The Eagles are just a few days away from hosting the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional round matchup that will be plagued by extreme weather. But whether it’s snowing, raining or anything else for that matter, the mindset has to be the same for the Eagles offense. One of the best units in the league this season has experienced a slump in form over the last three games and after a week off, will need to pick up the slack against a Falcons defense that presents a very unique challenge.
Chaining the Eagles back more than anything over the last few weeks has been the sheer amount of offensive penalties and setbacks the team have experienced. constantly fighting the current, the Eagles offense has been unable to stay ahead of the chains or move them with the ease they did earlier in the year, even up to the return of Nick Foles. It’s not something that’s lost on the coaching staff either.
“We have to do a good job of being productive on first and second down.” Frank Reich told reporters on Monday with a sense of urgency in his voice. “That’s been a big part of our formula. I know we’ve had a fair amount of success when you look at the overall season as far as some third-and-long, but I think going into the stage where the weather tends to get a little bit worse, staying ahead of the chains is vitally important.”
With their third down conversion percentage slipping to just 22%, the Eagles will be in hot water if things don’t change soon. The NFL’s top-scoring offense were held to just 13 points against the Falcons last week, converting on just 35% of third down attempts. The Falcons D has been flying around the field making huge tackles in the opening field and is playing with a new sense of confidence under First-year coordinator Marquand Manuel.
The Falcons are a top ten defense in the following categories:
Yards per game (9th)
Red zone (6th)
But that doesn’t mean that running the ball will be easy. The Eagles will lean on their backfield and would be right to do so, but the opposing defense only allowed 9 rushing touchdowns this year, which is the least they’ve given up since 2010. They’ve also given up just six rushes of 20+ yards or more all season.
What’s even more alarming for the Eagles is that 13 of the. Falcons 39 sacks have come on third down. An area of the game that has been rendered lifeless in recent weeks for Philadelphia.
The Eagles faced a similar challenge against the Chargers and another against Seattle. Wentz averaged 7.81 yards per pass attempt against the Chargers and threw for a season-high 348 yards against the Seahawks. Against a defense built in a similar mold, the Eagles need to get Nick Foles and the passing attack firing on all cylinders if they have a chance of winning the matchup.
“As much as we and everybody else wants to run the football, you have to be able to stay aggressive in the pass game and get the ball down the field.” Reich went on to acknowledge. “Nick has proven that over the length and entirety of his career. He not only can get the ball downfield, he can do so very well. He wants to throw the ball downfield. He’s aggressive in his mind-set, as aggressive a guy as I’ve been around. He’s looking to throw it down the field. Some guys are the dink-and-dunk kind of guys. That’s not Nick. Nick is aggressive.”
Aggressive has to be the key word for the Eagles. The Falcons stack the box, play fast and play tough. The aim for the Falcons will be simple; eliminate the run and force Nick Foles to throw under duress. The home team would be wise to come out of the gate swinging, taking shots downfield and trusting in the arm and confidence of Nick Foles as opposed to falling back onto a run game that may have trouble getting going…and if that is the case, it could have catastrophic consequences.
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