons have 21 sacks for the season, with eight coming on second down. The Eagles must avoid third-and-long situations.

3. TE Zach Ertz vs. S Keanu Neal - The Eagles' tight end is clearly coming off his best game of the season, as he caught eight passes (on eight targets) for 97 yards. One of those eight receptions was a season-long 30-yard grab. In the last two games, Ertz has 12 catches. For the year, he's hauled in 82 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. Neal, the Falcons' first-round pick this year, leads all rookies with 57 tackles and he's tied for second among all players with three forced fumbles. That doesn't account for the fact he missed the first two games of the season. Neal has allowed 24 catches on 44 targets, per STATS LLC, for 314 yards and a touchdown.

- Chris McPherson

Trends To Watch

60.2: The Eagles have held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 60.2 in three games at Lincoln Financial Field this season, while allowing just one passing touchdown (vs. Minnesota).

72: Matt Ryan hasn't thrown an interception in his last 72 passing attempts, including the entirety of the Falcons' last two games. The Eagles' defense has come up with at least one interception in every home game this season.

.800: The Eagles are 4-1 (.800) against the Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field, including the 2004 NFC Championship Game, which the Eagles won 27-10.

433: The Falcons are averaging 433 total yards of offense in their five road games this season. The Eagles' defense has held opponents to 273.7 yards per game at home in 2016.

- Chris McPherson

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