Eye on the Eagles Enemy: Atlanta Falcons

NFL: NOV 28 Saints at Falcons
ATLANTA, GA – NOVEMBER 28: Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (54) reacts after recovering an onside kick during the NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints on November 28, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire)

The Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles. Two teams that, over the last two decades, have gotten in each other’s way in some of the NFL’s brightest stages.

Whether it was the last home playoff win at Veterans Stadium in 2003, McNabb vs. Vick for a shot at Super Bowl XXXIX, Trotter and Mathis getting into a brawl before the 2005 season opener, or the first ever sixth seed in the playoffs to be favored, and lose to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Falcons and Eagles have given fans some excellent football games.

For the third time since 2010, the Battle of the Birds kicks off the 2021 season. Here’s an in-depth look at what the Falcons will be bringing to the table.

Last Season Blues

It’s crazy to think, as bad as the 2020 Eagles were, there’s an argument to be made the 2020 Falcons were even worse. Atlanta went 4-12 in 2020 after starting 0-5.

While it’s easy to dismiss the Falcons’ season as one that will be remembered for remarkable comebacks by opposing teams, the Falcons blew six total leads which led to losses and lost eight games with a deficit of 7 or less points.

They were competitive in a lot of games, even if their losses were excruciating.

Atlanta cleaned house quickly after the 2020 debacle. They bring in new Head Coach, Arthur Smith, and a new GM in Terry Fontenot.

The roster went through a deep cleansing, purging some of the big stars that were on the roster when the team won the NFC in 2016.

Julio Jones is gone. Kyle Pitts, the standout rookie “TE” is the new playmaker burdening the hopes of a city on his shoulders.

In reality, the direction of the Atlanta Falcons is just as much up in the air as Philadelphia’s.

Matty Ice cooling off?

People in the modern game tend to determine where a QB is in the present, to decide if he is or was a good player. This seems to be happening to Matt Ryan, but he has had an incredible career.

People forget that when Ryan was drafted in 2008, the Falcons were coming off Mike Vick’s arrest and Bobby Petrino leaving in the middle of the night. The Falcons were a mess and Matt Ryan did an incredible job of bringing them back to respectability.

With all the greatness Ryan has delivered for Atlanta, it’s been a mixed bag when facing off against his hometown team.

Ryan is 4-5 against the Eagles throughout his career. The outlook is different when you look at the splits though. Ryan is 1-4 in Philadelphia, including the 2017 playoff loss. But is 3-1 when the game is played in Atlanta.

It’s an interesting split for a QB who is clearly in the twilight of his career. The former MVP is certainly not the player he once was, but is definitely capable of winning games with the right talent around him.

Bye Bye Julio

It’s crazy to think about, but the Falcons may not actually miss Julio Jones, after trading him to Tennessee this offseason. While Mike Davis as a lead back is certainly something to look at with apprehension, the addition of Kyle Pitts for the Falcons is a welcome sight.

Many were surprised when the Falcons took Kyle Pitts over a QB to sit behind Matt Ryan this season. Nobody can deny the talent though. Pitts comes into the NFL as one of the best TE prospects in recent memory.

And if you can somehow handle Kyle Pitts, you also have to deal with Calvin Ridley. Darius Slay has already given his props to the former Alabama standout.

We’ll get more into Mike Davis and the ground game in a little bit, but the weapons on this Falcons offense is still strong enough to strike fear in ANY defense.

Let alone one in a brand new system.

The Trenches

This is the one group that I feel gives Philadelphia its biggest advantage on Sunday.

The Falcons saw James Carpenter and Alex Mack, two of their better OL last season, leave in FA. Jake Matthews (LT), Chris Lindstrom (RG), and Kaleb McGary (RT) are the three returning players form last year’s abysmal OL group.

No matter who starts at guard or center, the Falcons OL has their hands full against the Eagles defensive line. It’s one key to the game that could determine a win or a loss for both teams.

So long as Philadelphia’s new defensive scheme holds up, Mike Davis shouldn’t have a lot of success on Sunday.

The defensive line hasn’t been much better for Atlanta either. There’s certainly more talent than the Falcons OL with Grady Jarrett, Dante Fowler Jr. and Deion Jones, but this is still a unit that was in the bottom echelon of sacks last season.

While the Falcons certainly have an edge in terms of their talent on the outside, the interior OL and DL is something that has plagued Atlanta for years now, and it should once again be a problem in 2021.

The Back End

The Falcons secondary last year was a mess. A.J. Terrell is definitely the highlight of a secondary that gave up the most passing yards in the NFL last season. It only gets worse as stalwarts like Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasmann and Damontae Kazee are all no longer on the team.

It’s another position group that the Eagles should exploit if they get the chance on Sunday.

PFF ranks the Falcons secondary as the worst in the NFL heading into this season.

This could certainly change under a new defensive coordinator.

Dean Pees does have a ton of NFL pedigree. The Titans defenses the last couple years have been very physical and fast.

Defenses in the last few years under Pees has ranked 6th, 10th, and 9th against the pass. Ignoring last year’s disappointing ranking of 24th, Pees should have this new-look secondary playing a lot more disciplined than last year’s unit.

What does it all mean?

The Falcons may be favorites to win on opening day, but there are still a ton of questions on this roster.

Many people have picked Atlanta to return to last in the division this year again. They are also pretty directionless right now. They traded away Julio Jones, which could have marked the beginning of a large rebuild incoming….but then they drafted Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick.

In the end, the Falcons will go as far as Matt Ryan and the Offensive/Defensive lines take them. If Ryan is under duress all season, Atlanta is in for another rough year starting on Sunday.

Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire