By the end of the game, we’ll know exactly who each team is.
On one side, the Philadelphia Eagles have a 3-3 record. As usual, there is some controversy surrounding the team. This time around, there are questions about the coaching staff with the firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and the ascension of defensive backs coach Todd Bowles to the vacated position.
Head coach Andy Reid has also come under a great deal of scrutiny because of his play calling and clock management, and quarterback Michael Vick has been an object of criticism because of his turnovers.
On the other side, the Eagles are facing an undefeated Atlanta Falcons team that has its flaws. Are they overrated? Is the Falcons’ record better than the team is?
Atlanta’s last three wins have been close—too close. Furthermore, none of the Falcons’ wins have come against a team that currently has a winning record.
If the Eagles are going to beat the Falcons this weekend, they’ll have to do so on the ground. The Eagles are currently averaging 122 rushing yards per game, which is good enough for tenth-best in the league.
This is great for the Eagles, because LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick are two of the NFL’s best runners. Whether or not that has an impact will depend on whether or not Andy Reid lets McCoy carry the ball, and whether or not Michael Vick can hold on to it when he decides to run.
There’s no reason to believe Andy Reid won’t run the ball because the Birds’ run-pass ratio has been almost equal since their Week 4 loss to Arizona. However, Bryce Brown has been taking a significant amount of carries away from LeSean McCoy.
In each of the Eagles’ three wins, McCoy has carried the ball at least 20 times. In each of their three losses, he’s carried the ball 16 times or fewer.
On the other side, the Falcons run defense has been abysmal. The Falcons have allowed at least 100 rushing yards every game. In fact, the opposing teams are averaging 143.8 rushing yards per game, that’s the fifth most in the NFL.
The point is that LeSean McCoy needs to get at least twenty touches.
The Falcons also haven’t exactly been productive when they run the ball. They’re ranked 29th in the league with an average of 86.5 rushing yards per game.
One of the biggest differences between this year’s Eagles defense and last year's has been their run defense. Running backs aren’t running wild against the Birds this year. That’s in part due to the acquisitions of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. It will be interesting to see how the Birds’ run defense operates under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Turnovers are an issue for both teams. We know about the Eagles’ struggles, but the Falcons have turned the ball over five times over their last three games.
If the Birds pass rush can show up and pressure Matt Ryan enough to force him to make bad throws, the Falcons passing game could be limited.
However, even if the Birds’ pass rush isn’t as effective as it can be, the Eagles’ cornerbacks haven’t exactly proven themselves incapable.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been a pleasant surprise this season, and Nnamdi Asomugha is coming off what was probably his best game as an Eagle. He was exceptional against Calvin Johnson.
It’s safe to say that Roddy White and Julio Jones will probably have a few big plays, but they aren’t going to determine outcome of the game.
Moreover, if Matt Ryan has to turn to Tony Gonzalez, there’s a good chance that the two won’t be able to connect for very much. Mychal Kendricks has shut down opposing tight ends all season, most notably against the Giants’ Marcellus Bennett, and the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew.
If the pass rush can show up, and the corners and Mychal Kendricks can continue to play at the level they have recently against the Falcons on Sunday, it could be a long day for Matty Ice and the Dirty Birds.