The Eagles host the high-flying Atlanta Falcons on Sunday to start a tough second half of the season. After two tough divisional losses, the birds will be doing all they can to make sure they keep themselves in the NFC East title race this weekend, but what will they need to do in order to make that happen?
Balance the Offense:
The Eagles will no doubt be looking to capitalize on a wounded Falcons Defense on Sunda and while much of that will come from Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson has to find ways to support his quarterback.
Averaging just 4.0 yards per carry, the unit is averaging 23 rushes and 37 pass attempts per game..and even though the Falcons have given up more passing yards than any team this season so far, finding a balance will be absolutely crucial to the team’s Offensive success.
Third down conversions have been a struggle all season, but in games where the committee backfield is called into action more frequently, the Offense has been able to dominate the time of possession and control the tempo of the game..something that will be imperative if they are to keep Matty Ice and Julio Jones off the field.
Unleash Carson Wentz:
As aforementioned, the Falcons Defense has been less than impressive and will also be missing some key players, cornerback Desmond Trufant being one of them.
Prior to Cleveland’s TNF loss, Atlanta were ranked 32nd in the NFL against the pass, giving up an average of 289.4 yards per game. Not only that, but the Falcons Defense has given up 259 points already this season. The only teams to surrender more are San Francisco and Cleveland.
With the Falcons Secondary clearly on its last legs, this is the perfect opportunity for Carson Wentz to kick start the “Falcons Fade” that happened last year. His accuracy, athleticism and ability to ruin plays for Defenses will be called upon heavily, but if Pederson places a trust in his rookie quarterback to air it out and make some big plays..the Eagles have every chance of winning this shootout.
Bend, don’t break:
Conversely, the Falcons Offense has been nothing short of staggering this season. Averaging 33.9 points per game and racking up 3,863 yards already, Atlanta has been able to steamroll over anyone that stands in their way Offensively.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will obviously draw the spotlight, especially considering how weak the Eagles cornerback corps is in terms of depth..but away from Julio, the Falcons are still dangerous. From Mohamed Sanu to running back, Devonta Freeman, the unit is one of the most balanced and dangerous in the NFL.
However, the Eagles front four has been simply dominant..and while blitzing has been a priority in recent weeks, if the Eagles can rely on their front four to generate pressure, it will allow the linebackers to drop back into coverage and help prevent the big plays Atlanta are renowned for.
It will be a game of huge responsibility for players like Rodney McLeod, but if the Eagles can adapt a “bend but don’t break” mentality and get the Falcons to the goal-line, then their front seven, as proven countless times this season, has the ability to force a field goal and stop even the most explosive offenses finding the endzone.
Doug Pederson has been incredibly impressive with his play-calling in recent weeks, but this simply has to be the game where the strategy becomes a “West-Coast, end every drive with a kick” style plan.
Not only has Caleb Sturgis been money this season hitting 20-22 field goals, but the Eagles have missed out on one too many potential field goals now. Choosing to go for it on 4th down twice against the Giants when those six potential points would have sealed the game, the Eagles can’t afford to make the same mistakes against such an electric Offense.
The Giants were sloppy last week..and the Falcons Offense is a very different beast, one that will punish any play-calling risks made by Doug Pederson. If the Eagles put all their chips on the table only to be drawn a bad hand, this is an Offense that will look to bury the game at any given opportunity, as the Bucs found out in Thursday Night Football.
Discipline has to be key here..and if the Eagles can conservatively pick up points and “trust the process”, then this shootout will not only be a thriller, but a very winnable one.
Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports