Eagles-Falcons Game Predictions: Three-and-out
The Philadelphia Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.
EAGLES PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
BLG: Fletcher Cox.
Cox hasn’t stood out on the stat sheet in recent weeks. The Eagles’ $100 million man has been held without a sack in his last four games.
It’s probably not just a coincidence Cox’s lack of production has coincided with the injury of his fellow starting defensive tackle: Bennie Logan. Logan left the Washington game early with a groin injury and hasn’t played since. With Logan out, the Eagles have had to rely on a three-man rotation at defensive tackle featuring Cox, backup Beau Allen, and undrafted rookie free agent Destiny Vaeao.
“Having a three-man rotation has — I don’t want to say worn us down in games — but you’re not as fresh at the end of the game as you’d like to be,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “Hopefully we can get back to that.”
The good news for the Eagles is that Logan is expected to return this week despite being questionable on the final injury report. Schwartz said Logan was playing at a “really high level” prior to his injury. Logan’s return could really help Cox.
“Part of the facts of life when you’re in the NFL is when you’re a good player, you’re going to get attention,” said Schwartz. “I wouldn’t put Fletch in this because he’s not a sophomore, but a lot of times you guys talk about sophomore slumps and things like that. It’s not so much that a guy is in a slump, it’s just that everybody else is paying attention to him now. If you get a baseball player that hits a bunch of home runs, pitchers are going to find a way to get him out.
“Fletch has to deal with that. When you’re a dynamic pass-rusher in the NFL, when you can make an impact, offensive line coaches are going to start their game plan with No. 91. Offensive coordinators are going to do it.”
“I think you just have to keep on going and know that there’s other ways you can contribute. But we certainly rely on Fletch to make a lot of plays for us, and he’s played well even though his numbers haven’t been as eye-popping as they were in the first month of the year.”
With Logan back, opposing teams won’t be able to key in on Cox as much.
The Eagles really need a dominant game from Cox. Getting pressure on Matt Ryan will be key to slowing down Atlanta’s passing attack. Cox had a dominant two-sack game in Week 3 against the Steelers which totally threw off Pittsburgh’s entire offense. A repeat performance could be critical to victory here.
If the Eagles can’t generate a pass rush, they’ll be in big trouble. Starting cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll are both dealing with hamstring injuries. It’ll be tough for them to cover the likes of Julio Jones and other Falcons receivers. McKelvin might not even play after being ruled questionable on the final injury report. If he can’t suit up, the Eagles will have to rely on rookie corner Jalen Mills, who is vulnerable in deep coverage.
Josh: Jordan Matthews.
I expect this to be Matthews’ best game of the season, meaning he’ll total at least 115 receiving yards and at least one touchdown. If Matthews does reach the end zone, he’ll become the third-fastest Eagle to score 20 career receiving touchdowns in 41 games, behind only Mike Quick (34 games) and Ben Hawkins (40 games).
As Falcons beat reporter D. Orlando Ledbetter mentioned in our game preview, Atlanta sometimes struggles with passing off receivers running crossing routes in their three-deep zone. Crossing routes, of course, is Matthews’ bread and butter. Matthews also expects Brian Poole, a rookie undrafted free agent, will be the primary guy who covers him.
The Falcons have allowed the second-most receiving touchdowns in the NFL, and they’ve given up the third-most receiving yards per game (304.3). Atlanta will be without Desmond Trufant — their top cover corner — on Sunday, so the Eagles should be able to move the ball through the air.
Matthews, who caught the ball 10 times for 102 yards last season against the Falcons, also noted how competing against Jones gives the Eagles’ receivers a bit of a boost for the game.
“For me, I know when an offense is coming in who has played well, especially a receiver like Julio, I tell all the guys, ‘You got to feed off that. You don’t want somebody just to come in here and go off and then we’re the guys over here not even trying to compete and just trying to do our own thing. We got to put that chip on our shoulder and go out there and compete, too,” Matthews said.
“Even when we went to Atlanta last year, we were competing offensively in the second half the way we should’ve the whole game and I felt like we fed off of a lot of what they were doing, too. They came out the first half, they were swinging the ball around, Julio was doing his thing and Roddy [White] was playing extremely well. I was like, ‘Guys, we got to pick this up,’ and then we were able to get some of that going. I think there is a little bit of added motivation for the offense.”
OVER/UNDER: 110.5 yards for Julio Jones — Whaddya got?
Jones has been a feast or famine player this season. He’s had some real big games: 300 (!), 174, 139, 111, and 106 yards. He’s also had some quiet games: 66, 29, 29, and 16 yards. Oddly enough, the Falcons have less losses in his quiet games (3-1) than his big ones (3-2). Shutting down Jones won’t be the only key to the game since the Falcons have a lot of other weapons. But the less yards for Jones is obviously the better for the Eagles.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, I think they’ll have a tough time keeping Jones in check. Their cornerback situation is a big concern, especially due to the injuries at the position.
Jones averages around 108 receiving yards per game, and he won’t be facing good cornerbacks this week. Even if McKelvin plays — he’s listed as questionable on the injury report — he won’t be healthy. McKelvin said after the Giants game his hamstring injury prevented him from running full speed, and he reiterated on Wednesday how it could bother him for the rest of the season. McKelvin allowed four catches for 83 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect passer rating when targeted by the Giants (per Pro Football Focus) — and he played less than 60 percent of the defense’s snaps.
If McKelvin is out, Mills will be his replacement, and it’d be quite shocking if the rookie seventh-round pick can contain Jones. In the two games he’s played the most snaps, Mills has been beaten badly. Against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Mills allowed nine receptions on 10 targets for 146 yards, per PFF. Two weeks later, DeSean Jackson totaled 55 yards on four catches against Mills in the first half alone, and his other target resulted in a defensive holding penalty against Mills.
Perhaps Carroll could do a solid job on Jones, but the Falcons do a fantastic job of moving the receiver around and getting him in the matchups they prefer.
BLG: Falcons 30, Eagles 27
I think the Eagles can win this game. They’ve played so well at home this year. Not only are the Birds 3-0 in games at the Linc, but they’ve flat out dominated the competition. The Eagles have outscored opponents by a total of 61 points (84 to 23).
The Falcons will be the toughest test for the Eagles as they try to maintain their undefeated home record. Atlanta’s offense is just so lethal. They’re averaging 34 points per game. Schwartz’s defense has performed very well at home, so it’ll be interesting to see how his unit holds up on Sunday.
The feeling here is the Falcons’ passing attack will ultimately be too much for Philadelphia’s secondary to handle. The Eagles are weak at cornerback to begin with and it doesn’t help that their starters are playing through injury issues.
It’s hard to trust the Eagles to win right now. They’ve lost four out of their last five games. They’ve been in position to win some of those games but they’ve ended up beating themselves. Maybe they find a way to stop doing that at home this week. I’ll take the cautious approach and say I’ll believe it when I see it.
Josh: Falcons 31, Eagles 28.
I’m with BLG. Although I anticipate the Falcons will win, I could easily see the Eagles pulling this one out at home. Atlanta allows 29 points per game, so it’s fair to expect the Birds will put up points. One important statistic, though, will be the Eagles’ red zone efficiency.
It doesn’t matter if Philadelphia moves the ball up and down the field if they respond to the Falcons’ touchdowns with field goals. Before last week, the Eagles ranked 23rd in the NFL in touchdowns per red zone trip (per Football Outsiders), and they likely fell in those standings after scoring just twice in six red zone trips against the Giants.
On the flip side, while Atlanta’s high-powered offense will be a big test for Philadelphia’s defense, the Birds could hold them to 24 points or less. It’s already happened three times in the Falcons’ nine games, and the Eagles’ defensive line could really wreak some havoc. Matt Ryan has been sacked 22 times this season, the fifth-highest total in the league, while Schwartz’s unit ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks (23).
Regardless, one thing is certain: The Eagles are very happy to return to The Linc on Sunday.