There are plenty of attention-grabbing stories with this 3-3 Eagles team, one that is firmly in the grip of a huge moment in time. It's not just about this season, of course. You know the stakes of the 2012 year. You know how important it is for the Eagles to win, or perhaps face critical and face-altering changes to the franchise.
Anyway, the 6-0 Falcons come to town and the Eagles desperately need a win as we have all established. Anyone who thinks that because Andy Reid is 13-0 immediately after the bye week in his Eagles career is a guarantee of a victory just doesn't understand the whole picture here.
This team has played on the edge of the cliff through six games. Can the Eagles find firm footing, beginning with a win over Atlanta in what could be extremely sloppy conditions (Hurricane Sandy could hit Philadelphia, in some form or another, on Sunday morning)?
Here are some of the stories to follow for Sunday, which simply cannot get here fast enough ...
HOW DIFFERENT IS THE TODD BOWLES DEFENSE?
We should notice a few different aspects to scheme on Sunday, and moving forward, but to think that Bowles has completely revamped the defense is not logical. He isn't going to tear down and start from scratch. Instead, Bowles is going to build with what the Eagles have, and that's a good, solid, front-to-back defense that needs to have more pressure at the line of scrimmage and more takeaways on the back end.
While the players have said nothing specific about the plan, and Bowles has given no hints, the feeling is that the Eagles will pick and choose their spots to be more aggressive. The Falcons are preparing for this game as if it is an opener, as if they are going to see looks they have never before seen, and so there is going to be that element of surprise involved.
What to expect, realistically? A few more blitzes. Maybe a tweak or two in the way the personnel is used. Some coverage combinations that Bowles believes can best contain the ultra-dangerous trio of Roddy White, Julio Jones and the ageless Tony Gonzalez.
In the end, though, it's going to come down to execution. If the Eagles have a chance to sack quarterback Matt Ryan, they can't allow him to slip through their hands. If they have a chance to snare and interception or fall on a fumble, they have to capitalize.
Don't expect anything totally different. Do expect the Eagles to play with a high energy level and total concentration, or Bowles will change up his personnel on the field.
THE OFFENSE, THE TURNOVERS AND MICHAEL VICK
As Michael Vick correctly points out, talk means nothing when he is asked about ball security and minimizing his mistakes and controlling the football. He knows what he has to do. The challenge has been to go out and do it.
In case you haven't heard, the Eagles have had a tough time holding on to the football this season. They are giving the ball away at an alarming rate, and they just happen to have on the other sideline on Sunday an opponent that thrives on takeaways. On paper, it's a tough matchup for the Eagles.
But this is a game in which something has to give. What happens if the offense lurches out of the gate and Vick coughs up the football and, oh, the agony of even thinking about it. Would Andy Reid think about switching quarterbacks? When he says "you just can't have it" referring to turnovers, what does he mean, exactly?
Beyond the obvious story of the giveaways, the underlying stories involve the many ways the Eagles need to improve to put points on the board. Do they change the script for Sunday's first few possessions? Does Reid increase his input in the play calling?
Clearly, this is a critical, critical game for the offense. It's going to be important to get the crowd into the game in a positive way. The Eagles haven't won a game since beating the Giants on September 30. We're talking a month here, folks. Too, too long. Hasn't this been a long, excruciating month?
The Eagles rank 31st in the league in scoring. That is so completely wrong and it needs to improve immediately.
WINNING THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE
We know it all starts there, but how many of you really watch the line of scrimmage? If you don't, Sunday might be a good time to start. Because everything matters up front.
The offensive line has at least one change that we know about, and that's King Dunlap returning to the starting job at left tackle in place of Demetress Bell. The line faces a quick, penetrating Atlanta front four. The Falcons are going to pick and choose where and when they blitz Vick. They could use a mush rush on him and spy him, as they did against Washington's Robert Griffin, limiting him to just one rushing attempt. That's a chess match to keep an eye on.
Defensively, the front four has not registered a sack in four games. It's a ridiculously long streak by NFL standards. Can the Eagles win the front four battle against Atlanta and not have to rely too much on the blitz to pressure Matt Ryan, who is now one of the elite quarterbacks in the league?
He has weapons galore and a veteran offensive line and the Falcons have an outstanding passing game. The Eagles must make Ryan rush his throws and move off his spot or Atlanta will be very tough to stop.
There are a lot of other stories, of course. The special teams need to step it up. The offensive run/pass ratio is a weekly topic of conversation. Personnel ins and outs make for great chatter.
The bottom line? Just win, Eagles. We all need it to start the "second season" in 2012.