Eight months ago, the Atlanta Falcons were within one down and one dropped pass from defeating the future Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. Eight months later, the Dirty Birds will take on those Eagles tonight at Lincoln Financial Field. We have the four players that fans need to pay attention to tonight. This is our first four keys of the 2018 campaign!
First, Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz has made significant strides in returning from an ACL injury, but is not quite healthy enough to start. Nick Foles will take the snaps on Thursday night, and as he demonstrated in Super Bowl LII, he is more than capable of getting the job done for the Eagles.
Secondly, defensive end Vic Beasley’s pass rush is key. The 26-year-old defensive end from Adairsville will most likely be matched up on Jason Peters, the Eagles tackle most likely making his first start tonight after injuring his ACL last season. Beasley, the NFL’s sack leader in 2016, has the ability to beat offensive tackles around the edge, or get to the quarterback on stunts. He needs to utilize this versatility to keep pressure on the Foles. If not, Foles might get into the same rhythm that allowed him to throw for over 370 yards in the NFL’s most important game. The Falcons’ front seven has to force Foles into making hurried and contested throws in an attempt to disrupt the Eagles’ effective passing game.
The Falcons will have to game plan effectively against Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz. Ertz is a big target at 6’5” and 250 pounds. He poses a matchup problem with a lot of defenses because he is faster than most defensive lineman and linebackers, but bigger than safeties and cornerbacks. He is a very effective route runner and is skilled with catching the football away from his body. He is also a solid blocker in the passing game.
The Falcons’ defense has to be aware of where and how Ertz lines up before the snap. They must ensure that he is accounted for in their man-to-man defensive scheme, and that the defender is big enough and fast enough to challenge Ertz when he’s targeted.
Offensively, the Falcons must find ways to deploy Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in the passing game. In January’s divisional round playoff game, Coleman only caught one pass for 14 yards. Stretching the Eagles defense along the perimeter will stress safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod because they have no problems playing the run. The Eagles love to line up with eight in the box on first down. This will be no different, because the Eagles replaced Vinny Curry and Beau Allen with Haloti Ngata and star defensive end Michael Bennett. In the last two matchups, the Falcons have had trouble running the ball against these fronts anchored by Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. If the Falcons can use the short passing game in order to set up the running game, in the long haul, this offense will stay on schedule.
In addition, the Falcons wide receivers cannot drop passes. In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons dropped 34 passes, seventh most in the league. Atlanta was the only team to be in the top 10 in dropped passes and qualify for the playoffs. By comparison, the Eagles’ receiving corps dropped only 11 passes, the third fewest in the NFL en route to Super Bowl LI.
The Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles face off tonight at Lincoln Financial Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:20pm.