The Eagles offense has lacked balance in recent weeks. The pass-run ratio was 66:34 during the last two games and Carson Wentz threw at least 43 passes in both games. The Eagles want more balance, but this might not be the week to look for it against a defense that ranks No. 31 in the NFL against the pass and No. 7 against the run. Plus, the Falcons are down top cornerback Desmond Trufant.
This could be a big game for Wentz if he can avoid interceptions. Jordan Matthews has a potential mismatch against undrafted rookie Brian Poole, who is giving up six inches to the slot receiver. The starting cornerbacks will be Robert Alford and Jalen Collins, a pair of past second-round picks. The Eagles need more production from Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, who are the top outside receivers. Look for speedy rookie Bryce Treggs to also be involved and provide a deep component. The Eagles did a better job involving tight end Zach Ertz last week. He has caught 23 of 28 passes intended for him this season and should again be a factor Sunday, with Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal likely drawing the assignment.
Eagles right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will have a tough assignment with pass rusher Vic Beasley. The Falcons' 2015 first-round pick, has 71/2 sacks as a rush linebacker. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn also gives the Falcons a pass-rushing threat, but Beasley is the main worry for the Eagles.
In the running game, the Eagles will continue to rely on Darren Sproles. But they want the other running backs to remain involved, so look for Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner to carve out roles depending on the formation. The Falcons are keeping opponents to 91.2 yards per game on the ground , but they're allowing 4 yards per carry. They are getting a lot of production from Neal and linebacker Deion Jones, who has 53 tackles.
The Eagles have been best when they're running on more than 40 percent of the plays, so they do not need to be as imbalanced as in recent weeks. But they'll run only if they can avoid a big deficit early and they avoid penalties that force long-yardage situations.
The Falcons come to Philadelphia with the NFL's second-ranked offense, averaging 429.2 yards and a league-high 33.9 points. Quarterback Matt Ryan, a Penn Charter alumnus, is off to the best start of his nine-year career. Wide receiver Julio Jones leads the NFL in receiving yards, and the Falcons also have the NFL's 10th-ranked rushing offense. So this week will be a major challenge for the Eagles defense, which has excelled at Lincoln Financial Field.
The biggest challenge will be Atlanta's passing attack. Ryan is completing 69.6 percent of his passes and has 23 touchdown passes with only four interceptions. However, he's been sacked 17 times in nine games. So the Eagles' best hope of neutralizing him is with a pass rush. The Eagles need a big game from defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has not had a sack in four games. It will help him that Bennie Logan returns after a three-game absence. Cox will still command double-teams from the Falcons line, which is anchored by center Alex Mack. Look for defensive end Brandon Graham to have a big game against right tackle Ryan Schraeder.
If the Eagles cannot apply the necessary pressure, it will be a long day for the secondary. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin is questionable with a hamstring injury, and he won't be fully healthy even if he plays. Nolan Carroll is the Eagles' only other experienced cornerback, putting a lot of pressure on seventh-round pick Jalen Mills. Jones lines up at multiple spots, so all the Eagles cornerbacks could see time on him. Safety Rodney McLeod must make sure Jones doesn't get free deep; Jones is averaging 9 yards per catch and he has five catches of 40-plus yards. But the Falcons' passing game is not just Jones. They're 3-0 when Jones has fewer than 30 receiving yards because of the way Mohamad Sanu is complementing him. The Falcons are without running back Tevin Coleman and tight end Jacob Tamme, both of whom are big parts of the passing game. Rookie Austin Hooper becomes the top tight end.
Without Coleman, the Falcons' rushing offense also loses a key piece. They still have starter Devonta Freeman, who is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The Eagles did not play much base defense last week, but they'll use it more Sunday, getting Mychal Kendricks more work with Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham.
The Eagles have not scored more than 23 points per game since their 3-0 start. They averaged 30.67 points per game in the first three games, and they scored 22 per game in the last five. The Falcons have scored at least 23 points in every game this season, and they're averaging a league-high 33.9 points per game. However, they allow 28.8 points per game.
Zach Berman: Falcons 28, Eagles 24