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Falcons defense vs. Eagles offense: How do they match up?

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Is this the year Atlanta becomes a top defensive unit?

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

When the Falcons travel to Philadelphia on Thursday, they’ll face a banged up Eagles offense that will likely be missing their top wide receiver and starting quarterback. Don’t sleep on this unit though, as Doug Pederson proved he is an excellent coach who knows how to take advantage of the guys he has. Here’s how the matchup between the Falcons defense against the Eagles offense looks on paper.

Note: Analysis is based off of PFF scores.

In the trenches

The Eagles offensive line may be one of the best in the league. Jason Peters is past his prime, but is still one of the best left tackles in the NFL, and on the other side, Lane Johnson may be one of the best right tackles in the game right now. Center Jason Kelce is arguably the best in the league. Brandon Brooks is very good at right guard, while the only weak link — Stefen Wisniewski at left guard — is a quality player in his own right. This is a very good unit that is in the conversation for one of the best in the league.

The Falcons defensive front has some intriguing pieces. Grady Jarrett is one of the best young defensive tackles in the league who excels against the run and the pass. Terrell McClain had a rough year in 2017 playing out of position, but has been a quality starter in the past. Vic Beasley has not quite lived up to his first-round status, but looks to bounce back in a move back to defensive end. Takkarist McKinley had a strong rookie year and could be the pass rushing boost this unit has needed.

While the Falcons defensive front looks improved, they are going against one of the best offensive lines in the game. Until they can prove they are a dominant young unit, the edge has to go to the Eagles here.

Advantage: Eagles

The skill positions

With Carson Wentz still recovering from his 2017 ACL tear, it looks like the Eagles will start Nick Foles at QB. Foles had a great run in the 2017 playoffs, but is an up and down QB who has looked poor this preseason. He’ll also be missing Alshon Jeffery at WR1. Nelson Agholor had his best season yet last year, but is clearly not a WR1. At tight end, the Eagles do have the fantastic Zach Ertz, and he’ll likely be a primary passing target throughout the game. The Eagles’ most dangerous weapons is their trio of running backs. Jay Ajayi showed how dominant he can be when we played them last year. Darren Sproles is older, but is still a dynamic weapon that can give linebackers fits. Corey Clement is third on their depth chart, but is also a highly capable and dangerous weapon out of the backfield.

The Falcons linebackers are highly athletic if not somewhat inconsistent. Deion Jones is on the verge of becoming one of the best in the league in the middle, excelling in pass coverage. De’vondre Campbell has steadily improved the last two years, and likewise has the ability to stick with nearly any RB or TE in the league with his coverage skills. Second-year linebacker Duke Riley is the wild card. He was a liability last year and will likely come off the field on passing downs.

The Falcons secondary is a unit that deserves more respect than it gets. Veteran corners Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are a great compliment to one another and both possess the speed to keep up with any receiver in the league. Ricardo Allen is an under appreciated free safety whose play is consistent and high quality. Keanu Neal is a nightmare over the middle who can hit hard but also covers tight ends particularly well.

If Jeffery and Wentz were playing, this matchup would likely be much closer. However, with those guys out and the Falcons defense possessing the talent to handle the Eagles weapons, this part of the matchup favors Atlanta.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

The Falcons defense has the ability to be a top unit, but will need to prove it this year. Getting a backup QB in their first game should help, though they will have a long day against this stout offensive line. However, if last year’s playoffs are any indication, they are more than up to the task of limiting this Eagles offense.

Advantage: Falcons