The stage is set: the kickoff of the 2018 NFL season begins at the Linc on September 6th. The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles will be facing off against the Atlanta Falcons. Everyone remembers the thriller between these two groups in last years NFC Divisional Round. Despite being low scoring, it packed a tremendous amount of excitement all the way through. And as a result, we get to see this match-up between these two powerhouses again.
Today, we will be focusing on Atlanta’s offense in order to figure out how Philly can stop this high-powered attack. The Falcons have a well-balanced roster with a slew of young talent and veteran leadership. Their offense features a ton of playmakers in guys like Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, and veteran quarterback Matt Ryan. With a backfield like that, this group will be tough to stop. However, if there’s any team built to quash this powerhouse, it’s the Eagles. Let’s take a look at what the defense needs to do to shut down the Falcons offense.
Pressure Matty Ice
There’s no denying that the Falcons have one of the top aerial attacks in the league. You’ve got Matt Ryan, a perennial top-notch pocket passer, surrounded with weapons like the ever-amazing Julio Jones, the always reliable Mohammad Sanu, and an electric rookie in Calvin Ridley. This is a passing attack which will easily match that of the Falcons’ 2016 Super Bowl squad. Personally, I’m not sure the Eagles’ defensive backs can single-handedly lock down all of these threats, which leaves much of the weight on the defensive line. If the d-line can consistently put pressure on Ryan, he should have trouble throwing the ball accurately. Of course, I don’t think anyone expects anything less from this Eagles’ unit, which boasts Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and second-year Derek Barnett, all incredibly talented pass rushers.
Good Linebacker Play
The biggest question mark on the Eagles’ roster is the linebacker group, or more so who can fill in for the departure of Mychal Kendricks. Returning from last season are two quality starters, Jordan Hicks who is coming off an early-season ACL tear, and Nigel Bradham, one of the key pieces in last years Super Bowl victory. Yet despite the return of these two, there is concern surrounding who will fill in the third linebacker spot. It is also important to note that Nigel Bradham will not play in this game due to his one-game suspension.
It is looking like it will be career backup Kamu Grugier-Hill, a reliable backup who never really had the chance to start. Another linebacker to possibly get snaps in week one is LaRoy Reynolds. He had a great preseason and looks like he can handle the responsibilities.
All in all, it doesn’t matter who steps out on the field week 1, the Eagles need the linebackers to have a great night as Atlanta has not one, but two explosive running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. If these two are given momentum early on, it could be a long night for the Eagles’ defense.
Avoid Giving Up Big Plays
Matty Ice and co. can pull a big play out of the hat at any time. I’ve already discussed the numerous playmakers this team can deploy; all Ryan has to do is throw one up to Julio and the chaos will ensue. The secondary must avoid making stupid mistakes and giving up huge gains. Good communication and discipline are a must for this unit, especially in the secondary, as one slip up could end up going for a 70-yard touchdown pass. The key to winning this game will be capturing and maintaining momentum. The team which has the biggest plays and captures momentum will end up winning the game.