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Why the Falcons lost to the Eagles and how they can win in Week 1

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A look at how Steve Sarkisian cost Atlanta the game.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Many of you noted similarities within this article with Brett Kollman’s excellent video breakdown of Sarkisian’s tendencies in the Divisional Round game. We don’t believe those similarities were intentional, but we are linking to Kollman’s video here because he originated these concepts in detail back in January. It’s also worth watching.

For the city of Atlanta, the fans of the Falcons, players and coaches, beating the Philadelphia Eagles is easily atop their priorities after last year’s playoff loss. Today, I’m breaking down the aspects of our emotional loss and how we can improve on that and beat the Eagles week one.

Why We Lost: Play Calling

Yes, I am going to add to the heat of Steve Sarkisian. I simply don’t believe he watched any film leading up to the game, as tough as that sounds.

If he had, he would’ve abused Philadelphia’s overly aggressive secondary play, lack of defense against “picks” or “rubs” in their own man coverage, and simply would’ve used his personnel’s explosiveness on offense.

To begin, when the Seattle Seahawks went up against the Eagles defense earlier in the year, 25 percent of their play call revolved around empty formations and rubs. It worked. They shattered the man coverage of the Eagles and won 24-10. How is it that the Falcons couldn’t manage to put up more than ten points? If you think the Seahawks have a better offense than Atlanta does, you’re crazy.

For crying out loud, Kyle Shanahan’s 49er offense put up near 50 points on the Jacksonville Jaguars, who by the way are debatably the best defense in the league. Their starting wide receiver was Marquise Goodwin, who has never had a 1,000 yard season, and their starting quarterback had played 5 games in that system. The offense was holistically unestablished.

Atlanta has no excuse for not putting up at least twice the amount they had. Because of Philly’s overly-aggressive play, a rub route would have freed up our explosive assets on offense for huge gains. Of Atlanta’s five uses of an empty formation against Philly, the single rub use resulted in a 17 yard gain by Mohamed Sanu. The team’s five empty formations averaged a spectacular 9.6 YPA. Without a doubt, these rub concepts are the biggest weak link in the Eagles defense, yet somehow, Sark couldn’t figure it out.

Against the struggling Giants, the Eagles were again obliterated by rub concepts. Without Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, the WR corps still managed 434 passing yards and four touchdowns because of effective screening and rub usage. In that game, the Eagles defense did not prepare even slightly differently, yet, Sark didn’t even think to use the rubs. One play had the Falcons in a 3 receiver set against an Eagles cover 3. The play sent Mohamed Sanu into the one seam against two defensive backs, Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod, while Julio ran a fade route away from the second seam against Jalen Mills. If Sark had sent Julio into the second seam, McLeod would have had to make a decision whether he wanted to cap Sanu or Julio. Most likely, he would’ve decided to cap Julio, which would’ve led to a double move from Mohamed against Malcolm Jenkins to free him up on a one-on-one route against Ronald Darby. On this play, Jenkins was defending the curl/flat zone. Not only was this playcall completely ineffective, but it put Sanu at risk of a serious concussion because he ended up getting rocked by McLeod. Given Sanu’s excellence as a route runner, it was also unnecessary.

There was not an effective draw up for guys like Sanu to use their lethal double moves. If Tavarres King on the Giants could beat Jalen Mills out for a touchdown, best believe Sanu and Julio Jones could. Also, being that Tevin Coleman was the only effective runner the entire game, I guess Sark thought it was fair to only give him 10 carries, with just five in the second half. I remember a play where he put Matt Ryan up center in the two minute drill with one time-out as if it faked a run. Everybody knew we weren’t running the ball. This poor play call led to a Fletcher Cox sack. This game came down to play calls, because the Falcons and the Eagles are unbelievably evenly matched. Rubs, rubs, rubs, and Sark must know that by now.

How We Win: Abuse Defensive Aggression

Jim Schwartz, as excellent as he is, is known for his appetite for risk and his willingness to have his secondary bite. With that being said, I want to see at least 15 rub concepts/empty formations. I want to see a lot of double moves by Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. I also want to see Sarkisian call like he’s in the NFL and he’s learned from every mistake the offense made in the playoffs. That’ll be huge.

Atlanta’s offense will have to revolve around explosiveness and the abuse of over-aggression on the Eagles part. It’s really that easy. The Falcons are, if not a better team, at least an equally talented one. With better playcalling and exploiting Philadelphia’s weaknesses, they can win this upcoming Week 1 matchup.