The Falcons playoff run makes a stop in Philadelphia next, where they’ll face off against one of the better defenses in the league. The Eagles finished 2017 fourth in points allowed and yards allowed, but only 16th in sacks (38 total) and 11th in sack percentage. They also finished 7th in rushing yards per attempt, making this a difficult defense to move the ball against on the ground. Here’s how the Falcons offense matches up with this very good unit.
Note: Assessments based partially on PFF Elite scores for 2017
In the trenches
In the middle of Atlanta’s offensive line is one of the best centers playing: Alex Mack. He’s an All-Pro who is great in the passing game and the running game. The issue is to his left and right. Veteran Andy Levitre was put on IR and replaced with Ben Garland. Garland is a fairly strong run blocker, but leaves much to be desired in pass blocking. On the right side, Wes Schweitzer has struggled most of the year - both in the running and passing game. On the outsides, Ryan Schraeder is a very solid pass blocker and average run blocker while the opposite can be said of left tackle Jake Matthews. This is a decent offensive line, but they have had their struggles this year.
The Eagles feature some monsters in the trenches. Fletcher Cox is a terror on the interior. He’s good against the run but is an absolute freak as a pass rusher. Next to him, Beau Allen is average against the run and not much of a pass rusher. The Eagles edge players are something to be worried about. Brandon Graham is fantastic against the run and an excellent pass rusher. Vinny Curry is not quite as good at getting to the QB, but is still more than capable. Chris Long may be on the back-end of his career, but is still good in a rotation. Rookie Derek Barnett has shown flashes as well. This is a very formidable unit.
Even if Andy Levitre were healthy, this would be a tough match-up. Without him, the Falcons are facing one of the best defensive lines we’ll see this year. Unfortunately, this one easily goes to the Eagles.
The skill positions
Don’t let the statistics fool you: QB Matt Ryan is having a very good year, despite his receivers leading the league in drops and Ryan being punished by 8 (!!!) interceptions that were not his fault. He’s still a top-5 QB and his play last week was critical in the win against the Rams. Julio Jones is still an All-Universe receiver - good luck to anyone trying to cover him alone. Mohamed Sanu has had one of his best seasons ever, and has developed a strong rapport with Ryan. TE Austin Hooper didn’t make the big leap everyone was hoping he would in his second year, but he’s still a good receiving threat overall. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman may be one of the best in the league, with both excelling as runners and pass catchers. When this unit is not shooting themselves in the foot, they’re still one of the most dangerous in the league.
At corner, Ronald Darby has been a good player for the Eagles this year while Jalen Mills has been hit or miss. Patrick Robinson has been outstanding in nickel sets this year, however. At linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe is the weak link in this unit. Mychal Kendricks has been very good as has Nigel Bradham. Ellerbe will likely come off the field in nickel sets. At safety, Rodney McLeod is a solid player if not particularly dominating. Malcolm Jenkins is still a very good player, excelling in coverage and against the run. The back-end of the Eagles defense isn’t as dominant as the unit up front, but there are plenty of quality players that will make this a tough match-up.
This is a closer overall match-up. The Eagles don’t have a true lock-down corner to match up with Julio, so there’s a good chance he’ll “get his.” The question will be guys like Sanu, Hooper, Coleman and Freeman. Guys like Ryan and Julio will always give you an edge, but this will come down to the other guys stepping up too. This is too close to call.
The Falcons offense will have to face another dominant interior pass rusher. If the game against the Rams was any indication, Fletcher Cox could dominate. If he does, this is likely to be a low scoring affair for the Falcons offense, which is still struggling to finish drives with touchdowns. The Eagles are a very good defense from top to bottom. Don’t look for the offense to light it up on Saturday.