Atlanta at Philadelphia: The Falcons' Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 8
The Atlanta Falcons came into the Eagles game facing their toughest challenge to date in 2012. While the vast majority of observers have given the Falcons plenty of credit for starting 6-0, they have also wondered just how good the Falcons are.
Through their first six games Atlanta faced one of the NFL’s easiest schedules and had to fight to the end to win two of those games, versus Carolina and Oakland. It wasn’t clear whether the Falcons were truly one the league’s best teams or a product of their schedule to some degree.
Much of that uncertainty subsided with their resounding 30-17 victory over the Eagles. It was undoubtedly Atlanta’s most complete performance in 2012, and the fact of the matter is that there wasn’t much, if any, room for improvement for the Falcons from this game. The Falcons dominated the contest with virtually no player standing out above another or any player playing noticeably poorly.
Let’s look deeper into the overall winners and losers for Atlanta after Week 8.
Winner: Dirk Koetter
A big question coming into the game was how Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter would attack the sudden unknown of the Eagles defense under new coordinator Todd Bowles. With Bowles assuming the coordinator duties during the bye week and having never been a coordinator, there was no game film or previous game plans for Koetter and the offensive staff to review.
From the opening drive, Koetter’s plan was clear: run multiple formations and multiple plays, mixing run and pass out of varying personnel groupings to get a picture of what the Eagles were trying to do. As a result, the Falcons opened with an 80-yard, 16-play touchdown drive that chewed up over eight minutes of game clock and ended with Davis’ touchdown reception off a fake screen to Julio Jones.
Koetter’s mixed bag approach left the Eagles reeling with multiple penalties that kept Falcons drives alive and 24 points on the board at halftime. In the first half overall, Koetter showed the Eagles two backs, one back, no backs and multiple receiver and tight end groupings. He utilized Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling throughout, each central to the big lead Atlanta took into the second half.
Overall, the Falcons scored on their first six drives of the game and did not punt until the fourth quarter.
Winner: Mike Nolan
Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan proved the value of coaching in general and his value to the Falcons specifically. Nolan’s defense stymied arguably the best collection of offensive talent in the NFL.
Any given week, quarterback Mike Vick, running back LeSean McCoy, receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and tight end Brent Celek can dominate the game. Furthermore, the fact the Eagles were coming off a bye week made the possibility of an offensive breakout much more possible.
Nolan’s game plan consisted of utilizing nickle personnel (only two linebackers with five defensive backs) and playing a lot of zone coverage forcing the Eagles pass protection to hold up longer and Vick to read progressions throughout the play rather than getting clearer pre-snap reads versus man coverage. This aspect of Nolan’s game plan took away the likelihood of explosive plays in the passing game, something Philadelphia has thrived on in the Vick era.
Nolan also kept the blitz package to a minimum, both in frequency and style. The majority of Falcons’ blitzes were delayed stunts from linebackers or safeties stunting from their initial starting point, both continuing the trend of not giving Vick and his teammates indications of what was actually in play.
Winner: Drew Davis
Signed as an undrafted free agent, the former Oregon Duck got his first opportunity on offense against the Eagles and made the most of it. Davis recorded his first career catch, a 15-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 to give the Falcons a first down, and his first career touchdown, another 15-yard reception, once again on third down, this time giving the Falcons the early lead on their opening drive.
Until Sunday, Davis’ tenure with the Falcons was as a cover man on special teams where he accumulated modest stats.
Playing due to a knee injury to Harry Douglas, Davis showed the playmaking ability that caught the Falcons’ coaches’ attention this offseason. The Falcons had a strong camp battle for the final roster spot at receiver, which Davis eventually won, being signed off the practice squad just before the season started.
Loser: Sean Weatherspoon
Weatherspoon was carted off the sideline late into the fourth quarter after suffering an apparent ankle injury. Replays showed that while attempting a tackle, Weatherspoon rolled his ankle as his cleats dug into the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.
Things didn’t appear serious, as ‘Spoon was able to leave the field under on his own. However, after a few minutes with Falcons medical personnel, he was carted to the training room. At this point, any opinions on the severity of the injury would be speculative, as specific information has yet to be released.
Weatherspoon has had a great start to the season thus far and is arguably the Falcons' most consistent defensive performer in 2012. Should he miss any significant practice or game time, it could hamper his continued progress and overall effectiveness.
As for the Falcons, they are playing so well on defense, and losing who is perhaps their most productive player would be a big, big loss.