The Panthers are already 0-2. The Buccaneers are 1-1. The Saints are 1-0 and will be gunning for 2-0, though they hopefully won’t get there. The NFC South is in flux in the early going, but one’s thing obvious: The Falcons going 0-2 would be a very bad thing, and would put them in a large early hole no matter what New Orleans does.
That makes this home game against the Eagles a real opportunity. As Brandon Gowton noted yesterday, the Falcons have gone 3-1 in their last four home games against the Eagles, and have lost their last three on the road. The hope is that this “pissed off” team got a bad game out of their systems last Sunday and can cash in a big win against one of the NFC’s finest teams this Sunday night. It would go a long way toward making us feel better about where the season’s headed.
Here’s a look at the best reason to feel confident about a Falcons victory, and the biggest reason to worry.
Worry about slowing down the Eagles offense
The Vikings barely broke a sweat with their passing game last week, as Kirk Cousins faced pressure, fumbled even, but did not lose the ball and only had to throw ten passes. Minnesota simply elected to run their way to victory.
The Eagles almost certainly won’t do that. They’ll run and they may run well, given that the Falcons run defense is clearly a work in progress. But they’re also going to pass, and that’s my largest concern in a bucket full of them this week.
Why? The Falcons’ secondary is not in its peak state at the moment. Desmond Trufant, Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee might be a dynamic trio of cornerbacks in the near future, and Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen should return to be one of the better young duos in the league relatively soon. But Oliver got off to a super rough start to the season against Minnesota, Neal had one of his shakier games in recent memory, and Trufant had a couple of moments where he didn’t look like he was thrilled with having to make a tackle. There are some kinks to be worked out, in other words.
They’d better be worked out quickly, because the Eagles are capable of eviscerating the Falcons defense. If the pass rush is anywhere near as capable as it looked in Cousins’ 10 attempts, it’ll be a good start, but I’m still looking for the secondary to play up to its considerable potential.
Feel confident about beating those Eagles defensive backs
Matt Ryan may not have a lot of time to pass the ball given what this Philadelphia pass rush is capable of. Does that mean the passing game is in deep trouble?
No. I’m concerned that Ryan will take some big, untimely hits, the kinds that stall out drives and make what will probably be a close game a loss. But I’m not actually all that concerned that the Falcons will be limited as profoundly as they have been in the past couple of games by this Eagles defense, for the simple reason that the secondary in Philadelphia looks like it’s stuck in neutral.
The Eagles took a similar approach to the Falcons with their cornerback and defensive end conundrums and largely stuck with the young guys they had, figuring improvement would be in the offing for the likes of 25-year-old Ronald Darby, 24-year-old Rasul Douglas, 23-year-old Avonte Maddox, and 23-year-old Sidney Jones at cornerback. As is the case with Atlanta’s Isaiah Oliver and Damontae Kazee, as well as Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley at defensive end, the jury is really out on that after one game.
What we do know is that the Eagles pass rush took a while getting revved up last week against a shoddy Washington offensive line, and the results spoke for themselves. Case Keenum carved up the secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey, passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns on the day and only slowing down once the pressure really started pouring in from the Eagles.
The Falcons’ offensive line is the concern here, of course, but the Eagles simply don’t have a great secondary as it stands today, and the Falcons are loaded up with weapons for Matt Ryan to throw to. Whether it’ll lead to a win, I can’t say, but the Falcons shouldn’t lack for open options the way they did against Minnesota.