The Eagles may be in disarray at the moment, thanks to a relatively slow start and a turnover-prone offense, but they're still a talented team. The Eagles have also historically played the Falcons close when they're not just plain old curbstomping them, so it's fair to worry a bit about this game, regardless of whether Todd Bowles is going to be a marked improvement over Juan Castillo at defensive coordinator or not.
With that in mind, let's break down four matchups that matter for Sunday's game. It's only a day away!
The Eagles will almost certainly choose to put Nnamdi Asomugha on Roddy White. Asomugha is the team's best cover cornerback, and Roddy is harder to wrangle than a buttered eel. Or something like that.
Rodgers-Cromartie is a ballhawk who has superior height at 6'2", and that makes him the Eagles' best bet against Julio Jones. Waffle House has had a nice season so far, but has struggled with drops and has disappeared from games for stretches when teams have dedicated enough attention to him. The Eagles will put DRC on him in the hopes that he can jump a route and keep up with Jones' superior athleticism.
If the Falcons win this battle, Ryan will be in for an easier day. Otherwise, the Falcons will have to utilize Tony Gonzalez quite a bit.
Old teammates, reunited! You know, if reunited means "slamming your old teammate to the turf repeatedly."
The Eagles are fairly stout on the edges of their offensive line, but the middle of the line isn't nearly as good. That gives Babineaux an opportunity to create havoc in the middle. Babs hasn't been much of a run-stopper of late, but he's as good at getting after the passer as anyone on this team not named John Abraham.
Babineaux should be able to get after Vick, possibly sack him, hit him and force him to move, all of which could lead to turnovers. Given the obvious need to focus on interceptions and fumbles in this one, the USS Babineaux should steam into the pocket often.
If you thought I'd pencil Corey Peters in here...well, you're wrong. Not with this football team.
Peters is excellent at stopping runs up the middle and can range to his right or left to make a play, so he'll definitely be a factor in this one. The Eagles thrive on getting McCoy the ball to the tackles and Vick likes to scramble off to the sides, though, so this one's going to be more on the linebackers.
Given that Sean Weatherspoon has paired excellent pass defense and pass rushing with mediocre run-stopping this season, I'm tabbing Nicholas for this one. Healthy and matched up against a back whose main attribute is his speed and acceleration, Nicholas should be in his element. He'll be the key to slowing down McCoy and unbalancing the Eagles' offense even further.
Dirk Koetter vs. Todd Bowles
It's incumbent on Koetter to come up with the better gameplan. Bowles has little experience as an NFL defensive coordinator and will have only had a couple of weeks to prepare for the Falcons. Koetter has also had a couple of weeks and now a hopefully healthy offense outside of Harry Douglas to punish the Eagles with.
The Eagles' will probably still trot out some variation of their nine wide defense, which allows for pressure from all over the field. The Falcons can counter that with short pass plays and power runs to get after some of the Eagles' smallish defensive linemen, especially when the blitz is evident from one side or the other. Keeping Ryan on his feet while Trent Cole and Jason Babin attempt to wreak havoc won't be easy, but it he can pull it off the Falcons should be able to dictate the flow of the game.
What matchups will you be watching?