The Philadelphia Eagles are currently ranked 24th in the league against the run, and in case that doesn’t translate for you, that isn’t good. Not at all.
The good news is that the Eagles faced one of the elite running backs in the NFC last week, Frank Gore, and were able to hold him to 52 yards on 18 carries. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis were able to do whatever they wanted, but we’ll stay away from that and focus on the run game.
On Sunday, another elite running back in the NFC will come to town. Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner currently ranks sixth in the NFL with 421 yards on the ground and will look to get started early against the Eagles. Last week against the Browns, Turner ran for 140 yards on just 19 carries.
Despite having a good quarterback in Matt Ryan, who has weapons like Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons are going to look to get things going on the ground before anything else come Sunday. A successful run game opens up everything else, and with a back like Turner, you have to look to establish the run early.
Starting up front, the line has to get some push against the Falcons offense early and often. Brodrick Bunkley is yet to practice this week and it’s unknown whether or not he’ll be able to play on Sunday. Antonio Dixon and Trevor Laws have played well in relief and will need to kick it up an extra notch if either are called upon to start this week.
On the ends, Trent Cole and company will have to make sure Turner can’t break anything outside on them for a big play. I’d rather see them take the positioning outside and force Turner inside, then let him get around the end to run free. Although the ends might not be able to make a tackle if they control the outside, it should allow a linebacker to step up and make a play.
Speaking of linebackers, these guys have to kick their game up come Sunday. The unit did a good job against Gore, but they will need to prove it wasn’t a fluke against Turner. Stewart Bradley’s play in the middle could have a huge impact on this game. He hasn’t played as well as we thought he might this year, but I know he’s definitely better then he has shown. When Turner comes up the middle, Bradley has to put himself in position to make a play.
Although Turner is the guy to keep an eye on, I can’t go without mentioning Jason Snelling. Unlike what we’ve seen, the Falcons have a legitimate No. 2 guy who can put up some decent numbers as well. Snelling stepped up in Turner’s absence last season and has been a solid contributor so far this season. He rushed for over 100 yards in Week 2 against the Cardinals and is averaging just under five yards per carry this season.
The Eagles defense can’t afford to take plays off if Turner isn’t on the field. They have to think "run first" and force Ryan to make plays through the air.
Overall, the way the defense plays against the run will have a huge impact on this game. Hopefully, we are able to see a repeat of last week's performance.