After dropping their Week 1 game against the Vikings in catastrophic fashion, the Falcons now face an equally daunting opponent in the NFC powerhouse Eagles. The good news for Atlanta is that this game will be played at home, and we have to hope that the horrendous turnover luck that plagued them in the opening game will turn around this week.
There are a lot of very important matchups in this game, but here are the five I personally think are the most intriguing to follow. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important Falcons to keep an eye on during Sunday night’s game.
RT Kaleb McGary & RG Jamon Brown
There’s some shuffling occurring on the right side of the offensive line. With rookie Chris Lindstrom on IR—hopefully he can return for the second half of the season—the Falcons have named Jamon Brown the starter at right guard. At right tackle, Atlanta has seemingly made it official that the job is Kaleb McGary’s to lose.
The Eagles don’t have quite the dominant front that the Vikings possess this season—particularly with DT Malik Jackson out for the season—but they’ll still be a stiff test for this new-look offensive line. Can McGary and Brown protect Ryan and generate any semblance of a run game against Philadelphia? With the Falcons playing in Atlanta this weekend, expectations are high for the position group that received this most attention in free agency and the draft this offseason.
The Falcons defense wasn’t awful in Week 1, but they were a far cry from what we expected—particularly against the run. Two of the biggest issues in my opinion were gameplan-related mistakes. The first was having Isaiah Oliver matched up on Adam Thielen almost every play: an obvious mismatch for the second-year CB that didn’t play to his strengths, particularly with Stefon Diggs hobbled. The second was the emphasis on run blitzing the A-gaps against a heavy outside zone offense in Minnesota.
Both of these were clear errors in decision-making on the part of Dan Quinn. Now that he’s calling the shots, there’s nobody else to blame in Atlanta for any schematic weaknesses. Quinn needs to be willing to adapt and play creatively in order to stifle modern offenses—the Falcons can’t be afraid to have their CBs follow specific receivers, and need to make better schematic decisions against the run. Hopefully we’ll see the defense settle in at home.
WR Julio Jones
After receiving a large extension last week, Falcons’ star WR Julio Jones was largely ineffective against the Vikings. Part of that was due to the general malaise of the offense as a whole, and also due to the difficult matchup against CB Xavier Rhodes—who covers Julio better than just about anyone in the NFL. But one thing is clear: if the Falcons want to get a win on Sunday, they’ll need a big day from their primary playmaker in Jones.
All signs point to a favorable matchup for Jones against the Eagles’ lackluster secondary, which was eviscerated by Case Keenum and the motley crew of receiving options available in Washington. The Falcons must target this weakness early and often in Week 2 to put themselves in a favorable position against Philadelphia. Jones will be a key contributor to any possible Falcons win this week, and his performance could very well decide the game.
CB Isaiah Oliver
There’s no doubt about it: second-year CB Isaiah Oliver struggled in coverage during Week 1 against Vikings’ WR Adam Thielen. This isn’t entirely surprising: Thielen is an elite technician and route runner, and wasn’t a favorable matchup for the young CB who tends to win with his size and length. Quinn is at least partially to blame for forcing Oliver into a poor matchup, especially when Stefon Diggs was clearly hobbled.
Oliver will have a chance to rebound this week, and should hopefully be able to play to his strengths against WR Alshon Jeffery. The Eagles’ passing attack is like to be the engine of their offense this season, but the Falcons should have the personnel to matchup with them in the secondary. Oliver’s ability to hang with Jeffery (and Trufant’s ability to minimize the impact of DeSean Jackson) will be one of the keys to the game for Atlanta’s defense.
QB Matt Ryan
Going back to 2016, we’ve seen Matt Ryan struggle in Week 1—and since 2016, Ryan has always seemed to bounce back the following week. There’s no doubt that Ryan’s two interceptions—one off a very poor decision to throw into double coverage, and another on a play where TE Luke Stocker quit on a route—were a key factor in Atlanta’s opening day drubbing.
With the Falcons playing in the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium this week and facing a secondary that has fared quite poorly thus far, all the ingredients appear to be in place for a strong showing from Ryan. The Eagles’ pass rush isn’t quite as dangerous as it has been in years past, which could set the stage for the Falcons to unleash their passing game in Week 2. We know the talent is there for this offense to reach great heights, and we’ll need to see it on Sunday night if Atlanta wants to come out of this game 1-1.
Who are some of the Falcons you’ll be watching closely on Sunday? Any matchups in particular that you’re looking forward to? Do you think Atlanta can pull off a win in Week 2 and get the season back on track?