Newsflash: The Eagles like to throw the football. To beat Atlanta, and to get to 8-4 and gain some real, bona fide momentum heading into the final four weeks of the season, the Eagles are going to have to make big plays in the passing game on Sunday. This isn't a game about having balance at the end of the stat sheet. This is a game about taking big chunks of yardage of the field throwing the football.
I know that neither Andy Reid nor Marty Mornhinweg particularly care about the statistics of an opponent's defense. They're going to play to the strength of this offense, and that is throwing the football. Even minus DeSean Jackson, calling on the pass is what the offense does best (although the running game has made great strides the last two weeks). Had the Eagles listened to what the stat sheet says, they would have thrown very little against Washington's excellent pass defense last Sunday.
This time around, the numbers can't be ignored. Atlanta has given up some big yards against the pass. The Falcons rank 27th in the league defending the pass. They have given up a lot of big plays down the field. Third-round draft pick Christopher Owens is a starter for only the second time. Atlanta's pass rush has not been as consistent as needed.
So it makes perfect sense to have the Eagles throw the football to set up the run. Atlanta has talked all week about expecting to see a lot of Donovan McNabb dropping back. The Falcons are prepping for that.
And following the conventional ways of this season, the Eagles will probably come out and run the ball 10 straight times. The chances of that happening, all kidding aside, is very slim.
No, the Eagles are going to throw. They're going to feature Jeremy Maclin and Reggie Brown and Jason Avant and Brent Celek and even LeSean McCoy. They're going to spread the football around. They are going to rely on an offensive line that has another week together to give McNabb time to set up and fire it, and they are going to have to make sure that a very quick and flowing linebacking corps doesn't disrupt the plans too much.
I'm interested to see what the Eagles do with Maclin. So far this year, he has been more of an intermediate-area target. In his down-the-field game against Tampa Bay, Maclin scored two touchdowns and was virtually unstoppable. But with Jackson on the field, Maclin has not been the stretch-the-field receiver. He may be that player on Sunday.
Brown has been quiet all week, but he will see a lot of action on Sunday. Brown can scoot, he has a strong body and when he saw some extended time in San Diego, Brown and McNabb had a good, immediate chemistry. Avant, who could see time at flanker in addition to playing in the slot, is going to be a difficult matchup for Atlanta.
Not having Jackson creates a large void, particularly in the punt return game -- although Atlanta's Michael Koenen is a master at hang time and directional punting -- but the Eagles have some depth. Think about where this team would be had Maclin not developed as quickly as he has ...
Anyway, I'm thinking the Eagles have to establish the passing game right away. Normally I look for a bit of early balance, just enough to give the offensive line a chance to bust some skulls and establish something at the line of scrimmage, and enough for a defense to have to respect the running game. Not here. I think Atlanta is going to play a super-charged game, typical of a team fighting for its playoff lives. The Eagles must have that same approach, of course.
And they need to come out throwing the ball. Spread it around. Open things up and let McNabb get the ball out of his hands quickly. There is no need to come out and play bombs-away football, because the thought of John Abraham and Co. heating up in a loud Georgia Dome is maybe what worries me the most about this game. The Eagles have to get the Falcons on their defensive heels, and the best way to do that is to make some big plays with the passing game.
The run/pass ratio will be where the Eagles need it to be at the end of the game for those of you obsessed with such statistics -- and we have a daily conversation about it on the Discussion Boards. I'm not into the stat sheet in this game. I'm interested in getting McNabb into a rhythm and keeping him there. The best defense against quarterback Chris Redman is to make him play from behind and to get the Falcons into a one-dimensional approach on offense.
Bring on the passing game! Spread the field, create favorable matchups and put the ball in the air and take gulps of yards away from the Atlanta defense. Jackson won't play, and he won't even be in Atlanta. He will watch on television and hope for the same thing: To win the game, the Eagles must throw the football well and score points in the passing game.