McMullen’s Quick Hits: Eagles Clip Falcons’ Wings
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It’s been a theme all season and the Eagles continued their dominating play at Lincoln Financial Field, overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit to stay perfect at home by defeating the high-powered Atlanta Falcons, 24-15.
The NFL’s No.1 scoring offense in the league coming in, Atlanta only reached the end zone on one occasion as Jim Schwartz’s defense cut the unit’s normal production by more than half, allowing only the 15 points and 303 total yards.
The Eagles are now 4-0 at home and have outscored opponents 108-38 at Lincoln Financial Field with the Falcons’ measly 15 points being the most an opponent has scored in South Philadelphia this season.
The offense did its part as well with a more balanced attack as Carson Wentz threw for 231 yards and the running game piled up a season-high 208 yards with Ryan Mathews pacing things with 109 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
"It's real good," Mathews said of getting the ground game established. "It shows a lot. I know the linemen love (run) blocking too. It was a fun game out there."
Down 15-13 after Taylor Gabriel beat Leodis McKelvin with a double move for a 76-yard TD with just over 13 minutes in the game, the Eagles closed with 11 consecutive points thanks to a Mathews 5-yard TD run and ensuing two-point conversion, as well as a 48-yard Caleb Sturgis with 1:57 remaining that sealed it.
With the imposing Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu on the opposite side, it was imperative that the Eagles had a full complement at cornerback on Sunday and Leodis McKelvin, who has been struggling with hamstring issues since tweaking the muscle in the season opener against Cleveland, gave it a go but only after Nolan Carroll went down with a concussion.
Rookie Jalen Mills started for McKelvin at left corner and held his own as Jones managed 10 catches for 135 yards on 16 targets but had two huge fourth-quarter drops. McKelvin was torched on the Gabriel TD but rebounded to pick off a Matt Ryan pass late.
"Leodis got beat on that double move I think. Some guys would gave," defensive end Connor Barwin said. "He's a veteran. He's been around a long time. He moved on and forgot about it and made the play of the game to seal the win."
Malcolm Jenkins handled the slot duties and had a big game, using his physicality to stop Atlanta short of the sticks time and time again as the Falcons finished just 2-of-11 on third-down situations.
"I'm not going to lie, Julio dropped a couple," defensive end Brandon Graham said, "and we were like, 'yes thank you.' We needed a little bit. But it happens in games. You have to take advantage of those opportunities."
Nose tackle Bennie Logan was active for the first time since injuring his groin against the Redskins back on Oct. 16. So week-to-week turned out to be basically a month for the Robin to Fletcher Cox’s Batman and although Beau Allen played pretty well in his absence, especially against the run, the Eagles were glad to have more of an interior push back as well as the full complement on the inside in Jim Schwartz’s rotation-based system.
The Eagles were 1-2 without Logan and you can really say 1-3 because he was injured so early in Washington. It didn’t show up on the stat sheet but Bennie’s return was big for this defensive unit.
"I think it was really good to have him back and for us to have our four-man rotation back in the game," Cox said. "...He played really good today coming back from being out for a while."
Wentz was solid if unspectacular on the day, compiling a passer rating of 86.7 which trumped Ryan, arguably the NFL’s first-half MVP. His best pass of the day was a 20-yard third-down completion to Matthews, with showed off his arm strength and touch on the same play.
The low point was a fumble around midfield and he was hurt by the usual drops, with a pair of big ones from Matthews and Nelson Agholor in each half.
THE LAW FIRM OF MATHEWS AND MATTHEWS
This was the law firm of Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews as far as the offense went.
Ryan, finally free of ankle issues and a tooth infection, was spectacular today and if anything should have carried it more than 19 times. He was especially successful running behind Jason Peters, who often caved in Atlanta’s right side and the whole formula enabled the Eagles to play keep away, amassing an advantage of 38:10 to 21:50 in time of possession.
"It was definitely frustrating for us, no question about it," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "For us to have a team run the ball on us, with the physical style that we like to play, for sure it was a big factor in the game."
Jordan, meanwhile, hauled in six catches for 73 yards and it would have been even better if he held on to the big drop and garnered a helmet-to-helmet personal flag call late in the game that never came.
"I was surprised we didn't get a call," Matthews said of the big hit coming from Atlanta rookie safety Keanu Neal. "I could feel my lip bleeding. I was like, 'There is no way this guy didn't just hit me in my face. Like, I must be tripping. I'm pretty sure I just got smacked in the face.'"
Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice president of officiating, agreed:
The non-call looked like it would be a big one for a moment after Sturgis missed a 55-yard field goal short, but the Eagles rebounded and finished strongly.
"As long as we get the win, I'm cool," Matthews said, although he was still a little perturbed. "I don't know what they saw out there. I don't know if they were watching the football game, if they were thinking going to Chickie's (Chickie and Pete's) later. But you know, there was a football going on, and I got hit in the face."
Along with Mathews' big game on the ground, rookie Wendell Smallwood also got into the act with 13 carries for 70 yards. Many have wanted to see what Smallwood's fresh legs could add to the offense and when the flow of the game and time of possession is there, the fifth-round pick is capable of being a nice change of pace.
To garner more consistent playing time, however, his pass-blocking must improve.
"They started missing tackles," Smallwood said of the Atlanta defense. "We wanted to be aggressive and we wanted to knock them off the ball. We wanted to play on their side of the ball."
The Eagles defense is just a different animal at home and is now allowing just 9.5 points per game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The key against the Falcons was the success on third down as time and time again the rush forced Ryan to throw in front of the sticks and Philadelphia was able to rally up and tackle.
Graham continued his All-Pro level season with consistent pressure off the edge and a sack, while Barwin also got to “Matty Ice” and had a pair of tackles for losses.
"I think it is great playing at home," Cox said. "Everybody loves to play at home because here, once you get the crowd into it, it's really hard for opposing offenses."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen