8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Eagles -2, Over/Under: 51
A pair of teams that couldn’t have gotten off to more different starts to the season clash in the dirty south, as the Atlanta Falcons play host to the Philadelphia Eagles, from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the few clear favorites in the NFC, the Eagles (1-0, T-1st in NFC East) sure did make their rabid fanbase sweat in the season-opening 32-27 victory over division rival, Washington Redskins, rallying back from an early 17-0 deficit. Indeed, Philadelphia looked sluggish on both sides of the football early on in last Sunday’s affair, allowing the underdog Redskins to run off Seventeen Unanswered Points in the first seventeen minutes of action. However, Doug Pederson’s charges eventually woke up in the Second Half, where they outscored the visiting side 25-7. Momentum begun to swing in their direction midway through the Second Quarter, where a familiar face returned to ignite the rally; after five years away from the club that drafted him back in 2008, Desean Jackson (8 REC, 154 YDS, 19.3 Y/R, 2 TD) authored quite the homecoming, bursting though Washington’s Secondary for a 51-Yard Touchdown strike courtesy of Carson Wentz (71.8%, 313 YDS, 7.83 NY/A, 3 TD, 0 INT). He didn’t stop there, for Jackson and Wentz would connect once more on a 53-Yard score midway through the third stanza, giving the hosts the lead in the process. When it was all said and done, the 33-Year Old hauled in Eight Receptions on Ten Targets for 154 Yards and those two scores, returning a dimension to the Eagles’ Offense that had been sorely-missed last season. Indeed, there aren’t many deep threats better than the three-time Pro-Bowler, who has averaged a healthy 17.4 Yards per Reception throughout his career, leading the league in that particular statistic on four occasions. It’s clear that Wentz was happy to have him, with the speedster rounding out what appears to be a very formidable Receiving Corps, featuring the likes of Alshon Jeffery (5 REC, 49 YDS, 9.8 Y/R, 1 TD), Nelson Agholor (2 REC, 11 YDS, 5.5 Y/R, 0 TD), and Pro-Bowl Tight End, Zach Ertz (5 REC 54 YDS, 10.8 Y/R, 0 TD), who in 2018 set a record for his position reeling in 116 Catches for 1,163 YDS, and Eight Touchdowns. With that said, it’s going to be important for Pederson and his Quarterback not to become too fixated on the Passing Game, for one of Philly’s biggest issues last season was their inability to run the football with the same success that they did during their triumphant 2017 campaign. Needless to say, 98.1 Yards per Game (28th Overall) on 3.9 Yards per Carry (30th Overall) isn’t going to cut it if this group is going to reach the lofty heights it did two years ago, and Sunday provided encouraging signs as the hosts rushed for a healthy 123 Yards on Thirty-One Carries, allowing them to control Time of Possession (34:27), once again utilizing a committee-like approach in the Backfield, with veterans Darren Sproles (9 CAR, 47 YDS, 5.2 Y/C, 0 TD), Jordan Howard (6 CAR, 44 YDS, 7.3 YC, 0 TD), and Rookie, Miles Sanders (11 CAR, 25 YDS, 2.3 Y/C, 0 TD) all chipping in. Defensively, the Eagles were gashed early, allowing Touchdowns of Forty-Eight and Sixty-Nine Yards, thanks in large part to breakdowns in coverage and some really questionable tackling, though they settled in during the Second Half, relegating them to three consecutive Punts before relinquishing a meaningless score in the waning moments of the contest. There are plenty of things that Defensive Coordinator, Jim Schwartz, will be looking to correct in lieu of tonight’s affair with the Falcons, particularly after getting carved up by Case Keenum to the tune of 390 Yards on 30-of-44 passing. Unfortunately, they’ll be without a big piece of their Defensive Line, Malik Jackson, who arrived via Free Agency only to suffer a Lisfranc injury to his foot, ending his season shortly after it began
Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that Sunday’s 12-28 defeat at the Minnesota Vikings was NOT how the Falcons (0-1, T-4th in NFC South) envisioned beginning this season. After all, the pressure is on Dan Quinn and his Coaching Staff to rebound following last year’s 7-9 finish ended without a trip to the Playoffs for the first time since 2015. The skipper made some pretty significant changes to his Staff in the Offseason, relieving the beleaguered Steve Sarkisian of his duties as Offensive Coordinator, replacing him with Dirk Koetter, who spent 2012 to 2014 with the franchise in that same capacity, while Quinn himself decided to undertake playcalling as Defensive Coordinator, after his charges collapsed on that side of the football last season. Clearly, the brain trust felt that it wasn’t a personnel issue in Atlanta, though after one week, they may have to reevaluate that opinion. Needless to say, the Falcons were pretty pathetic in their Season Opener, struggling mightily to get anything going offensively, while the Vikings pushed them repeatedly pushed them around in the trenches. Matt Ryan & Co. failed to get on the scoreboard until there was 9:25 left in the game, putting together eight consecutive drives that ended without a score of some sort, three of which concluded in a Turnover, while another was capped by a Blocked Punt. At the end of the day, Atlanta failed to do much despite accumulating 377 Total Yards, 177 more than their opponent, though that was mostly due to the Turnovers, the last of which ended a promising, 13-Play, 51-Yard Drive. There was plenty of good and bad for Ryan (71.7%, 304 YDS, 5.44 NY/A, 2 TD, 2 INT), who competed 33-of-46 Passes for 304 Yards, Two Touchdowns and Two Interceptions, though was under pressure throughout the duration of the affair, suffering Four Sacks and Seven Hits. Uncharacteristically, they struggled mightily to convert on Third Down (2-of-8, 25.0%), which is certainly a surprising turn of events; despite their flaws under Sarkisian, the Offense ranked First and Fourth Overall in Third Down Rate, converting on 44.7% and 45.3% of their attempts over the last two seasons. Pass-Protection was a topic of discussion throughout Training Camp after Atlanta placed a heavy emphasis on this trait in the NFL Draft, selecting Offensive Linemen, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary with their first two picks. However, the latter had been slowed by injuries throughout the Preseason, while the former suffered a broken foot in Sunday’s loss, sending him to Injured Reserve where he isn’t expected to return until late November. All-Pro Receiver, Julio Jones (6 REC, 31 YDS, 5.2 Y/R, 1 TD), who earlier in the weekend inked a lucrative three-year, $66 Million Contract Extension that is fully guaranteed, was largely kept in check by Minnesota’s Secondary, amassing Six Catches despite Eleven Targets for Thirty-One Yards and a score. Furthermore, Devonta Freeman (8 CAR, 19 YDS, 2.4 Y/C, 0 TD), who missed all but two games a year ago with a knee injury, was slow to get back into the swing of things, rushing for just Nineteen Yards on Eight Carries and losing a crucial Fumble. Defensively, don’t get caught up in the fact that Vikings’ Quarterback, Kirk Cousins, totaled just Ninety-Eight Yards, for he didn’t have to much more than that due to Quinn’s charges getting absolutely manhandled at the Line of Scrimmage, yielding 172 Rushing Yards and Three Touchdowns on Thirty-Eight Carries. Indeed, the best way to negate a Defense predicated on undersized players with speed to spare is to run right at them and force the football down their throats, which is precisely what their opponent did to them. Atlanta has lost each of their last two meetings with Philadelphia, 10-15 in the NFC Playoffs and 12-18 in last year’s Season Opener, struggling to move the football as they were relegated to less than 300 Yards of Total Offense in each contest.