written by Ben Rolfe
The Atlanta Falcons team we saw in wild card weekend is the closest to the 2017 version we have
seen so far. I’m not just talking about the offence but also that defence seemed to step it up to
another level. They shut down Todd Gurley and made the Rams high powered offence difficult to
run with great speed and also a great game plan. Now they head over to Philadelphia where
suddenly they find themselves favourites in a game that just a few weeks ago people would only
have given them half a chance in.
The Eagles for their part have not looked good since they lost Carson Wentz but that is not to be
unexpected. Nick Foles has flashed brilliance in the past but he had a couple of things on his side
that time; firstly more time in the season to develop with his team and secondly the expectations
were so much lower. Foles walked into a situation where anything that wasn’t winning was a major
disappointment for the Eagles. In the NFL now it is becoming imperative that you have a back-up
who is at least 70% of what your starter offers because at any moment a player can go down for
good or be taken away for a concussion test or injury check. It is also becoming apparent that
investing time in your back-up QB getting snaps during the week and making sure your QB is
comfortable in the same offence as your starter are key elements. Over the course of a couple of
weeks you can step it up from 30-50% readiness to 100% but you can’t go from 0-100 in the click of
your fingers. For clarity I should say I have no idea what kind of work Foles was doing before the
Wentz injury but I have to guess he came in under cooked and NFL teams can’t afford to just give a
season away because of bad luck anymore.
I am hoping that the Eagles we see this week is a rested, well prepared team who have something on offence to challenge this Falcons defence. If they do this has the potential to be a match-up for the ages in Philly. The Eagles have three running backs that can all do solid work in various situations. They have a receiving and tight end group that can be dominant when the QB gets its right. There only real weaknesses right now are around the snap. The offensive line troubles were masked by the brilliant mobility and vision of Carson Wentz. Sadly for Foles he isn’t as capable as Wentz at escaping pressure and squeezing out of tight spaces to make big plays and that is being highlighted in the passing numbers.
Atlanta’s defence will be prepared for the Philly offence. It has been pretty similar all year but whether this young and relatively small defence can handle the power running of Blount and Ajayi in a one two combination is yet to be seen. We saw in last year Super Bowl that Blount was blunted and he will have to hold onto the ball all the way through the tackle. The key in the running game could be Corey Clement or even Kenjon Barner. The Patriots used James White to spread the line backers in space and beat them that way.
Defensively the Eagles are a very good group and they should play the Falcons offence tough. They will need to stop the 1-2 punch of Freeman and Coleman early as well as trying to knock Julio Jones off his game. If those three guys get rolling it could be a long day for the Eagles as the Falcons can use play action and take advantage of the extra attention Jones will get to open up plays for Sanu, Gabriel and their tight ends. The Falcons for their part just need to do what they are good at and trust in their running backs and #1 wide receiver.
Doug Peterson is a good offensive mind and he will likely let the defence sort themselves out because they have shown they can do it. Hopefully, he knows what they need to do in this game to keep the Falcons defence off balance but if he doesn’t implement the right offensive plan early and the Falcons get ahead then it could be curtains for the Eagles season. One thing I feel fairly confident about is that Nick Foles isn’t leading a comeback from 10+ points down let alone 28.
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