On paper, Falcons fans see an Eagles team that has gone on a recent slide and is now sitting at 4-4 after starting the year 3-0. The Eagles offense looks limited with poor WR talent and a rookie QB who is coming back to earth some. However, fans shouldn’t sleep on this Eagles defense, which is still ranked first in defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders. That said, the Eagles D is more than the sum of it’s parts, as they have some significant flaws on their D that the Falcons offense can take advantage of. Here’s how our offense matches up with their D.
* Note: these comparisons lean heavily on scoring by Pro Football Focus.
In the trenches
After two rough games against the Seahawks and Chargers, the Falcons offensive line turned in two very solid performances against the Packers and the Bucs. At the heart of this line is Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack, undoubtedly one of the best free agent signings of the year. He has stabilized this line and provided veteran leadership that was sorely missing last year. Andy Levitre has stepped up his game considerably this year, settling in as a decent pass blocker while also being a force in the running game. Chris Chester is clearly on the decline but is mostly competent. Jake Matthews struggles at times, but is generally an average to above-average tackle, while Ryan Schraeder is arguably one of the better right tackles in the league. As a whole, this line is playing very well and is important to the Falcons offensive success.
In base sets, the Eagles feature two dominating players in Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Both players have 4 sacks each and are two of the best at their positions right now. After them, though, the drop-off is notable. DT Beau Allen has not played well and is someone the Falcons will likely go after in the running game. Vinny Curry is also off to an ok start on the year, but is not a particularly intimidating pass rusher. The Eagles do have some good linebackers, however. Jordan Hicks has been playing very well, though he is much better in coverage than as a run defender. Nigel Bradham has also started off his year well, and figures to be better in run defense. The weak link at linebacker is Mychal Kendricks, who is a solid run defender, but a definite liability in coverage.
This match up really comes down to how much damage Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox can do. These are two very good players, but the Falcons OL has also shown the ability to contain fierce pass rushers (Denver as a good example). Given the lack of other options the Eagles have, the edge has to go to Atlanta here.
The skill positions
The Falcons may have some of the best skill position players on offense right now. QB Matt Ryan is an early MVP candidate and is playing some of the best football of his career. Julio Jones is arguably the best WR in the league and is again putting up ridiculous numbers. Mohamed Sanu started the season slowly, but has come on in recent weeks and shown himself to be a good complimentary receiver. WR3 Taylor Gabriel has exploded on the scene in recent weeks, with break-neck speed and surprisingly good hands. Rookie TE Austin Hooper has also come on huge in the past few weeks. Devonta Freeman is having another good season, demonstrating his incredible vision and ankle-breaking change of direction skills. This is a very good and very deep offensive unit, with Ryan already connecting with 11 different players for touchdowns this season.
The Eagles have major issues at corner. Leodis McKelvin is a fast corner, but at 5’10” will be giving up 5” on Julio. He’s also having a very poor year so far. On the other side, Nolan Carroll has shown to be a competent CB in the past, but he is likewise having a down year. In nickel sets, Jalen Mills is a big liability so far this year as a seventh round rookie out of LSU. Needless to say, this is not a unit that inspires confidence. That said, the Eagles do have very good safeties. Malcolm Jenkins is one of the better strong safeties in the league and is solid in both coverage and run support. Rodney McLeod is very good in coverage and respectable in run support. This Eagles secondary will need these guys to help a lot if they’re going to be successful in slowing down this Falcons offense.
Unless the Eagles corners suddenly pull it all together, the Falcons offensive skill talent simply overwhelms what the Eagles will have in their secondary. Atlanta will really have to have a very poor game to not win this match-up.
Even though the Eagles defense ranks first in DVOA, this D looks like it can be exploited by a top-tier offense. The key for Philadelphia will be in generating a consistent pass rush with Graham and Cox. That is their best shot at impacting this offense. If Ryan is given any kind of time in the pocket, though, this could be a long and painful day for Philly’s corners - which is ultimately what I think will happen.