ATLANTA – The Eagles landed in Atlanta on Saturday. As the players picked up their room keys at the team hotel, a few players chatted briefly with waiting cameras, very much understanding what’s ahead: A tough prime-time game against the 0-1 Falcons in their home opener. It’s time to show something in Week 2 to a national audience.
“It’s their first home game and we know they’re going to be hyped and it’s our first road game, so we have to be ready. There’s a lot of pressure on both of us,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “It comes down to execution. We have to focus and execute and go from there. That’s the number one thing.”
This has been a good week for the Eagles, with the obvious exception of learning that defensive tackle Malik Jackson was headed to Injured Reserve after suffering a serious foot injury in the opening-day win over Washington last Sunday.
The no-panic reaction to falling 17 points behind in the first half against the Redskins was an early test of the team’s maturity, and the Eagles passed with flying colors. The immediate impact of wide receiver DeSean Jackson continues to have reverberations as the Falcons, no doubt looking on in awe as they studied the Eagles’ second-half offense, know they have to account for Jackson in a big way, and that in turn should open things up even more for talented big-play receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
The Eagles got things going in every phase of the game in the second half against Washington, so the hope is that dominating second half on Sunday carries over to this big one against Atlanta.
“You hope momentum carries over,” center Jason Kelce said earlier in the week, “but you never know. I know that we feel like we turned the game around against Washington and played the kind of football we know we’re capable of playing. So, our goal is to start faster in Atlanta. We don’t want to dig out of a hole. We’ve been emphasizing that throughout the summer and it’s something we continue to work on.
“We know that Atlanta is a very good football team that isn’t in a good mood after losing last week. They’re going to bring their A game. We have to match that.”
How do they do that? The defense has a huge challenge playing against a versatile Atlanta offense that features running back Devonta Freeman and the pass-catching tandem of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley on the outside with tight end Austin Hooper inside.
“They’re explosive. They’re very good,” cornerback Ronald Darby said at the team hotel. “We worked on it in practice but it’s hard to replicate somebody like Julio. He’s a great player. One of the best in the league. We know he can score from anywhere on the field.”
Offensively, the Eagles have some chances to attack an Atlanta defense that allowed 172 rushing yards against Minnesota last Sunday and one that expects teams to attack on the ground.
‘We've got to go back to work and address it if we want to have a good defense,’ defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said to Atlanta reporters during the week. ‘Teams are going to do that against us, they're going to attack the edge.”
Maybe. It seems too obvious to think that the Eagles are going to turn and hand the football off and run behind Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, but perhaps that’s what Doug Pederson has in mind. He wants to be balanced and unpredictable. He wants the offense to play in front of the chains. He wants to control the line of scrimmage.
But Pederson also wants the explosive passing game to be on point from the first possession, so one of the early-game goals is to get quarterback Carson Wentz into a rhythm early.
“We just need to execute and limit the mistakes and give ourselves a chance,” Pederson said. “Carson was good last week. He made so many plays on third down. We can’t rely on him to do that every week, so we have to avoid the penalties and the mistakes and play our game.”
Play our game. We don’t quite know what the Eagles are at this point, but we think we have a sense, right? Really good team. Could be more than that. A team that can win anywhere against any team when the Eagles play their very best game.
We didn’t see the very best in Week 1. It took the Eagles a full half to wake up and feel the urgency. They’re going to need it from the start on Sunday night.
“I’m excited to get out there and get a jump on them from the very start,” defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. “Play with a lot of energy and let’s go. That’s what we need to do.”
And with that, we wait. Sunday at 8:20 p.m. just can’t get here quickly enough.