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Falcons vs. Eagles: 3 In-game matchups to watch

As the Falcons take on the Eagles in the NFL’s season opener on Thursday, here are some pivotal match-ups to keep an eye on.

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NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons open the 2018 season on the road in familiar territory. Here are three in-game encounters to watch out for.

The time is nearly here and the Atlanta Falcons have themselves a difficult test lying ahead in the defending Super Bowl champions. Going back to the NFC Divisional contest back in January, the Falcons and Eagles were fairly matched up in several phases of the game and it was evident as the game came down to a late red-zone stand by Philadelphia. So, as the Falcons gear up to tussle with the king of the mountain, here are three important match-ups to watch during the game that could have a big affect on the outcome.

Falcons Running Backs vs. Eagles Linebackers

If there was an actual kink in the armor for the Eagles on defense last season, it was their passing defense, which was 17th in the league. During this offseason, the Eagles linebacking group has taken a few shots with Mychal Kendricks being traded, Nigel Bradham being suspended, and even Paul Worrilow tore his ACL this offseason to impact their depth. Currently, the Eagles are looking to start a pair of linebackers in Nate Goody and Kamu Grugier-Hill that have a combined one career start between them.

Last season, Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman averaged 8.8 and 11.1 yards per reception respectively. Which is a little impressive despite what was a step back in overall production for the offense last season. The Eagles were tied for second in passing touchdowns allowed to running backs last season with five. It will be very beneficial for the Falcons to attack a perceived weakness on an overall stout Eagles defense. We are all aware of the skill set of Freeman and Coleman and both have the ability to be effective in the passing game whether out of the backfield or lined up out wide.

Falcons Defensive Ends vs. Eagles Offensive Tackles

There is no way around it. The defensive end pairing of Takkarist McKinley and Vic Beasley Jr. are being counted on to be a productive twosome this upcoming season. Two seasons ago, Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks—however, he took a notable step back with just five sacks in 2018. McKinley, however, was quite good during his rookie campaign with six sacks and two more in the playoffs.

Be mindful that the Eagles were without All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters for most of the 2017 season. Yet the Eagles were still ranked in the top-8 in pass blocking efficiency last season according to Pro Football Focus. Now, the Eagles have ever-steady Peters back in the fold after his season-ending knee injury last season. The pairing of Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson are one of the better tag teams in the league. Which means it will be up McKinley and Beasley to get plenty of pressure on Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian vs. Eagles DC Jim Schwartz

All eyes will be on Steve Sarkisian as he enters year two as the play caller for the Falcons. There has been talk of his improvement as a play caller this offseason but of course, what matters most is how that translates on the field and standing in front of him is legitimate test.

The Eagles were pretty stout overall all last season as a defensive unit. They were fourth in scoring defense, fourth in overall defense, first in rushing defense, and fourth in turnovers committed. Despite the Falcons having a great amount of talent on offense, this will not be an easy game for the Falcons to post any type of substantial production.

The Eagles’ defensive scheme is predicated on their front four and how they are aligned and how they attack various offensive lines. They operate out of either man or zone depending on match-up/down & distance. It is up to Sarkisian to devise a game plan that circumvents the Eagles’ obvious strength. Quick passing calls along with diverse formations could keep the Eagles defense on their heels and predictability from Sarkisian and the Falcons could provide a platform for the talented Eagles defense to play in their comfort zone. This may very well be the most important match-up of the entire game.