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Eagles vs Falcons – A Closer Look

The Eagles finished with a 13-3 regular season record, a NFC East crown, a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Yet, for the first time, a top seed is an underdog in a Divisional Round game when the Falcons come to the Linc.

Coming off an upset win over the Rams in Wild Card Weekend, the Falcons come in with a team hungry to get back to the Super Bowl. Despite losing a 28-3 lead in last year’s big game, and fighting through the mental barriers, slow starts, and injuries, it’s impressive that they have returned to this point. Led by Dan Quinn, they are a well coached team. Matt Ryan, a local native, will attempt to break the hearts of Eagles fans by using his arsenal of weapons such as Mohamed Sanu, DeVonta Freeman, and of course, the scary-good Julio Jones. During the regular season, offensively, the Falcons ranked 15th in the league in points per game (22.1), 8th in passing yards per game (249), and 13th in rushing yards (115.4).

Defensively, the group ranked 8th in total defense giving up 19.7 points per game. They are actually a better overall defense than the one that reached the Super Bowl last year and are a pretty quick and good tackling unit. The only team that ran over 100 yards against Atlanta in the second half of the season was the Vikings. They finished 9th in rushing yards against them, and a lot of that can be credited to the outstanding play of Takkarist McKinley and Grady Jarrett up front. Cornerbacks Desmond Truant, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole have been pretty solid all season. Atlanta finished 12th in passing yards against, but ranked 27th in takeaways.

All this sounds like it could be a pretty daunting task for an Eagles team that seemingly lost it’s luster after MVP-candidate Carson Wentz was lost for the season in week 13. So, how can they win this game and prove Vegas wrong?

Well, history is on their side.

(via Reuben Frank/Twitter)

In his career against his hometown team, Matt Ryan is 3-3, but all three losses were on the road at the Linc, winning once in 2011. He has 14 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in those six games. The last time he faced them was last year when the Eagles won 24-15, the only time the Falcons were held under 23 points. Matt Ryan also won his first road playoff game just last week.

On the other side of the field, the Eagles are making their first playoff appearance since 2013, and are hoping to give the fans something to cheer about. It’s no secret that Nick Foles has the fans concerned with his erratic play, but for the Eagles to win this game, they need to run the ball. A lot. They traded for Jay Ajayi in the middle of the season and  kept him fresh for this moment. The guy can be the cog that they need to control time of possession, keeping that electric Atlanta offense on the sidelines, but can also take some of  the pressure off of Foles, who was also the starting quarterback in that 2013 playoff game. After throwing for four touchdowns in his first full game following Wentz’s ACL injury, he has struggled to find his groove, and that’s where Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor need to step up. Foles has always preferred to use the middle of the field throughout his career, so this gives way for Ertz and Agholor to make plays when called upon.

Alshon Jeffery has also been quiet since the Giants game, with only five catches in the last three games. (He did only play one quarter in the finale vs Dallas), but he needs to develop a chemistry with Nick Foles, enough to at least keep the secondary’s eyes on him, or this offense can sputter once again. I expect him to be fired up for the being in the playoffs for the first time in his career.

On defense, the Eagles have been keeping teams in check on the scoreboard the past few weeks, but they are up against a much better offense this week. They can run with Freeman, and switch gears with Tevin Coleman, both of which can catch the ball out of the backfield as well. The Eagles had the best rushing defense in the league, the first time with that honor since 1991, so one would expect them to be up for that challenge. If they are successful, it makes the Falcons one dimensional. The pass rush now becomes key. Atlanta gave up 24 sacks this season, which wasn’t bad at all, but the Eagles need to be disruptive to throw Ryan off his rhythm and to lessen the load for Jalen Mills and Rob Darby who will certainly have their hands full. With the defensive line rotations that coordinater Jim Schwartz likes to use, the battle for the line of scrimmage should be one that the Eagles should win, and could be the difference in this game.

When looking at all the variables, the Falcons are flying across the country to play in what should be a raucous setting with the Philly faithful. The Eagles are 13-3 for a reason. Yes, Carson Wentz is a huge part of that, but a good team surrounded him. The days of blowing teams out is over, and the Eagles need to adjust and play a clean game with Foles under center. If they can win the time of the possession battle and not give Atlanta a short field, I think they can win this game.

We are now in the playoffs. I don’t care HOW they do it. They just need to get the W and live to fly another day.

Eagles 20, Falcons 16

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