We have made it, Eagles fans! Good morning as the Eagles kick off the regular season tonight against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field. So, here's the deal. If you're attending the game, make sure to follow @LFFStadium on Twitter for all of the latest details regarding parking and gate times. You will definitely want to be in your seats by 7:30 p.m.
For those watching the game, our live coverage begins at 7:50 p.m. with The Kickoff Show presented by Axalta which will feature the Championship Moment celebration as the Super Bowl banner is unveiled.
Tonight's rematch of the Divisional Round will be broadcast live on NBC with the game set for 8:20 p.m. You can listen to Merrill Reese and Mike Quick on SportsRadio 94WIP. A livestream of Merrill and Mike will also be available on PhiladelphiaEagles.com. Once the game is over, join me and Ike Reese for the Postgame Show presented by Ricoh.
Just a few hours more, everyone. Until then, here's a 10-pack of nuggets in our Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft.
1. Watch The Falcons' Red Zone Attack
Despite being one of the most prolific offenses in the past two seasons, the Falcons have struggled mightily in the red zone. Of course, how did the season end for Atlanta back in January? On a failed fourth-and-goal attempt from the 2-yard line. The Falcons have made improving the red zone offense a focal point of the offseason. Julio Jones, the target on that fourth-down pass in the postseason, had just five red zone catches on 18 opportunities in 2017. That's all good if it's opening up things for the rest of the offense, but it didn't. The Falcons ranked 23rd in the league in red zone offense.
2. Time For Some Home Cooking
Since Doug Pederson was hired in 2016, the Eagles have the best home record in the NFL at 15-3 including playoffs. In fact, the Eagles, who only lost the regular-season finale against Dallas last season, outscored opponents at the Linc in 2017 by a margin of 282-124, again including playoffs.
Lastly, Eagles Game Plan host John Clark dug up this beauty. Since the NFL launched the Thursday night opener hosted by the Super Bowl champs, the team raising the banner is 11-1. The Giants lost in 2012 after the opener was moved to a Wednesday. The Ravens lost the following year, but their game was on the road due to scheduling conflicts.
3. The Last Time The Eagles Were The Champs
Look, some people have written that this is the first time that the Eagles are defending champs.
Super Bowl? Yes. World Champs? No.
Ray Didinger wrote about the 1961 team that opened its defense with a historic play by Eagles Hall of Fame running back/returner Timmy Brown.
4. Final Injury Report
Wide receivers Mack Hollins and Alshon Jeffery, and quarterback Carson Wentz are out for tonight. Other than that, the Eagles will have the other 50 players available. Four additional will be named inactive. Find out who they are at around 6:50 p.m., 90 minutes before kickoff.
5. How Will Eagles Handle The Emotion Of The Night?
Dave Spadaro went in search of one of the critical questions facing the Eagles today:
The party in Philadelphia will start in the early afternoon, at the latest, as the fans celebrate the Super Bowl Championship and, simultaneously, the opening of the 2018 NFL season. At that time, the Eagles will be sequestered in their team hotel, staying busy with final-hours preparation for the Atlanta Falcons. You see, Thursday is one of those days and nights that comes along only once, as we've learned, in a generation (or two, in this instance) and those who handle all of the goings-on will prosper.
"Yeah, that's the biggest challenge," head coach Doug Pederson told me earlier in the week. "It's a long day and the guys are going to be amped up, I believe, and so being able to control the emotion of the atmosphere and the type of playoff atmosphere that this is going to be is the key. We don't want to expend all that energy early in the day. We want to be able to save it and bottle it up for the game, so how we approach that day is going to be critical in how we start this football game."
6. What's Your Big Question?
We surveyed fans for what they want to know about tonight's matchup and one of the questions featured the linebacker position with the return of Jordan Hicks, but the absence of Nigel Bradham.
Here was Fran Duffy's response:
First, keep in mind that the Eagles will only play with three linebackers on the field for about 30 percent of the snaps, if that, in any given game. Kendricks did have a solid season last year, especially after Hicks' injury, but with his cap number being what it was, it made sense to move on. Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was named a captain this week for his work on special teams, is a better athlete than Kendricks and offers more in the third phase of the game. Nathan Gerry is another player who has made big strides throughout his young career as a converted college safety. I'm excited to see what both Grugier-Hill and Gerry bring to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night.
7. Analyzing The Falcons' Offense
Speaking of Fran, here's a sample from his deep dive into the Atlanta offense led by quarterback Matt Ryan:
After looking at Atlanta's defense and the challenges it will present on Thursday night, it's time to change gears and study this Falcons offense. Despite finishing 13th in rushing yards per game a year ago, this unit wants to run the football. They have two very talented runners in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (two backs I projected as future starters coming out of college), and they beat you in a number of ways.
Freeman is an instinctive, decisive runner with an impressive blend of contact balance and wiggle to make defenders miss. Coleman is a bit more high-cut with long limbs and breakaway speed in the open field. They move both players around the formation (more about pre-snap motion later) as effective pass catchers and mismatches in space. It would be easy for me to say that Freeman is the "inside" runner and that Coleman is the "outside" guy, but that wouldn't be true, as both have the versatility to do either in the structure of Atlanta's offense, a scheme that features a heavy dose of outside zone.
8. Nick Foles: By The Numbers
Foles is making just the third Week 1 start of his career. He won his first two - with the Eagles in 2014, and then the Rams in 2015. He's 2-0 with a 62.5 percent completion percentage for 619 yards with three touchdowns against an interception.
Foles enters the season with the highest passer rating in Eagles history as well as the top rating in NFL postseason history.
9. Just A Brian Dawkins Note
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Wednesday that safety Brian Dawkins, a member of the Class of 2018, will receive his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence at the October 21 game against the Carolina Panthers. Back to tonight.
10. The Mike Wallace Factor
Mike Wallace is set to make his Eagles debut tonight. This article is from a few weeks back, and it's primarily for fantasy football purposes, but analyst Josh Hermsmeyer explained why Wallace is an upgrade - his catch percentage on slant routes:
Wallace has a 77 percent career catch rate on Slants ... When targeting wide receivers in 2017, the Eagles favored four routes: Slants, Curls, Go routes, and Digs. Slants especially are a favorite of the Eagles, and it was their most frequently targeted route out wide. The table is nicely set for Wallace to see his fair share of opportunity in 2018.