Eyeing The Eagles: Team Speed Kills

The second game of the season is barreling down on us, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the Falcons’ upcoming opponent. You know them as the Philadelphia Dream Team Vickles Eagles.

This is unquestionably one of the toughest matchups the Falcons will face in 2011. The Eagles blitz frequently on defense and have an elite cornerback tandem. On the offensive side of the ball, they have fast receivers, a receiver who catches well out of the backfield and a scrambling quarterback.

That’s not to say the odds are insurmountable. I’m about as pessimistic as I get about the Falcons for this one, but they’ve pulled off wins against terrible odds before. If the offensive line came out and blocked Jason Babin & Co. into next week, I can’t say I’d be terribly surprised.

But we’re here to learn more about the Eagles, the team that every publication in America declared the winner of the off-season. There’s little doubt that Philadelphia is going to bring a damn good football team to the Georgia Dome. The question is, what will it take for the Falcons to beat them?

My big question, three smaller questions and a prediction are after the jump.

The Big Question

Can the Falcons deal with the Eagles’ team speed? That is the question.

We’ll start with Vick. As we’re all aware, he’s the league’s best scrambler, capable of turning a sure loss into a 15-yard gain. He’s guaranteed to try to make a run for it on more than one occasion against the Falcons, especially if only one guy makes it into the backfield.

How do you counter that? In my mind, you put an athletic linebacker on him as a spy. Sean Weatherspoon's well-publicized tackling woes aside, he's the obvious choice to do it. Stephen Nicholas would also be an option. The important thing is that whenever possible, there's a player dedicated to shadowing Vick. The risk of him taking off for a long gainer is high enough that the Falcons can't afford to do otherwise.

Let's say you manage to keep Vick in the backfield and throwing the ball. What of LeSean McCoy? He's a dangerous runner, yes, but the Falcons' run defense is generally stout. I'm more worried about a trapped Vick finding him in the flats, or the team utilizing him on screens.

Make no mistake, McCoy can burn. He's not as physical as Matt Forte, but he doesn't need to be. If the team leaves him open underneath, they then have to catch him. Given the Falcons' notable struggles with tackling of late and the inherent liabilities of their zone defense, McCoy is a huge threat.

So again, you put a guy on him, as much as is humanly possible. You gameplan for his speed and you recognize that he's going to get the ball when Vick is under pressure, assuming you can generate that pressure. If I'm Brian Van Gorder—and I have a glorious mustache—I don't send an all-out blitz without having someone in a position to get to McCoy, should he come out of the chaos with the ball.

If you shut down Vick on the ground and McCoy through the air, you still have to account for DeSean Jackson. He's had a handful of gaffes that have garnered attention over the last couple of seasons, but Jackson is a deadly wide receiver with crazy wheels. I want Grimes on that guy.

In short, the Falcons need to account for the Eagles' weapons and take steps to stop them. Negate that speed and you've got a much more manageable ballgame.

Three Smaller Questions

  1. How will the Falcons' receivers fare against a tough Eagles secondary? Any time you can field Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as your top three guys, you're doing something right.

    So the Falcons will be challenged. Roddy White runs very crisp routes, as well all know, but Asomugha will match him step-for-step. He'll have to be physical with him. Samuel's a talented ballhawk who will give Julio Jones trouble. Assuming Harry Douglas plays, he'll have the superbly athletic DRC to go against.

    So this won't be easy. Matt Ryan will have to be precise with his passes. He shouldn't be afraid to go after Asomugha, because as good as he is, he's the least likely to pick a pass out of anyone and Roddy is so good at getting separation. It would behoove the team to pick on the Eagles' linebackers, too. Jamar Chaney is the only capable one in coverage, so we could see a decent day from Tony Gonzalez.
  2. Will the Falcons' line give Matt Ryan time? This is key. As we've seen time and time again, Ryan can put his throws right where he wants them if given even two seconds to read the field. When he doesn't get that time, he locks in and goes for short throws underneath.

    If the ground game is working well, that might pass muster. But the Falcons will need to attack the Eagles a bit to loosen them up at the line, so Ryan's going to need that time. The offensive line, as we'll discuss later today, has to come ready to play. 
  3. Can the Falcons pass rush apply a ton of pressure to Vick? It would certainly help if they could. Obviously not having Jonathan Babineaux is going to complicate things somewhat, but the Falcons should be able to get a ton off the edge. Jason Peters is the best tackle on the Eagles and could give John Abraham fits, but the Falcons can also move him around.

    With Peria Jerry, Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann all pitching in, I have to think the Falcons will be able to generate some decent pressure.

Prediction

As much as I hate to do this, I had this game penciled in as a loss before the season, and I still think the Falcons will get edged out. I do think the offense will pick it up, but the defense will struggle a bit to contain Vick and McCoy.

Eagles 31, Falcons 24. What's your prediction?

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