Five on the Falcons
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles strolled into Atlanta last season to kick off what turned out to be Chip Kelly’s last season at the helm in Philadelphia.
Chip certainly wasn’t taking the Falcons for granted but plenty of the fanbase was and were disappointed after Atlanta earned the 26-24 victory behind Julio Jones' nine receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
This time, it’s the 6-3 Falcons with the No. 1 offense in the NFL coming to City of Brotherly Love against an Eagles team that has dropped four of five after a 3-0 start.
If Atlanta is taking Philadelphia for granted, though, that’s probably a mistake because the Eagles have been lights out at Lincoln Financial Field this season, winning three straight with an imposing scoring margin of 84-23.
THE IRRESISTIBLE FORCE VS. THE IMMOVABLE OBJECT
The Falcons lead the NFL in offense, averaging 429.2 yards per game and 33.9 points per outing. Conversely, Jim Schwartz’s defense is given up less than 8.0 points per game in South Philadelphia with the high watermark for the opposition 10.
As might be expected with the top-ranked offense, Atlanta is very well-rounded with difference makers at quarterback in Matt Ryan, receiver with Jones and Mohamed Sanu, as well as two threats in the backfield, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Last week against Tampa Bay, the Falcons rolled up 461 total yards, their third highest total of the season and the fourth time they’ve cracked 400.
Ryan, an Exton native who went to Penn Charter, is very consistent and has an ongoing NFL record of 48 straight games with 200-or-more passing yards and he’s done that 45 consecutive times on the road.
He pilots a unit that averages 6.77 yards per play, which leads the NFL, and has completed 42 passes of 20-or-more yards, also tops in football.
“They're just in sync offensively,” Schwartz said. “...Their run game has been outstanding. It complements their passing game. It's all sort of in sync right now. It's our job to get it out of sync. Not many people have been able to do that.”
JULIO-H MY GOD
The most physically imposing receiver in football is up next for a cornerback group with starters Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll both battling hamstring issues.
Jones averages 96.9 receiving yards per game for his career, which is second on the NFL’s all-time list behind Odell Beckham Jr. at 98.0 but understand Jones has been doing it for a far longer time.
“All those big guys, even when they're covered, they're still open because their catching radius is so big, they're so strong, they’re so physical and they can jump,” Schwartz said. “I think that's what takes Julio to a level that's different than other NFL receivers. He can threaten deep down the field; he can catch the ball over the middle; he can take a short pass and he can run. He’s extremely strong and he's hard to knock off his routes.”
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Freeman and Coleman might be the best backfield duo in football and recorded 200-plus total yards of offense on two different occasions this season. They’ve combined for 150-or-more five times.
Freeman is the bell cow with 620 rushing yards on the season, which is the eighth-best mark in the NFL.
Typically the Falcons are a very sharp, disciplined team on the offensive side of the ball but offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan also understands how many playmakers he has at his disposal and will occasionally encourage his players to go off script because Ryan, an accomplished veteran, can handle a matchup advantage on-field.
Schwartz spoke of the difficulties that can create.
They're a very disciplined offense when it comes to routes,” he said. “There's some -- I don't want to say schoolyard – but some schoolyard, backyard-type concepts to their routes: some ‘get-open’ type concepts. Some of those aren't exactly quick passes; some of those take a little bit [of time to develop]. Get in, reverse your field, get back out.”
BETTER PASS RUSH
One of the major problems for the Falcons over the years has been their inability to get to the opposing quarterback but that’s begun to change this year with the emergence of former top-10 pick Vic Beasley as a significant edge rushing threat.
Beasley has 7 ½ sacks so far and the Falcons as a whole have 21, which is No. 8 in the NFL. Helping Beasley are the ageless situational rusher, Dwight Freeney, and Adrian Clayborn, who can get a push on the interior.
973espn.com Prediction: The one thing the Eagles have to hang their hats on at this point is their performance at home. The key here will be for Philadelphia to get Ryan off his spots and make him uncomfortable and throwing before he wants to. That means the rush from the front four has to be there because the corners will not be able to hold up in man coverage. My guess is the return of Bennie Logan to the lineup is the difference. Eagles 24, Falcons 23
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen