Initial Assumptions, Prior Bias and Basic analysis
The Eagles famously under achieved the year and continue to do so this year but they are still loaded, Andy Reid is a still a good coach and Vick has shown (at least in one season) the ability to be accurate when given time. If the offensive line improves even mildly this could be a very dangerous offense. The Eagles have scored 17.2 points per game (ppg) through six games but their opponents have allowed 25.8 ppg implying the Eagles offense has underachieved significantly (no surprise). Conversely, the defense has done much better at 20.8 ppg despite being put in terrible positions by Vick and the offense. This is surprising considering their opponents have scored 26.6 ppg when not playing the Eagles defense which makes the firing of their defensive co-ordinator mildly surprising. Unfortunately, that also makes them rather unpredictable but the defense is still loaded with playmakers and I consider it dangerous until proven otherwise.
The Eagles running game averages 122 yards per game(YPG) at a surprisingly mediocre average of 4.1 yards per carry(YPC) despite the presence of LeSean McCoy (also averaging 4.1 YPC). In addition, Vick is also averaging a rather poor (for him) 5 YPC. I suspect the offensive line deserves a lot of blame and the numbers from Football Outsiders (FO) confirm this, ranking the Philly OL 25th in run blocking. In contrast, Pro Football Focus (PFF) has them ranked a stellar 4th in run blocking. I don’t know which one is right since I don’t know the criteria that they have used but if I had to guess I’d say football outsiders is more accurate. Incidentally, FO has them running well when running behind their tackles and poorly otherwise. Looks like JA55, Biermann and Edwards are going to get targeted a little bit. Irrespective of the OL performance though, McCoy has been great once he gets to the second level and will make Falcons defenders regret it if they go for the Hollywood hits instead of wrapping him up.
Ever since the re-emergence of Vick, the Eagles have been a big play offense with guys like McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin all capable of taking it to the house, in addition to Vick himself. That said Vick hasn’t played very well this year quite apart from the turnover problems. He has completed only 58.8% of his passes and is averaging a so-so 7.06 YPA. That said, they remain as explosive as ever and success against the Eagles defense boils down to forcing turnovers (or waiting patiently for them) and disciplined tackling.
Vick is throwing interceptions at twice the rate of the average NFL QB and fumbling the ball at four times the rate of the average NFL QB. To be fair, a lot of his problems are exacerbated by his offensive line (PFF has them ranked 28th in pass blocking, 25th in penalties, FO has them ranked 20th in pass blocking). The Eagles have gotten solid play from their right tackle (Todd Heremans) and their left guard (Evan Mathis). Unfortunately, the left tackle and center-RG combo have been cover-your eyes awful. On a related note, guess which positions the Falcons D-line has gotten the most pressure from? For the uninitiated, the Predator has 6 sacks facing off against LTs and Babs and Vance Walker have 4.5 going up against the middle of the line. Now, to be fair they have replaced their left tackle over the bye; to be fairer they have replaced him with King Dunlap). As a result, I’m confident the Falcons can get plenty of pressure. Ergo, I am sure the Falcons will get their fair share of turnovers. The disciplined tackling is where my concern lies. The Falcons have demonstrated poor discipline while tackling this year – going for the big hit instead of making less sexy but more effective form tackles. I hope the defensive coaches drill some discipline into their charges or it could burn them this week.
I’m sure you’re thinking – hey don’t the Eagles coaches see these problems? Shouldn’t they run more?. Im pretty sure that part of the gameplan. But I suspect if Vick looks like he’s doing well in the first half they will end up abandoning the run for short passes and this where tackling in space is going to be mucho important. Making them string together long passing drives is how the Falcons can exploit the holes in that offensive line and for that the Falcons need to be disciplined in their coverage responsibilities and while tackling.
Wildcard: Asante Samuels – He’s done a good job controlling impulse to jump routes when he shouldn’t. I’m semi-terrified that the prospect of showing up the team that traded him could tempt him into a bad decision.
I have a confession to make. I have been looking forward to this game. The Falcons offense may very well have feasted on some less than stellar defenses. In addition, I believe most teams we played early in the year still thought of us as a running team which meant our pass first offense caught them off guard. The defenses have now had enough time (and film) to appropriately gameplan for the Falcons offense and the Eagles defense may very well be the best defense we play in the regular season. Their run defense is about average – allowing 4.1 YPC-but their pass defense is truly elite. They have two great cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha and DRC who are well suited to their man to man scheme. As a result, they allow just 52.65% of passes to be completed for 6.25 YPA and opposing QBs have averaged a pathetic 69.41 passer rating (3rd in NFL behind only Chicago and Arizona). They are also very good at intercepting passes- they have 7 on the year. All of this despite the fact that their pass rush has not played upto form. If Jason Babin and Trent Cole managed to turn it on against the Falcons Matt Ryan is going to have a very hard day.
With regards to the pass rush, the Eagles run the always bothersome wide 9. I hope the Falcons will counter with a lot of short drops of short gun snaps to get the ball out quickly. According to FO, the Eagles have been very good against slot receivers but their weakest (weakest being a relative term here) coverage area is against tight ends and I’m inclined to agree. We need to make DeMeco Ryans and the rookie they have at LB prove that they can cover TG. One more thing, play action passes. The Eagles trust their CB, a little too much in my opinion. Nnamdi and DRC are going to be tough to beat on short and medium passes but watching the Eagles I have a feeling they can beat deep.
In my opinion, this is the statement game for the Matt Ryan and the passing offense. Have a good showing against this defense and I suspect all the doubt associated with the Falcons No. 1 perch begins to melt away. If we struggle here, questions about the playoff schneid will come out of the woodwork again.
Philly has no egregious problems with special teams. However, their coverage team is below average – they are in the bottom five in both kickoff and punt return average allowed. On the upside (for the eagles) they haven’t allowed one for a touchdown…yet. Let’s hope for that to change on Sunday.
Interesting Statistical Battles
- The Eagles defense has allowed only one QB to complete more than 60% of his passes. Matt Ryan is completing 68% of his passes (4th in NFL). The one QB who completed more? Kevin Kolb who completed 71% of his passes and averaged 9.3 Yards per attempt enroute to destroying the Eagles 27-6.
- In non blowout situations (no team leading by more than 14), the Falcons offense is converting 47.7% of their 3rd downs. The Eagle defense on the other hand is allowing only 29.1% of the 3rd downs they face to be converted. The Eagles CBs play a physical style and they are going to make life hard for Roddy and JJ. This battle likely come down to Tony Gonzales vs DEmeco Ryans and crew. My money is on old man river.
Moral of the Story
This is a difficult game with a defense which matches up well with our offense and an offense that is a perfect complement to our defense. Their weakness is our strength (Turnovers). Our weakness is their strength (the ability to convert a missed tackle into a big play). This promises to be a very interesting game.
Beyond the numbers though, this game terrifies me. The Eagles have played well below expectations this year. Both the QB and the head coach are fully aware that this may be their last chance and they are desperate. Talented, desperate people are very, very dangerous. What’s worse is that they recently fired their defensive co-ordinator and while most everyone’s reaction has been - “big deal, he shouldn’t have been hired in the first place” – I am terrified of the dead coach bounce. When a coach is fired, the players know they could be next. The Eagles will come at us as if their jobs depend on them winning - which could very well be true for quite a few of them. I hope the Falcons can match that intensity.
- Last week, I hung out in the game threads for the first time. My first reaction- it gets super negative in there.
- Mike Smith has never lost a game to a team with a losing record!!!
…ok that’s a lie. He’s lost one game-last year to Tampa Bay when Corey Peters jumped offside. But that is the only game he has lost to a team that finished with a losing record (7-9 or worse) in 5 years. So the next time the Falcons are in a close game against a bad team, realize that the Falcons have got this. These guys have been here a lot and they know how to close these games out… so relax, breathe and stop posting doom and gloom posts on game threads!!
- Matt Ryan - 19 game winning drives. Woo!!
- This is really, really cool!!
Stats used in this article are from ESPN.com and PRO-FOOTBALLREFERENCE.com.