The Atlanta Falcons (6-0) are traveling to the city of brotherly love this week to smash helmets with the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3). Despite Atlanta’s undefeated record, and the Eagles’ struggles this season, playing in Philadelphia is never an easy task for the Falcons.
Since 2000 Atlanta is 0-7 when traveling to Philly, including losses in the 2003 Divisional Playoff and 2005 NFC Championship games. Philadelphia also holds a 17-12-1 overall series edge, including winning four of the last five regular season match-ups going back to 2006.
Over the past few years, Michael Vick has been the key to the Eagles success over Atlanta, but thankfully the Falcons have had two games against quarterbacks with similar skill sets – Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III – in the past few weeks. Atlanta wasn’t able to stop Newton or Griffin, but they were able to contain them enough to keep the games from getting out of hand. The Falcons defensive line needs to keep contain against Vick and force him to try and improvise, which is generally when he makes crucial mistakes.
The Falcons will be facing an Eagles defense that is in flux since the firing of Philadelphia defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who has been replaced by first time D.C. Todd Bowles. Under Castillo the Eagles did very little blitzing, and when they did it was generally straightforward and seldom disguised. Atlanta should expect some different and more exotic blitz packages coming from Bowles, so the Falcons offensive line will need to be prepared.
The key for Atlanta on offense will be establishing the run early, and getting the Eagles’ defensive line on their heels, which will open up play-action for Matt Ryan and keep Bowles from being able to employ the blitz designs he has in mind. Getting running back Michael Turner involved often and early will open up some terrific screen opportunities for Jacquizz Rodgers against an over-pursuing Philadelphia defense.
For whatever reason, the Eagles have failed to utilize one of their most potent weapons on offense this season, running back LeSean McCoy. In the Eagles’ three losses, McCoy has carried the ball less than 20 times per game, while in their three wins he’s carried 20 times and over. Atlanta’s defensive line has been susceptible to the run this season, so the Falcons defensive line will have to do a better job of winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and getting into the Philadelphia backfield to force the Eagles into long passing situations.
The name of the game when you play the Eagles is down-and-distance. Atlanta has to keep Michael Vick from having short yardage distances on 2nd and 3rd down. Keep the distance 6+ yards on 2nd and 3rd down, keep the speedy Philadelphia receivers inside the chains, and you can get the Eagles offense off the field.
Expect a grungy, grinding, hard fought game in this one, and with limited scoring given the two normally explosive offenses.
Player to Watch: Falcons DE John Abraham, who is enjoying another fine season. The Eagles offensive line has struggled to protect Michael Vick this season, and don’t think that Abraham hasn’t been looking closely at those films.
Key Match-up: Falcons defensive secondary vs. Michael Vick.
Prediction: The Falcons finally pull out a close in in Philadelphia, and bring home a 7-0 record with a 23-20 win.