Last night, the Eagles kicked off their title defense with a down-to-the-wire win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Linc. It wasn’t a pretty performance, but the Birds kept grinding and made enough plays to win the game.
Ahead of the game we identified four factors we would be paying attention to for clues as to how the game will play out. Here, we’ll revisit those factors to see how they played out and how much of an impact they had on the game. Let’s jump in.
Throughout his career, there has been a wide variance in Nick Foles’ performance. Last night, he was toward the low-end of the spectrum, completing 19/34 passes for just 117 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. He appeared to be a step late all night long. On his interception, Foles looked like the last person in the entire stadium to see the open receiver, and by the time he pulled the trigger the window had closed. The offense lacked rhythm for long stretches and got virtually nothing down the field. However, some of that can be excused due to the absence of Alshon Jeffery, and Foles didn’t do anything to lose the game.
Zach Ertz vs. Falcons LBS
Ertz finished with five receptions for 48 yards. Overall it was a disappointing night for the tight ends, as Ertz and Dallas Goedert combined to catch just six of their 13 targets. With Alshon Jeffery out, the hope was Ertz would step up and help carry the offense. While his 48 receiving yards led the team, Ertz failed to have an outsized impact on the game. He contributed enough to help the Birds win the game but wasn’t the factor we were expecting.
The Defensive Line
Here is the one that really showed through. Clearly, the lion’s share of the credit for Thursday’s win goes to the defense, and the line held up their part of the bargain. The group piled up 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 11 hits on Matt Ryan.
We noted that we would be looking to the line to control the running game and put pressure on Matt Ryan. As the stats above indicate, they clearly accomplished the latter, with Chris Long and Fletcher Cox leading the way. As for the run, the Birds limited Atlanta’s dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to just 55 yards on 15 carries, a 3.7 YPC average.
The defensive line, and the defensive unit as a whole, handled their business.
The Eagles handled the emotion well. Despite rain delaying the banner ceremony and start of the game, the crowd was expectedly juiced. A false start penalty on Atlanta’s first offensive play sent an already rocking Lincoln Financial Filed into an absolute frenzy, and at times it was as loud as I’ve ever heard it (some notable games I’ve attended, for reference: 4th and 26 Game, NFC Championship against Carolina). The crowd was fantastic, and for the most part the Eagles channeled the emotion positively. You could feel a symbiotic relationship between the Eagles defense and the crowd all night long.
The Falcons tried several times to quiet the crowd, most notably following that opening false start by driving the length of the field. But the crowd remained engaged, and the Eagles came up with a huge goal-line stand. Atlanta was never able to deliver a big enough blow to take the fans out of the game. It was a great showing from Eagles fans, and the team did an excellent job taking advantage of the energy and emotion.
We expected a close game, and that’s what we got. The defense stepped up in a big way, and the offense did just enough. It was a great character win for the Eagles, and one that could be important in the playoff scenario in four months.