It’s finally time for meaningful football as the Eagles will kick off their Super Bowl defense against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night at the Linc. Ahead of each game this season Eagles Frenzy will go through a position-by-position breakdown of the Eagles and their opponent for the week. Without further ado, let’s jump right in to Week 1.
There is a lot going on when looking at the quarterback position for these two teams.
For the Eagles, it obviously starts with the Carson Wentz/Nick Foles situation. Reports indicate that Foles will be under center in the season opener, and so we will base our breakdown on that assumption.
Foles entire career has been tough to pin down. We saw the incredible 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions he posted with the Eagles in 2013. Then we saw unremarkable stops in St. Louis and Kansas City. He returned to Philadelphia and took over for an injured Carson Wentz late last season, inspiring little confidence in the final regular season games before playing brilliantly in the playoffs as he led the Eagles to a Super Bowl title, earning SB52 MVP along the way. Most recently, we saw his erratic play in the 2018 preseason.
The Falcons have questions of their own at the position. We know it will be Matt Ryan at the helm, but which Matt Ryan will show up. Will it be the 2016 NFL MVP version that posted 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, just seven interceptions, and a 117.1 rating? Or will it be the 2017 version that saw those numbers dip to 4,095 yards, just 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a 91.4 rating?
With Ryan, the answer is likely somewhere between the two. With Foles, it’s really hard to know. That uncertainty is the difference here.
The Eagles are quite comfortable with their running back situation, and rightfully so. Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles are a versatile group that fit in nicely in the modern NFL. They have proven production in the Eagles offense, and another solid season should be expected.
The Falcons, meanwhile, present one of the best duos in the NFL in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The pair has posted consecutive seasons with at least 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. Much like the Eagles running back situation, Freeman and Coleman provide great versatility and the opportunity to create matchup problems.
Just like the quarterback position, this one is really close. However, the consistency of Freeman and Coleman is hard to overlook.
This is a tough one for the Eagles, as they will be without number one wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to start the season. Mike Wallace’s invisibility throughout the preseason is a concern, although there is a glass half full view of things floating around. Mack Hollins has been banged up throughout the summer, and will now miss Thursday’s opener. That means the inexperienced Shelton Gibson and DeAndre Carter could see significant time on Thursday night.
Nelson Agholor was vastly improved in 2017 and will need to build on that improvement, especially early in the season. The season-long outlook for the receiver position is still a positive one, but things don’t look promising for Thursday.
Meanwhile the Falcons enter 2018 with a very strong group at the position. Julio Jones is all-world, Mohamed Sanu is steady opposite of Jones, and the Falcons are excited about the addition of rookie Calvin Ridley.
So far this breakdown has done little to inspire confidence, although several of the positions were closer to toss-ups than declarative Falcons advantages.
Finally, we get to a spot where the Eagles have a clear advantage.
Zach Ertz has played is way into the upper-echelon of NFL tight ends, joining Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. Ertz should continue to be a workhorse for the Eagles and provide them an advantage at tight end on a weekly basis.
The Falcons have high hopes for Austin Hooper, but he has yet to deliver consistently on those expectations. He’s serviceable and has some upside but is nowhere near Ertz.
Another interesting one, as both teams kick off the season with strong units in the offensive trenches. Per Pro Football Focus, the Eagles finished 2017 with the best offensive line in football, while the Falcons were right behind them at number two. PFF projects the Eagles to maintain their top spot, while it sees the Falcons slipping a spot to number three.
The Eagles were equally effective blocking in both pass and run situations, and Doug Pederson has refined the game plan to highlight the strengths of his lineman.
The Falcons ranking was bolstered by stellar run blocking, particularly on outside zone plays. However, the pass protection left something to be desired, as they ranked 12th in pass blocking efficiency and Matt Ryan found himself under pressure on 33.9 percent of his dropbacks. Atlanta has been susceptible on the right side of the line and at the guard position.
Another strength for the Eagles in 2017 that is expected to carry over in 2018. This unit is stocked with talent and depth, the D-line should continue to control the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback.
For the Falcons, Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn are gone, but there’s still optimism. Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett have proven themselves, and second-year player Takk McKinley had a productive rookie campaign in 2017. This is a good unit with the potential to be great, but it doesn’t have the track record of the Eagles defensive line.
Nigel Bradham is suspended for Week 1, but Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry have acquitted themselves well in the preseason and look prepared to hold down the fort for the first week. Jordan Hicks is back to anchor the middle and his ability in coverage will be a boost for the Birds. He has been active this preseason, notching 11 tackles and a sack.
Much like the Falcons’ defensive line, the linebackers are a source of optimism that needs to meet expectations. Deion Jones made the Pro Bowl last year while De’Vondre Campbell is an athletic specimen who has demonstrated valuable coverage ability. The Falcons boast a versatile LB corps oozing with potential, but still need to put it together on the field.
The Eagles’ secondary is the group that has generated the least consensus among experts and analysts. For example, PFF ranked the unit 18th in the NFL, but some Eagles writers believe the group is the best the team has had in years.
This can be attributed to some uncertainties and boom or bust potential. Jalen Mills has shown electrifying flashes but has fallen victim to some frustrating miscues as well. The progression of Sidney Jones along the learning curve will also be key. However, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, and Ronald Darby provide some stability, and this unit should make plenty of plays.
The Falcons are excited about their group in the secondary, with safety Keanu Neal coming off a Pro Bowl season and veteran Desmond Trufant anchoring the corners. Robert Alford had a very good season opposite Trufant, while Ricardo Allen is no slouch at the other safety spot. The Atlanta secondary is deep and talented.
What it means
We clearly have two teams that are fairly evenly matched. Unfortunately, the Eagles have far more injury concerns, and it’s hard to believe that impact won’t be felt on Thursday night. Regardless, it should be a great matchup between two teams with high hopes for 2018.