The Eagles dethroned the defending NFC champion Falcons in a hard fought, defensive battle on Saturday to advance to the NFC Championship game for the first time in 10 years. Here are the 10 biggest takeaways from the win at the Linc:
Nick Foles was everything the Eagles needed him to be on Saturday. He didn’t turn the ball over, he was fairly accurate outside of a poor first couple of drive and he moved the chains. That should be the game plan moving forward for Philly. The best way to describe his performance is efficient. Foles went 23/30 for 246 yards and a 100.1 passer rating. He also had 12 passing first downs and averaged 7.7 yards per pass. The other stat of note for Foles would be his equal distribution. There were 6 different Eagles who caught at least 3 passes. If you spread the ball around like that it will keep defenses honest all over the field so they can’t focus on a specific player or 2. He was very good at the weekend but he was not without error.
Foles was a part of 2 fumbled exchanges, one with Blount and the other with Clement at the goal line, that could have been disastrous. He also took a bad sack early in the game that knocked the Eagles out of field goal range. Nick was solid but he is going to need to tighten some things up if this team is to advance. Let’s hope the butterflies are gone and he’s even more comfortable next week.
Coach Pederson and his staff deserve a ton of credit here. Coach had a very balanced attack. He never put to much pressure on Foles and was aggressive when he needed to be. He had the team prepared for this moment even coming off a long layoff. Coach Schwartz had his defense ready to play as well and his defense was the catalyst to winning the game yesterday. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were held to modest numbers and there weren’t really any explosive plays between the 2 superstars. Pro Bowl RB Devonta Freeman was held to 7 yards on 10 carries.
Nothing stood out more in terms of preparation was the 4th down stop at the end of the game. The Eagles knew the exact play that was coming. Multiple players called out the play as soon as Atlanta broke the huddle. That’s a testament to the coaches for getting these players ready to play championship football.
Don’t you just feel like the city of Philadelphia is comfortable in this role? As soon as the line came out last week with Philly getting 2.5 points, you just got the sense that it started a fire in the Eagles’ stomachs. Then signs and posters and paper clippings immediately started popping up around the Novacare complex. Nobody was picking the Eagles and the fire grew hotter. You could tell in the way they played that it was a motivating factor. If their play didn’t show it, Lane Johnson’s dog mask at the end of the game certainly shows that the Eagles heard the noise. The Eagles loved it. Philly loves it. The underdog role is the heart of the city and if early indications are true, the Eagles will be underdogs again next week regardless of who they face at home in the NFC Championship.
The Jay Ajayi Conundrum:
Jay Ajayi is clearly the Eagles’ most explosive and talented running back but he put the ball on the ground again on Saturday and that is concerning going forward. Ajayi’s fumble on the 2nd play of the game most likely took points off the board for the Eagles. It is also the 3rd time he’s fumbled in 8 games as an Eagle and that’s with minimal touches in his first 4 games. What do you do with a runner who is so clearly talented but is now potentially a liability when he gets the ball? The playoffs are too close to risk turning the ball over. Maybe that’s why we didn’t see as much of Ajayi in the 2nd half. We all would love for him to step up and be dominating, to be the guy, but maybe for this postseason it’s better to just continue the committee.
The Jake Elliott Roller Coaster:
The kid has made some huge kicks this year. Kicks that this franchise will never forget. Kicks like the 53 yards he hit in the cold and wind yesterday. Elliott has been largely a success this year but his missed extra point yesterday was alarming. He missed 3 PAT’s during the regular season and was 0-1 yesterday. Elliott only his 83% of his field goals on the year which is a little below league average. I know he has made some huge kicks but he needs to make the non-clutch ones too. Not to mention his kickoff that went out of bounds yesterday setting up Atlanta at the 40. In tight games, field position is so pivotal and the Eagles cannot afford mistakes like that. Every time he comes out onto the field now I get uneasy. Every point matters so Elliott needs to sharpen up for next Sunday.
Surviving the Turnovers:
It’s very rare to lose the turnover battle by 2 and come out with a win in the playoffs. The Ajayi fumble was horrible. The special teams gaffe was kind of fluky but preventable. Barner should run up and make that play and not let the ball bounce around like that. He also needs to do a better job with his “fire” call. I understand the wind knocked the punt down but just be better prepared for that situation. There were also 2 other potential fumbles on handoffs that could have been disastrous. You can’t turn the ball over and win in the playoffs. The Eagles dodged a bullet.
For all the big money he’s being paid, Fletcher Cox showed up in a big way yesterday. It’s great when the best players step up in big games. This guy has such a dominating effect on the line of scrimmage, he wreaked havoc in Atlanta’s backfield all day and really ruined their offense. Cox finished with 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL and 2 QB hits but his impact was much larger than that. Feel confident that the road to the Super Bowl has to go through Fletcher Cox and this defense.
Nigel Bradham has always been a very solid player, dating back to his days in Buffalo. He has taken his game to a new level however once he took over as the signal caller for the defense after the Jordan Hicks injury. He’s a 3 down linebacker who stays on the field in nickel situations and he was all over the field yesterday. Bradham had 4 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 PD and 1 QB hit. He has been the force on the 2nd level of the defense that this team needs and his play has kept this defense at an elite level.
The entire secondary should be given their props for their effort in limiting the Falcons on Saturday. Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson all did an outstanding job all game. Jenkins, McLeod and Darby led the team in tackles. They broke Matt Ryan’s streak of 5 consecutive games with 100+ passer rating. They didn’t give up any big plays. This is the group that was fully prepared and locked in on the final play of the game that clinched the victory. Great leaders and professionals in this group. What a turnaround from years past. Great to see.
*TAKEAWAY OF THE GAME*
It wasn’t pretty by any means but a win is a win and THE EAGLES ARE GOING TO THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME! The road to the Super Bowl goes through Philly! That goal line stand was amazing. he Eagles haven’t had that good fortune at the end of a big game in a long time. What an amazing win. What an amazing feeling. Bring on the Vikings, the Eagles will be ready!
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports