Eagles vs Falcons, Sunday 1pm on 97.3 ESPN
The Philadelphia Eagles are hoping their bye week served as the antidote to a multitude of problems.
The Atlanta Falcons also hoped to shore up a few issues during their off-week, but as the league’s only unbeaten, their problems don’t appear as glaring.
The struggling Eagles try to get their season back on track Sunday, but it likely won’t be easy as they host the Falcons.
Under Andy Reid, Philadelphia is 13-0 in games immediately following a bye week, the longest such streak since the bye was introduced in 1990. But few of those idle weeks were as tumultuous as this one.
Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo on Oct. 16, two days after the Eagles (3-3) squandered a 10-point lead in the final 3:32 of a 26-23 overtime loss to Detroit. That came a week after a last-second loss to Pittsburgh.
Secondary coach Todd Bowles has since been promoted to Castillo’s old post. He will try to improve a defense that has forced just two turnovers while going 1/3 in the last four games and has seven total sacks, tied for the league’s second-fewest.
“He relates to us well and we all like him as a coach, and off the field he is a great guy,” Eagles safety Nate Allen said of Bowles, who played safety for seven NFL seasons. “He’s smart so it’s going to be a good thing. He talks to us like men. He’s not real up in your face. He’s not a loud guy. He expects you to know what you have to do as a man and as a professional.”
The Eagles have the unenviable task of containing quarterback Matt Ryan, who is fourth in the NFL with a 98.8 QB rating and ranks sixth in passing with an average of 292.7 yards.
Philadelphia is fully aware of Ryan abilities. He tied a career high with four touchdown passes in a 35-31 victory over the Eagles last year, Atlanta’s only win in the last five meetings.
Ryan, though, wasn’t particularly sharp in the Falcons’ last game, throwing three interceptions — doubling his season total — in a 23-30 home win over Oakland on Oct. 14. The run game also struggled mightily, as Michael Turner finished with 33 yards on 11 carries.
“We’ve got to be consistent in everything we do,” Smith said. “We haven’t run the ball consistently, and we’re not stopping the run. Those two things stand out the most.”
Smith, who is tied with Dan Reeves for the franchise’s most wins with 49, doesn’t anticipate Bowles implementing any drastic changes.
“Most of it is about us. We’ve got to go out, and we have to execute,” Smith told the team’s official website. “We’ve got to be prepared for some unscouted looks, and I don’t think there will be a mass change in what they do philosophically because they’ve invested so much time into the scheme that they’re running.”
Michael Vick didn’t have the most pleasant of returns to Atlanta in last year’s meeting, as a concussion knocked him out of the game in the third quarter.
The four-time Pro Bowler is off to a sluggish start to this season with eight touchdowns, eight interceptions and five fumbles, and Reid could make a switch to rookie backup Nick Foles if Vick continues giving the ball away.
“Just protect the ball,” Vick said. “It’s not hard. It’s not a science to it; just protect the football at all times. Despite the circumstances, I still sit back there and try to make the plays that I know I can make and that’s just me and my confidence in myself and confidence in the guys.”
The turnover-prone Vick will have to be especially careful against a Falcons defense that ranks fourth in the NFL with 17 takeaways. Cornerback Asante Samuel, traded from Philadelphia in the offseason, has one of Atlanta’s 10 interceptions.
Vick isn’t entirely to blame, though, as an injury-depleted offensive line has struggled mightily.
The banged-up line has also made things tough on LeSean McCoy, who has totaled 75 yards on 30 carries in the last two games. He had 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons last season, and Atlanta has been susceptible against the run this year, allowing an average of 143.8 yards per game.