The Atlanta Falcons look pretty beatable for an undefeated team.
Their six wins have come against nary a winning team, .500 being the best record of an opponent they’ve faced this season. A 30-28 win in Week 4 against the Panthers or a 23-20 victory in Week 6 over the Raiders can’t exactly be described as impressive or dominating. Yes, the Falcons have come out with wins in every game but are they a commanding team? That is what the Falcons seek to prove on Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles plan to show that the mighty can and will fall, particularly when the Falcons travel to the Linc and have failed to secure a victory in four previous trips to Philadelphia’s stadium.
Sunday’s contest promises to be a great game, with the stakes high for both birds facing each other on the field. The Philadelphia Eagles are fighting for their very future. With a coordinator already gone, each and every player and coach has been put on notice. The time to talk a good game is over. It’s time to go play it. But Philadelphia never does things the easy way, proving themselves at the very moment their backs are against the wall.
Well, the wall has appeared and it can’t be much higher.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has been stellar this season with 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions with a passer rating of 98.8. But Ryan threw 3 interceptions in Atlanta’s game against Oakland making ball security a concern for quarterbacks of both teams this week.
The Eagles D is tasked with trying to neutralize Ryan and his tremendous offensive weapons. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez are all dangerous players and Ryan spreads out his throws successfully to all three. This means that Philadelphia’s defense must bring pressure to Ryan and Atlanta’s pass-heavy offense. Gonzalez gave Philadelphia fits in last year’s meeting and this time will be covered by Mychal Kendricks and Nate Allen. We know that Kendricks is good but the rookie will face an incredible challenge in trying to contain Gonzalez. With a new DC, Philadelphia can inject an element of surprise to Ryan and the Falcons with the addition of some blitzing plays to keep the pressure coming.
The same concerns that existed prior to the bye for the Eagles offense are still there, first among them the turnover issue. Andy Reid and Mike Vick were not able to find an effective solution in their bag of tricks before the break but their futures depend on ending the giveaways. The shaky offensive line was dealt another blow with rookie Dennis Kelly likely getting his first NFL start on Sunday to replace RG Danny Watkins, who is suffering from left ankle issue. King Dunlap is back as the starting left tackle, which should provide some solace for this line as Demetress Bell has continued to underwhelm with pass protection. The o-line has been ravaged by injury this season but quite simply has to make it work this game and for the rest of the year.
Atlanta’s secondary thrives on takeaways and former Eagle Asante Samuel would just love to get a pick this game to prove to his old team that he is not damaged goods and they made a mistake in trading him. Samuel has one 76-yard interception return for a touchdown this season and the Falcons have gotten a total of 17 takeaways. Safety Thomas DeCoud has four interceptions alone, tied for the lead in the NFL.
Where can the Eagles get an edge against an aggressive Falcons defense? By getting the running game going and sticking with it. LeSean McCoy has struggled in the two weeks prior to the bye but Atlanta’s defense against the run is 28th-worst in the league, allowing an average 143.8 yards per game on the ground and allowing 5.2 YPC. When Shady is your running back and you’re going against a team with such poor run defense, you run the ball. Period. Philadelphia found success it dialed up more rushing than passing attempts as it did in its victories against the Ravens and Giants. They have the talent to do it and the more Vick is asked to throw the more potential for problems
The intrigue of the Mike Vick-as-former-Falcons quarterback has faded but there is plenty to make this game a must-see matchup as well as a must-win contest for the Eagles. Hurricane Sandy will likely make the weather a mess, not a comforting fact given concerns about ball security. Todd Bowles makes his debut as the team’s DC and needs to prove that he can dial up the right plays at the right time for the Eagles defense. The implications of 3-4 versus a 4-3 record are entirely different for Philadelphia and this team cannot afford to dip below .500. There is no more time for excuses. And if it’s another messy outing for Vick, things will get even more dramatic for Philadelphia.
Who has the edge in Sunday’s game? I’d say it’s the team who has the most at stake. In this case, it is hands-down the Philadelphia Eagles. Expect them to come out swinging, seeking to prove to their detractors and to themselves that they can hand Atlanta their first loss this season It doesn’t hurt that the Falcons are 0-4 at the Linc, either. Prediction: Eagles 27 Falcons 21