Jim Schwartz’s Defense Faces Tall Order in Atlanta Falcons Offense
If you watched the Atlanta Falcons’ offense last week, you wouldn't have been impressed.
Granted, it was against a Minnesota Vikings defense that is pretty stout, but the Falcons feature some big names on the offensive side of the ball, and just didn't get the job done. They have scored just 22 points in their last two games against the Eagles defense, led by Jim Schwartz.
"Every game's a different set of circumstances," Schwartz said. "I think this is the first challenge that we have had on the road with the Falcons."
The Falcons have lost each of the last three meetings, including a Divisional Round matchup in the 2017 postseason, but those were all in Philadelphia. The Eagles have lost their last two trips to Atlanta, the last time they won there was in 2009, with Mike Vick under-center.
While the Falcons boast a high-powered offense with Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones, they were only able to put 12 points on the board in Week 1.
"I think whether it's stopping the Falcons or any NFL team, try to limit the run game, try to take big plays away, stop drives on third down, win in the red zone," Schwartz explained.
"The red zone's been important to us the last couple years with those guys, just to keep the score down. We'll have to do a lot better job playing the pass than we did a couple days ago."
Ryan was constantly under pressure, but was still able to throw for 304 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-465 passing. His main target, wideout Julio Jones accounted for only 30 yards on six catches, but the Eagles could have issues defending him with a secondary that was torched for 380 yards by Case Keenum.
"Overall, we just didn't, particularly in that first half, didn't have a lot of sync," Schwartz admitted. "Our zones weren't good, our man wasn't good, our blitz wasn't good -- we were still stopping the run pretty good -- but whether it was a combination of tackling or angles going to the ball or defending deep to short or playing tight coverage, it just didn't look like us and didn't look like what we'll look like."
And if it’s not Freeman or Jones, tight end Austin Hooper could be the thorn in Philadelphia’s side. Hooper heads into the contest after catching nine receptions for 77 yards. Those numbers are a result of a lot of check downs, and the Falcons inability to protect Ryan in the pocket.
One thing the Eagles have been able to do on defense is keep Matt Ryan in check. In the past two games against Ryan, he has a very uncharacteristic 73.5 Passer Rating, which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson discussed this week.
"Our guys just -- I don't want to say they play differently -- but they just get after him and they put pressure on him," Pederson said. "Any time you do that to quarterbacks and disrupt their timing, you can cause turnovers, incomplete passes, move him off his spot, whatever it is, and we have been able to do that."
"So now it's going to be a challenge down there, loud place, trying to do it again."
The area that will have the biggest challenge in trying to keep Ryan in check in Sunday’s contest is cornerback. Will Schwartz rotate his corners with Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas each getting snaps in the game on Sunday against Washington.
"We'll see where it is, see how many snaps," Schwartz stated. " The one thing is, particularly third quarter, we were getting stops, the offense was holding the ball for 20 plays a drive or whatever. Our guys were fresh. We really didn't need a whole lot of rotation there. But every game's different, you never know what it's going to look like, how many snaps you're going to have to play, things like that. We'll take it on a game-by-game basis and see where it takes us."