After catching some breaks in their season opener in St. Louis, the Eagles now face one of their biggest tests of the entire season: winning in Atlanta.
Philly has had success against the Falcons in the Andy Reid-era, including two seasons ago, when the Eagles came into the Georgia Dome and ripped apart a Matt Ryan-less Falcon team 34-7 in Michael Vick’s emotional return (he was Donovan McNabb’s backup but accounted for two second-half TDs). And just last season, Kevin Kolb led the Eagles to one of their most impressive games of the season, defeating Atlanta 31-17. But that was in Philadelphia.
This year, the Falcons are coming off a thrashing to the Bears and will be fired at up in the home opener. Matt Ryan is healthy and will do everything in his power to keep Atlanta from starting 0-2. Ryan is a ridiculous 20-3 at home (including playoffs) in three seasons, transforming the Georgia Dome into one of the toughest places to play in the NFL.
The Falcons have one of the most balanced—yet dangerous—offenses in football, but managed just two field goals in Chicago last week. Ryan has a new weapon to throw to in rookie first round draft pick Julio Jones. Roddy White is one of the top receivers in the NFL, Tony Gonzalez is still a productive tight end and Michael Turner is a top tier running back.
The Eagles will have their hands full, but they must limit Turner and the Falcon ground game if they are to have any chance in this game. Philly’s run defense has been heavily criticized all preseason with the team’s new “wide nine” defensive line technique and rookie middle linebacker in Casey Matthews.
The Eagles gave up a Steven Jackson 47-yard touchdown run on the Rams opening play, but caught a break when Jackson left the game on the next drive with hamstring issues. Jackson had two carries for 56 yards but after that, the much maligned front seven limited the Rams rushing attack to 98 yards on 24 attempts.
Head coach Andy Reid said he saw improvement from the young linebackers (the Eagles starting linebackers had a combined three years of experience heading into the season), and that must continue this week. Turner ran for 100 yards on just 10 carries last week.
The key for the Eagles, as it will be most weeks, will be to contain the running game and get out to an early lead. They want to force the Falcons to play from behind and pass the ball, which will allow the Eagles deep and talented defensive line (five sacks against the Rams) to tee-off on Ryan. And when you have the corners Philly does in Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, that will be a awfully tough. The Eagles have had success against Ryan in the past and must play extremely well to continue the trend.