Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Sketching Out a Game Plan for Philly
The Eagles will be debuting a new defensive coordinator in Week 8 against an Atlanta Falcons team that is a) unbeaten this season and b) also coming off a bye week.
However, Philly is at home. And desperate. And the Falcons have shown in recent weeks that they can be had.
With that in mind, here's my proposed game plan for how the Eagles can get it done against Michael Vick's former team.
Add Extra Support to the Offensive Line and Run the Ball Often
Marty Mornhinweg might have been stating the obvious when he declared that turnovers are hurting this offense more than anything else, but sometimes this is an obvious sport. The reality is that the turnover story is the key to this game when Philadelphia is on offense.
The Eagles have turned it over 2.8 times per game this season, which ranks second worst in the NFL. The Falcons, meanwhile, have registered 2.8 takeaways per game, which ranks second best in the league.
That doesn't bode well.
But few of Atlanta's opponents thus far have had backs like LeSean McCoy on the roster. And yet, those first six opposing offenses have averaged 5.2 yards per carry on the ground against a front seven that has really struggled to stop the run.
So this is one of those games in which the Eagles have to go old-school. Some might say a conservative approach on the ground is playing not to lose, rather than playing to win, but instead, I'd argue that it's just playing to the team's strengths and its opponent's weaknesses.
Make Atlanta prove that it can contain McCoy and then adjust if need be. That'll prevent the Falcons' ball-hawking defense from being able to force a mistake-prone offense into making even more mistakes.
This is also a game in which the Eagles might have to tell Jason Avant his services aren't required. With Brent Grimes hurt and Dunta Robinson playing poorly, the Eagles should be able to get the passing game going with whoever draws Robinson in coverage while getting better protection for Vick by using two tight ends often, or a lot of fullback Stanley Havili.
Which "backup" should the Eagles use more of Sunday?
King Dunlap fared very well against John Abraham when he faced him in 2010, but a lot has changed in two years, and Vick wasn't even quarterbacking the Eagles in that game.
Regardless of the personnel, by using only two receivers, Vick can avoid pressure (which he's really struggling with this season) and invite the blitz (which he's thrived against this season).
The Falcons don't blitz a ton, but they've still sent extra rushers on about 29 percent of passing plays this season, according to Pro Football Focus. With that in mind, Vick could be in for a huge day if Mike Nolan continues to send guys like Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas against a heavily fortified quarterback supported by a Pro Bowl-caliber running back.
Keep it Simple and Trust your Talent on Defense
Todd Bowles might be out to prove something in his first game running the defense. But if Bowles thinks dialing up blitzes will send a message, he's going to pay.
Matt Ryan has been one of the league's best quarterbacks under pressure, and I'd imagine Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker will receive some support against Jason Babin, Trent Cole and the rest of Philadelphia's defensive front.
Sending linebackers, safeties or corners at Ryan will play into Atlanta's hands and will give Ryan a chance to find his talented receivers deep for game-changing plays.
Bowles has to relax and stick to what Juan Castillo had going, which for the most part was getting the job done. Castillo had faith in a defensive line that isn't getting sacks but actually still is getting a lot of pressure.
Believe it or not, the Eagles have the NFL's second-highest-rated pass rush, based on the cumulative stats from the geniuses at Pro Football Focus. I'd like to see Bowles and Jim Washburn incorporate a more active rotation, with Brandon Graham getting more snaps. Graham's been lights-out on limited reps thus far. If they can do that against a mediocre offensive line, they'll get enough pressure to hold Atlanta in check.
Bowles also can't overthink things when dealing with his guys on the back end. Trying to fix what wasn't working probably cost Castillo his job, and Bowles has to know that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha and Nate Allen are good enough to cover Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez without a ton of help.
So long as Bowles lets the pass rush do its thing and lets his defensive backs hold it down, they shouldn't have any trouble stopping Michael Turner and Atlanta's weak running game.
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