The Eagles will play the Falcons at 8:20 Sunday night in Atlanta. Here is a scouting report, including a prediction:
When the Eagles run
After a slow start, the Eagles’ offensive line dominated the Redskins’ front seven in the second half, opening hole after gaping hole for running backs Darren Sproles, Jordan Howard, and Miles Sanders, who collectively averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the second half.
Despite his inexperience, the Eagles clearly have confidence in Sanders, the rookie from Penn State. He played 36 snaps against the Redskins, compared with 23 by Sproles and 17 by Howard. The Eagles likely will continue to use a running-back-by-committee approach, but Sanders is the guy they figure to lean on the most.
Carson Wentz converted three quarterback sneaks against the Redskins. Their willingness to use him in third- and fourth-and-1 situations gives them a big advantage.
The Falcons, who finished 25th in run defense (124.9 yards per game) and 28th in opponent rush average (4.9 yards per carry) last season, gave up 172 rushing yards (on 38 carries) in their 28-12, Week 1 loss to the Vikings. The Falcons’ front seven relies a lot more on quickness and penetration than the Redskins'.
When the Eagles throw
It didn’t take long to find out the impact DeSean Jackson is going to have on the passing game. Still one of the league’s most feared deep threats at 32, Jackson had eight catches for 154 yards against the Redskins, including 51- and 53-yard touchdowns. Both TDs came on third-and-10 plays. Six of Jackson’s receptions came on third down, five of which resulted in touchdowns or first downs.
Jackson’s presence opens things up underneath for both him and the rest of the Eagles receivers. Carson Wentz was 17-for-20 on passes of 0 to 10 yards, and 4-for-6 on throws of 11 to 19 yards. He completed passes to eight receivers and posted a 121.0 passer rating, the fifth highest of his career. It was just the sixth time that he has thrown three or more touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Falcons lost both their safeties — Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen — to season-ending injuries in the first game of the 2018 season. Both are back, which has allowed them to move Damontae Kazee from safety to nickel. Desmond Trufant is their most experienced corner.
When the Falcons run
The Falcons broke up their talented running-back tandem of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in the offseason. Coleman left via free agency and has been replaced by Ito Smith, a 2018 fourth-round pick. Smith doesn’t have great size (he’s 5-foot-9, 195 pounds) or burst and is better in space in the passing game than as a runner. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie. The 5-8, 206-pound Freeman has been slowed by injuries the last two seasons, but had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and ’16.
The Falcons lost starting right guard Chris Lindstrom, their first-round pick, last week to a fractured foot. Jamon Brown, who has 38 starts in four NFL seasons, will replace him. The Falcons averaged just 21.9 rushing attempts last year, down from 26.9 in ’17. They ran the ball only 17 times against the Vikings, but that was mainly because they fell behind early.
The Eagles held the Redskins to 28 rushing yards on 13 carries last week. They didn’t give up a rushing first down or a run longer than 7 yards.
When the Falcons pass
Matt Ryan is one of the most prolific passers in NFL history. He’s sixth all-time in completion percentage, 11th in passing yards and 12th in touchdown passes. But he and the Falcons are 0-3 in the last three meetings with the Eagles and Ryan had a 73.1 passer rating and 54.4 completion percentage in those three games.
Sunday, Ryan will face an Eagles defense that gave up 380 passing yards in Week 1 to Case Keenum. Ryan has a deep and talented arsenal of pass-catching weapons that includes wide receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley; tight end Austin Hooper; and both of his running backs, Freeman and Smith. Jones, a six-time Pro Bowler, had 113 catches and led the NFL in receiving yards last season. Ridley averaged 16.0 yards per catch as a rookie.
The Eagles gave up two long touchdowns in Week 1: a 69-yarder to rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin on a failed blitz that left cornerback Rasul Douglas without safety help, and a 48-yarder to tight end Vernon Davis that resulted from poor tackling. The Eagles’ interior pass rush suffered a major blow in Week 1 with the season-ending loss of Malik Jackson.
The Falcons’ 44-year-old kicker, Matt Bryant, owns one of the best legs in NFL history. He’s eighth all-time in field goal percentage (86.2). He hasn’t missed more than five attempts in a season since 2008. Over the last three years, he’s 18-for-22 on field goal attempts of 50 or more yards.
The Eagles’ Jake Elliott has missed just 10 field goals in 63 career attempts. Punter Cameron Johnston picked up where he left off last season. He had a 51.3-yard gross and a 47.7-yard net average against the Redskins. Punt returner Darren Sproles averaged 11.5 yards per return last week, with 17- and 14-yard returns.
Falcons punter Matt Bosher had a punt blocked in Week 1, setting up the Vikings’ first touchdown. Bosher finished 15th in net average last season.
Ex-Eagle Kenjon Barner is handling both punt and kickoff returns for the Falcons. Barner has a decent 8.1-yard career average returning punts. He averaged 11.5 on four returns last week.
The Eagles have won the last three meetings with the Falcons, but all three of those games were at the Linc. This one will be in noisy Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With the exception of their Super Bowl LII win over the Patriots in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the Eagles are 7-15 in domes and retractable-roof stadiums since 2011. But the Falcons are only 9-7 at their new home since it opened.
Falcons 24, Eagles 21
Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins and LB L.J. Fort vs. Falcons TE Austin Hooper. Hooper caught 88 passes last season and nine last week vs. the Vikings. He had just three receptions for 24 yards in a Week 1 loss to the Eagles last year. ADVANTAGE: Even
Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant. Trufant is an experienced corner with sub-4.4 speed who can stay with Jackson step for step. He did a pretty good job of neutralizing Jackson during DeSean’s two years in the NFC South with the Bucs. ADVANTAGE: Falcons
Eagles DEs Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham vs. Falcons LT Jake Matthews and RT Kaleb McGary. Graham had a team-high six QB pressures in Week 1. McGary is a first-round rookie. Matthews, who gave up two sacks all of last season, yielded two in Week 1. But he’s going to be a tough matchup for Barnett, who is coming off shoulder surgery and didn’t have a pressure in Week 1. ADVANTAGE: Even
Keys to the game
Stop the run: The best way to stop Matt Ryan is by making the Falcons offense one-dimensional.
Don’t give up big pass plays: The Eagles have given up only six pass plays of 25 yards or more in their last three wins over the Falcons.
Eat my dust: The Eagles offense needs to get rolling early like it did in 2017, when it was third in the league in first-quarter scoring. Last year, it finished 32nd. As in last.