Eagles-Falcons, The Day After
ATLANTA, Ga. — The cast being discussed was different, but the conversation was largely the same.
The 26-24 loss to the Falcons still thick in the air, Billy Davis met with a handful of reporters in the center of the visitors locker room to address what went wrong Monday night, particularly in the back end. The Eagles yielded two touchdowns and 298 yards through the air, including five pass plays that went for 20-plus yards.
“And again the x-plays,” said Davis. “We’ve got to get that deep ball off of us.”
That was the primary mission of this offseason: to build what Chip Kelly described as a “lactose intolerant” secondary — one that wouldn’t bite the cheese and give up the big play. They yielded an NFL-high 72 pass plays of 20-plus yards last season. Determined to correct the issue, they revamped three-fourths of the starting secondary; replaced DBs coaches John Lovett and Toddy Lyght with Cory Undlin; signed Byron Maxwell to a six-year, $63 million deal.
It would be hasty to cast full judgment on this group. It was one game — their first game — and they were facing a potent aerial attack led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Still, with the amount of resources and time invested in the secondary, it’s hard not to look at Monday’s unveiling as a significant disappointment.
That certainly applies to Maxwell in particular. Much of the hope is pinned on the idea that he will be a notable upgrade over what they trotted out last year. If he can protect his side of the field and lock down the opponent’s top weapon when called upon, a big strain is lifted from the rest of the group. Maxwell struggled on this night, though, allowing several big completions, including a key 44-yarder that set up the Falcons’ go-ahead field goal.
“Inside release fade, man. He just took it up the field. Good route,” said Maxwell.
“He just got beat,” added Davis. “One-on-one out there, and he just got beat.”
Maxwell yielded a touchdown to Jones in the first half as well. He acknowledged afterwards that his performance was not up to his standards, but that there was no choice but to move on.
“It’s Week One of playing our defense. We just have to continue to grow it, work on our techniques, work on our communication, and we’ve got to tighten it up a little bit,” said Davis. “And that’s all of it. That’s not just one guy. They don’t get those kind of yards on one guy. It’s everybody. They had a good plan, they executed it better than we did, and we just have to get this thing right from here.”
The Falcons’ game plan didn’t take the Eagles by surprise. They went max protect, sent two or three receivers out on routes for the most part and let the likes of Jones and Roddy White work. Malcolm Jenkins predicted that would be Atlanta’s approach earlier in the week; the Eagles just couldn’t stop it.
Davis said that he is open to having Maxwell shadow receivers this season, but did not feel like this was the appropriate spot to do so.
“Because of the way they play [Jones]. He’s always in a stack, in bunches. So even if you re matching him up he can still spit out of a stack. It makes you go to a zone concept when they stack in bunch. If you want to purely stay on him [with one guy] you have to stay in a pure man-to-man coverage, where it would put other people in harm’s way. In the base package anyway we didn’t double him a lot but we zoned over the top of him.”
There were some positive signs. Jenkins nearly came up with a pair of picks (but dropped them both).Walter Thurmond had an interception. There were a couple nice pass break-ups along the way. And it’s not like this is the first defense that had problems containing this attack.
“Just chalk it up to earned plays by a good offense. It’s that simple,” said Jenkins. “We played a lot of man and we matched up well. We covered pretty well. Their best passes were in ’21’ personnel, play-action, man coverage where they got all day to throw the ball, big windows. They were able to read the coverages. So they had some good routes called against us and they earned some plays, and we live with that.”
But in the end, they were a beat late in making the proper adjustments and gave up too many big plays. In that respect, it was the same old song Monday night.
For all the hiccups, the Eagles were in position to claim control late in the game. Set up on the Falcons 26-yard-line with a touch over three minutes remaining, the Eagles needed one yard to extend what looked like a promising drive. Ryan Mathews, though, was stuffed for no gain.
“We were [going well offensively], but on third-and-one we didn’t get a lot of movement up front,” said Kelly in explaining why he opted to try the field goal on the following play. “It was a 44-yarder, right down the middle of the field. I didn’t think it was a tough one, he’s hit those before.”
But Cody Parkey sailed it wide right.
“He was fine in practice, and fine with every other kick today. I don’t know if the timing was off, I’ll have to look at the film, in terms of where he was,” said Kelly. “We kicked it with seven seconds on the play clock, so it wasn’t like we were rushed, and didn’t have time to get it set.”
“There’s no rhyme or reason to missing,” Parkey told reporters. “I’m human and I missed. Don’t know what to tell you.”
The second-year kicker missed part of the preseason with a groin injury. He maintains that he is now healthy. Whatever the case, the results were costly. This won’t be the last time a situation like this comes up over the course of the season. Parkey needs to find his stroke.
Peter King, who predicted that the Eagles would wind up “being disappointed” in Maxwell back in March, apparently has not moved off his stance.
More receivers have had 140 yards vs. Eagles in 33 games under Bill Davis  than in 10 years under Jim Johnson .
— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) September 15, 2015
Telling stat from Roob.
Glad to see we’re all taking this in stride.
“Just precaution. I took a few hits and they just wanted to get something checked out. Don’t worry about it. I’m all good. They said everything was good.”
— Sam Bradford on getting x-rays taken after the game, reportedly to check his ankle.
“Obviously there’s going to be some things off timing-wise. Sam and I have never really played together in a game. We talk about a lot of things, but there are going to be things that are off. I thought I made some plays, I thought I helped the team, and that was the most important thing. If I didn’t play and we would have lost, I would have felt terrible…I thought I came out healthy. I’m not hurting too bad. Obviously I’m sore from not taking a hit since last season really.”
— Zach Ertz, who returned to the playing field four weeks after groin surgery and finished with three catches for 46 yards.
“They don’t want to throw to my corners, they want to throw it in the middle of the field. Our defensive line was getting a lot of pressure, and when he went to crunch down and tried to catch the ball, it was tipped up and landed in my lap.”
— Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen on his game-clinching interception.
NOTES FROM THE ROAD
Josh and I were on the Monday morning flight to Atlanta. As the plane touched down, the stewardess took to the intercom, and in her best dramatic voice declared: “Ladies and gentlemen…the Eagle has landed.” The passengers boomed back with a “Yeeeaaahhh!” But the moment was fleeting. “Go Steelers,” she continued after a beat. “I was forced to say that.”
The presence of this fan base on the road never ceases to amaze. On our walk from the hotel to the stadium, we were behind a group of four Eagles fans decked out in their jerseys (A pair of Celek’s, a Jordan Matthews and an Agholor, for the record). They blended in with another group. And another, until it turned into a large wave of green approaching the Georgia Dome. The first fans to gain entrance were a group of intruders whose “E A G L E S” chants echoed across the near-empty stadium.
The stands looked to be nearly half-full of green. Sometimes it was difficult to decipher who the home team was. It was the best road representation in the five-plus years I’ve been on the beat. A seriously impressive showing by the fan base.
Maragos played a total of 17 defensive snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus. On Monday he played 36… Davis said the plan was to keep Kendricks as the constant at middle linebacker while having both Ryans and Alonso on a pitch count….Curry acted as the team’s third outside linebacker, spelling mostly Graham.
A pretty big gap between Celek and Ertz, especially considering Ertz is coming off groin surgery…Peters left for one snap after being rolled into by a Falcons defender. Tobin spelled him. Duce Staley distributed the snaps fairly evenly between the three backs, with Murray leading the way.