- The Eagles open their title defense against the Falcons. Here are three things to know before the game.
The defending Super Bowl champions open their season at home against a foe they knocked out of the playoffs last year in the divisional round. Three things to know before Eagles-Falcons on Thursday Night Football...
1. The Eagles will certainly miss injured receivers Mack Hollins and especially Alshon Jeffery, but this offense can still produce through the air. Much of its passing game derives from its ground game, which last season was the most expansive in football. Doug Pederson has a litany of uniquely angled zone blocks for his offensive line. That creativity is crucial against a fast Falcons defense. A great way to counter speedy defenders is to get them initially moving in the wrong direction. You do that with deceptive blocking looks. Expect this on inside runs, as those can help get big-bodied linemen up on undersized middle linebacker Deion Jones.
2. Having newcomer Brandon Fusco at right guard makes Atlanta’s solid O-line even better. But it will still struggle with Philadelphia’s vigorous D-line, particularly the man Fusco will most often block: Fletcher Cox. One thing Atlanta did to alleviate the mismatch against this D-line in last season’s divisional round was align receivers tight to the formation, a bit far from the Eagles’ wide-9 defensive ends. It didn’t yield great results that night, but the premise was smart. A receiver from that position is a threat to crack-block a defensive end. The defensive end knows this and can’t help but anticipate a crack-block. That’s all it takes to make him come off the ball slower. The Falcons will lean on this tactic in their outside zone running game Thursday night.
3. Malcolm Jenkins gets so much attention for his off-field activism that it’s easy to forget he’s one of the NFL’s very best safeties. With Corey Graham back behind starter Rodney McLeod, the Eagles can again have three multidimensional safeties. This package aided the pass defense last postseason, in part because the package allowed Jenkins to cover running backs. This would be a good answer to dynamic pass-catching tailbacks Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Matt Ryan will throw for twice as many yards in the second half as he does in the first half. The home crowd’s momentum from the Super Bowl banner raising and season-opening kickoff will wear off and that’s when Atlanta will find its rhythm.
Score prediction: Falcons 27, Eagles 20
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