It feels like only yesterday that the Eagles were able to somehow overthrow Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. It feels like only yesterday that Nick Foles out dueled Matt Ryan and Jalen Mills was able to win the most important play of the game, forcing Julio Jones to stumble as the Falcons hopes of advancing to an NFC Championship Game were extinguished. To open the season, the Eagles will have to do it all over again and while the stakes are a little lower, the need for a win is just as important.
A season is not won or lost in the first week of the regular season, but a tone can certainly be set. For defending Super Bowl champions who are keen to leave their underdog masks in the drawer and embrace the newly placed targets on their backs, it may simply be a case of donning the Dog once more.
It was confirmed today that Nick Foles will be the starting quarterback to open the season. The rehab of Carson Wentz remains the team’s top priority with his health being far more important than rushing him back a game or two early. The last time we saw Foles in relevant action, he was writing himself into the record books in the most remarkable way. But after a wobbly preseason and an inconsistent camp, concerns naturally arose. That hasn’t dented the team’s confidence in him, however.
“I have really very positive feelings about Nick and the way that he’s played.” Newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters on Monday. “I can only relate it to my experience and being with him on the same team as Nick is on. And again, a lot of confidence in Nick and the way that he studies and prepares himself to play and to play at a high level. And then certainly the way that he played last January, and even before that in December, to go in those circumstances in Los Angeles and to lead us to victory there in the second half of that game [and] go up to New York under difficult circumstances and rally the team there and throw four touchdown passes. We’re very fortunate to have Nick Foles on this team.”
Whether you’re concerned about Nick Foles or not, there are still other areas of slight worry. Nigel Bradham’s suspended for Thursday’s season opener and the Eagles will also be without Alshon Jeffery. Even those who are present, aren’t fully out of the woods just yet.
Mack Hollins has dealt with a lower-body injury this offseason, while Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor have both missed chunks of time. The idea that some rust will need to be shaken off isn’t an absurd one. The offense could likely be focused around exploiting matchups involving Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, as well as a versatile run game. Without Bradham and with questions still hovering at linebacker and Nickel cornerback, it’s likely that a resurgent Atlanta team are to storm in looking for revenge and they have a scheme that could cause some problems for the Eagles, especially with Devonta Freeman back in the fold.
“They are one of the few teams that actually employs a fullback. So they do run some two-back sets.” Jim Schwartz explained in detail on Monday afternoon.
“You’ll see probably six different personnel groups with us, matching what they do offensively. They use two tight end packages. They use two-back packages. They have two backs where it’s two halfbacks, not a fullback. They have four-wide packages. The traditional three-wide, extra offensive linemen. Substitutions, personnel matching was a big part of the games we played the last two years against them and I would expect the same thing to be in this game.”
The Eagles were the league’s most dominant run defense last year, but without Jernigan and a durability worry with Ngata, there’s every chance Atlanta try to pound the Eagles into submission. Primarily a team who run a nickel defense, being forced into a ‘base’ formation where linebacker depth is minimal could well be problematic, increasing the strain on the offense to put up points.
“We have to find some ways to get some points, and it’s going to take more than 15, I would imagine, to beat them this time.” Groh explained. “We’ve got to keep doing the things that we like to do and have success, but we’ve got to find some new ways to do some things that they kept us from doing.”
A wise man once said ‘Hungry Dogs run faster’. Sure, the Eagles may be Super Bowl champions now, but the odds may well be stacked against them once again on Thursday Night. If Doug Pederson can hit the ground running with an explosive outing against Atlanta, silencing the critics and proving he can survive without Carson Wentz to start the season, this team may be unstoppable. A loss, however, and like it or not, it’s a big loss to take and keeping spirits high and confidence flourishing will be the task for the Eagles Head Coach.
A statement game in the season opener? Welcome to Philadelphia, city of champions.
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