In a season opener that was a clear test to the overall talent of the Atlanta Falcons, it clearly showed that the team needs to make a few more strides than we expected. Recent contests against the Minnesota Vikings have always proven to be rugged. Last week’s matchup was no exception, as the Falcons found themselves in a quick 14-0 hole in the first quarter. The end result was a 28-12 defeat that left more questions than points scored.
Now the Falcons turn their focus to a very familiar foe. They also find themselves in a must-win situation in their first home game of the season. Let’s take a look at a few important keys for the Falcons as they look to pick up their first win of the season.
No. 1: Winning the trenches
The trenches were a very big issue for the Falcons on both sides of the ball against the Vikings. The defense allowed 172 yards on the ground to Minnesota and 4.5 yards per carry. Most of the gashing by the Vikings came outside the tackle box as the Falcons defense was unable to consistently set an edge in the run game and gave up a number of chunk runs around the edge. On the other side, the offensive line gave up seven tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits and four sacks. It was a thorough dissection of the offensive and defensive lines for the Falcons.
Which segues to the Eagles, a talented team that boasts some of the best offensive and defensive lines in all of football. In last year’s season opener against the Eagles, the Falcons allowed 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns while also giving up four sacks and 14 quarterback hits. The focus on the offseason for the Falcons was improving in the trenches and this is a matchup where that improvement must be seen in order to win.
No. 2: A healthy dose of Jones, Ridley, and Sanu
A fast start by the Falcons against the Eagles is a need. To do that, it will likely involve get the ball to their dangerous receiving trio. Against the Washington Redskins in Week 1, the Eagles allowed 380 yards in the air and three touchdowns to Case Keenum and the Washington passing attack.
No offense to Washington, but the Falcons’ group of receivers pose more of a receiving threat and if there is a weakness to the Eagles defense, it is in a secondary that was 30th against the pass in 2018 and allowed 330 or more passing yards in 14 total games last season, including the playoffs. Some of that responsibility falls on quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons offensive line. The rest lies on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who faced a little heat after last week’s lost to the Vikings due to the lack of execution as a play caller at times.
No. 3: Turnovers
This is a point of emphasis that has been a true deficiency for the Falcons defense during the Quinn era in Atlanta. During the last four full seasons, the Falcons defense has been ranked 19th, 25th, 13th, and 17th in takeaways per game average. The 2019 campaign has gotten off to a rough start somewhat as the defense registered zero takeaways last week.
The Falcons forced two turnovers in last year’s matchup against Philadelphia, with one of them resulting in a critical fourth-quarter touchdown. The unit has never been huge manufacturers of turnovers, and with an offense that can be deadly at times, giving them extra possessions to put up points on the scoreboard is something that is painfully missing. Big plays are needed to beat an excellent coached team like the Eagles.