It's the Battle of the Birds this weekend, and avian adjectives aside, this is a hugely important game for both teams.
A Falcons win grants them legitimacy in a way beating the 49ers and Browns apparently didn't, and it gives them an awesome 5-1 record and some room for error. An Eagles win puts them at 4-2 and keeps them running out front in one of the toughest divisions in football. There's a lot at stake here, so it's little surprise both the Falcons and the Eagles seem pretty amped for the game.
Fortunately for the Falcons, this game is a reverse from a year ago, when the banged-up Falcons hosted the Eagles and got beat. This time, the Eagles are ravaged by injuries and have some significant personnel concerns going into the game. Like sportswriters at a buffet, our team will just have to take advantage.
After the jump, find my four matchups for this one.
Falcons Defense vs. King Dunlap
If John Abraham doesn't play, this matchup becomes slightly more problematic for the Falcons. But only slightly.
Eagles fans really are not happy with King Dunlap, the mammoth left tackle who moves around about as well as a bag of dead elephants. Unfortunately for them, starter Jason Peters is definitely going to miss this game, so one of the slowest and most inept tackles in the league will be matched up against John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Stephen Nicholas and whoever the hell else wants to rush at him.
The Falcons have to make Dunlap into a turnstile to get effective pressure on Kevin Kolb. A couple of sacks and hurries will force the Eagles to start holding back a tight end or fullback to help Dunlap, which frees things up for everyone else. This is the defensive domino to push over in this game, and if the Falcons take advantage of it, things could get extremely ugly for the Eagles' offense.
Falcons Defense vs. LeSean McCoy
The Eagles' best chance of fending off the pass rush comes in the form of LeSean McCoy. Speedy and capable in the passing game, he's going to function as a safety valve for Kolb, and the Eagles won't hesitate to lean on him if the pass is struggling.
McCoy's tough to handle because he's so versatile, but I like to think of him as a faster, smaller Frank Gore. If you'll recall, Gore had decent success against the Falcons both running and catching passes, but the defense has really firmed up this year. What makes McCoy truly dangerous is his ability to break a long run or turn a short pass into a touchdown.
To combat that, the Falcons will need excellent performances from their linebackers. Thankfully, Curtis Lofton is ready to start and Nicholas and Mike Peterson are effective against the run. He's the most dangerous offensive weapon, in my mind, because his role isn't affected by how much pressure the Falcons generate, unlike receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Turnelling vs. Eagles Defense
The Eagles have a quality pass rush, which we'll be touching on in a minute. What they don't have is a defensive line that appears particularly interested in stopping opposing running backs.
With the Falcons' two-headed tandem of Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, they should be able to wear down the defensive line very quickly. Heck, they should be able to wear down the entire defense. Turner has made no secret of his propensity for running all over weak defenses, and Snelling continues to be a steam-powered automaton who chugs along no matter who the opponent is.
You want to talk about getting ugly? Ugly is Turnelling steamrolling villains like the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Ugly is these two combining for 150 yards, which is not at all outside the realm of possibility. Given the terrifying demon in our next matchup, they're probably gonna have to.
Sam Baker vs. Trent Cole
You may be starting to get the idea that I believe this game will be won in the trenches, to dust off an old expression. You would be damn right.
Matt Ryan's long-term health depends on Sam Baker pulling a good game out of his ass, or the Falcons giving him significant help. Cole is an insanely talented pass rusher, putting up 37 sacks since 2007. He may be the most criminally underrated player in the game of football today. Needless to say, Baker should be shivering in fear right now.
We know Baker is capable of being a competent left tackle because we've seen stretches where he looked exceptional, but this is one of the stiffer challenges of his career. I'd like to put a sunny face on this and dance down Lollipop Lane holding hands with you guys, but I'm gonna be honest instead. Baker is farged.
So that leaves us with the significant help angle. Have Ovie Mughelli chip in. Have Michael Palmer dedicated to saving Ryan's life. Have Baker eat a shitload of spinach before he goes out there. Pray to Vishnu. Do something, because otherwise I have a feeling Ryan's going to be counting clouds.