With the Philadelphia Eagles preparing for the Atlanta Falcons to come to town in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs, much has been made of the Eagles defense and the advantage of the home field for Philadelphia. However, the individuals who make up the Eagles defense haven’t been singled out enough.
In June of 2016, after his second straight Pro Bowl and combining for 16 sacks in two seasons, the Eagles rewarded defensive tackle Fletcher Cox with a six-year contract worth over $100 million. In response, Cox has delivered and is on his way to a third straight Pro Bowl while garnering his third naming of second-team All-Pro.
If there was ever a time for Cox to earn his money, it would be in Saturday’s game against the Falcons. In the Wild Card round of the playoffs, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald gave guard Ben Garland absolute hell for 60 minutes. Garland, starting in place of Andy Levitre, will have another big test on Saturday afternoon against Cox.
Donald finished the game with five tackles, a half of a sack and 11 quarterback pressures. If Cox, who dominated the battle between he and Donald in the week 14 matchup, even approaches those numbers, he will certainly be doing his part for the Eagles defense to shut down the Falcons offense.
Should the Falcons send Garland help in the form of the center or tackle assisting, that will leave either Tim Jernigan or Brandon Graham one-on-one. Jernigan and Graham, each having career years, could be poised for big games. For the Falcons, it will be a “pick your poison” situation.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who posted a 91.4 passer rating and nearly a 2:1 TD:INT ratio, has drastically reduced success when under pressure. Ryan’s completion percentage drops to a paltry 50.9 percent while his passer rating drops to 70.8. Ryan also has thrown three interceptions to just four touchdowns.
The front seven will be huge in determining the outcome of Saturday’s matchup. The Falcons have three dangerous receivers in Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu and tight end Austin Hooper and the defensive backs will need all the help they can get in keeping those guys contained. A pass rush that the Eagles have proven to be capable of will go a long way in defending that trio.
The receiving dangers don’t stop at the wide receivers, though. Both running backs that the Falcons deploy – Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman – will keep the defense honest in the pass game. Freeman and Coleman have combined for 63 receptions, 616 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The defensive ends, as well as the linebackers, will have to be disciplined to keep either of those backs from burning the defense from underneath.
The Eagles have a tough goal that they’ve set for themselves against an offense that averages 22.1 points per game.
“I know as a defense,” linebacker Nigel Bradham told the media on Thursday, “we want to be able to hold them under a certain amount of points. Ten, 14 is our goal. Obviously, that’s really tough on a defense, but that’s how it goes. We hold ourselves to a higher standard. That’s how we look at it each week. That’s our goal we set for each week.”
The Eagles have reached that goal in six of their games during the regular season and it will go a long, long way should they be able to make it one-for-one in the playoffs.
The Falcons exposed a glaring weakness in themselves a week ago when they neglected to assist guard Ben Garland and Aaron Donald had a field day getting to the quarterback. Should Atlanta make a similar mistake on Saturday, the Eagles must take advantage and get Fletcher Cox and the rest of the defense to Matt Ryan.
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