Eagles-Falcons, Day After: ‘A Confidence Booster’

How the Eagles' defense dominated Atlanta's high-powered offense.

Leodis McKelvin. (Jeff Fusco)

Leodis McKelvin. (Jeff Fusco)

It felt like the Eagles were going to blow another close game.

After the offense failed to convert on second-and-goal from the 2-yard-line and third-and-goal from the 1-yard-line early in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia settled for another field goal. It was the Eagles’ second visit inside the 11-yard-line in the second half, and they only managed six points in those two trips. You knew Atlanta’s high-powered offense was going to make a big play at some point, and just a few snaps later, they did.

Facing second-and-11 from their own 24-yard-line, Taylor Gabriel ran a double-move. Leodis McKelvin bit hard on the fake, and Matt Ryan tossed the ball over the top of the defense.

“Sh-t, got greedy!” McKelvin said. “Sh-t opened up so wide, I was like, ‘He gonna sit this b-tch down as a curl, so I’m gonna jump this b-tch and make a play! Oh sh-t, wrong time!”

Gabriel ran 76 yards for the score and 15-13 lead, but then, down two with 13:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Eagles did something they haven’t done all season: They closed out a tight game. After losing all four of their first eight contests decided by 10 points or less, they scored 11 unanswered points and pulled out the 24-15 victory.

Carson Wentz led a 76-yard touchdown drive, Caleb Sturgis made a 48-yard field goal with less than two minutes left and McKelvin bounced back by nabbing a game-sealing interception with 1:27 left on the clock.

McKelvin decided before the game he couldn’t start because of how much his left hamstring was bothering him, but the coaches declined to deactivate him. Instead, they made him available as an emergency cornerback in case something happened. Near the end of the second quarter, something did happen when Nolan Carroll suffered a concussion. McKelvin replaced Carroll and played a majority of the game, and outside of Gabriel’s long touchdown catch, McKelvin allowed only one reception for 16 yards on five targets, per Pro Football Focus.

“It means a lot; shows his character,” Rodney McLeod said. “Even though he was down a little bit, still was locked into the game, ready and prepared at any moment. Obviously, we needed him, called on him and he showed up on a lot of plays. Should’ve had three picks; we’re going to tease him about that on Tuesday when we watch film. But he did a good job out there considering his health.”

McLeod turned in a good game of his own, as did most players on the Eagles’ defense that held the Falcons to a season-low 15 points. Atlanta, who arrived in Philadelphia averaging 33 points per game, scored at least 23 points in each contest as they started the year 6-3. They had the No. 1 passing offense in the NFL, and a top-10 rushing attack to make them one of the most balanced teams in the league.

While the Eagles’ impressive ground game kept the Falcons’ offense off of the field, Jim Schwartz’s unit did their part, too. Philadelphia held a huge time of possession advantage — 38:10 to 21:50 — partially because they limited Atlanta to converting only two out of 11 third-downs attempts. Matt Ryan completed just 18 passes and finished with a season-low 78.7 passer rating, while the Falcons’ ground game managed just 48 yards on 3.7 yards per carry.

“It started with stopping the run,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “We did a good job against the run, which put them in some second-and-longs. Then, we were able to convert on second down and put them in a lot of third-and-longs, and it’s hard to convert those. When they did get to some third-and-mediums, we were able to challenge those receivers, get some pressure on the quarterback and come up with some stops. That really kept them from getting into a rhythm and kept them from putting up all of those points they normally do.”

Julio Jones, who entered the game as the most productive receiver in the league, got his yards. He caught 10 passes on 16 targets for 135 yards, but he never reached the end zone. Mills was matched up on Jones for much of the second half because the Eagles wanted the rookie to trail Jones as much as he could with McKevin hurt. Jones hauled in four balls for 48 yards against Mills and three balls for 57 yards against Carroll, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Eagles used more cover-2 than they typically do to prevent big plays, particularly on passing downs, but they didn’t roll coverage toward Jones or double him as much as they did Antonio Brown in Week 3. They were cognizant of Atlanta’s balanced attack and the Falcons’ many weapons, and they relied on their front four to generate pressure — which they did.

The Eagles only recorded two sacks and six quarterback hits, but Falcons head coach Dan Quinn noted after the game how his quarterback was often pressured in the pocket and struggled to get into a rhythm.

“The biggest thing is we understood that it this is a great offense,” Jenkins said. “They’ve scored on pretty much everybody and we knew we’d have to eliminate those big plays for touchdowns and when they did get in the red zone, we needed to get stops to hold them to field goals. And for the majority of the game, we did that. They had the one big play, but we knew that they were going to make plays; we just had to stay patient. Bend but don’t break, and just give our team a chance.”

The Eagles still sit in last place of the NFC East, but that’s because it’s the only division in football in which all four teams are above .500. Philadelphia falls just outside of the playoff picture as they’re a half-game behind Washington, who is currently the second NFC wild card team.

Still, the Eagles rank third in the NFL in point differential (+66) and remain undefeated (4-0) at home.

“This ranks up there as a team win, especially defensively, just giving our team a chance to stay patient, stay calm in a tight game, coming up with big stops and holding them to field goals when they did make plays,” Jenkins said. “It’s a big game. Coming off of two losses, we needed a win. Especially at this point in the year, you need to rack up some wins.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster and something we needed at this time.”

Jordan Matthews. (USA Today Sports)

Jordan Matthews. (USA Today Sports)


Jordan Matthews was able to mask his frustration with a smile because of the Eagles’ big win over the Falcons, but he didn’t hesitate to criticize the referees for missing what he thought was a blatant helmet-to-helmet penalty near the beginning of the fourth quarter.

With about 10:56 minutes remaining in the game, the Eagles faced third-and-12 from the Falcons’ 36-yard-line. Carson Wentz delivered a 15-yard throw over the middle to Matthews, before Atlanta safety Keanu Neal broke up the play with a big hit.

“Yes, I definitely think it was a penalty,” Matthews said. “I’m like, ‘Are you guys serious?’ I don’t know what they saw out there. I don’t know if they were watching the football game or if they were thinking about going to Chickie’s [& Pete’s] later. I don’t know, but there was a football game going on when I got hit in the face.”

Matthews noted the hit bent his helmet and forced him to get a new facemask and visor. It also bloodied his lip and forced him to go through concussion protocol, although he didn’t miss a snap. While the referees didn’t explain to Matthews why they didn’t call a penalty, the Eagles receiver suggested the NFL would hand down some type of discipline against Neal.

Neal, however, disputed Matthews’ argument that it was a penalty.

“Never do I ever attempt to hit someone in the head. That’s just not the type of player I am. I’m not there to play like that,” Neal said. “(Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn) always talks about the strike zone. You guys know I’m a physical player, but I’m not trying to hit the dude in the head. They didn’t call a flag. I didn’t try to hit him in the head. I don’t think I hit him in the head, but I didn’t attempt to hit him in the head.

“I went for the strike zone, I lowered my shoulder, and I felt like I hit him in the sternum. I don’t think I had any head-to-head contact.”







Leodis McKelvin on his interception (and dropping two before it):

“Third time’s the charm! Y’all seen it. The first one, I was trying to make a secure catch. The second one, it surprised the mess out of me. I got my head around and the ball was right there. It was so soft; I tried to tip it up to Rodney [McLeod]. Third, they actually ran the same play back-to-back. Don’t do that! That was just a bad mistake [by them]. I jumped it and made a play.”

Malcolm Jenkins on why the Eagles are undefeated at home:

“It was loud at there. It was sometimes hard for us to communicate on defense, so I know that’s affecting the offenses we play.”

Doug Pederson on changing his mind before Caleb Sturgis’ late field goal and kicking it rather than going for it on fourth-and-1:

“It just gave us more time to think about the situation. It was an opportunity there. Obviously my gut instinct was to possibly go for it and win the game with that fourth-and-1. The other thought was you put yourself to a two-score game with the field goal. We were well in Caleb’s range at the time, and I’ve just got to say how well he kicked the ball today, and that was a big kick, obviously, but just gave us more time to make that decision.”

Carson Wentz on throwing the ball away on fourth-and-1 with eight seconds left in the first half, giving the Falcons the ball on Atlanta’s 48-yard-line:

“That was a dumb play by me. I should have held onto the ball more and just tried to run out that clock a little bit there. It was a bad play.”

—Sturgis on his 48-yard field goal with less than two minutes left to seal the game:

“It feels good. I was a little sick to my stomach that I put us in a bad situation. I thought we should have had the game wrapped up earlier if I would have played better earlier in the game. But it’s a really good team and I think the offense and defense played great.”



Player# of snaps% of snaps
Brandon Brooks79100%
Jason Kelce79100%
Jason Peters79100%
Halapoulivaati Vaitai79100%
Carson Wentz79100%
Stefen Wisniewski79100%
Jordan Matthews7595%
Nelson Agholor7291%
Zach Ertz5975%
Dorial Green-Beckham4456%
Darren Sproles3139%
Brent Celek2835%
Ryan Mathews2633%
Wendell Smallwood1924%
Bryce Treggs1519%
Isaac Seumalo1316%
Trey Burton911%
Kenjon Barner34%
Matt Tobin11%

*After playing his first NFL snap last week, rookie third-round pick Isaac Seumalo (16 percent) was on the field for multiple plays for the first time in his career. Doug Pederson kept sending Seumalo onto the field as an extra offensive lineman — which used to be Matt Tobin’s role — as the Eagles ran the ball down the Falcons’ throat.

*Jordan Matthews (95 percent) played a season-high 75 snaps and Nelson Agholor (91 percent) played a season-high 72 snaps as the offense recorded a season-high 79 plays. While Matthews caught six passes for 73 yards, Agholor caught just two passes for seven yards. Dorial Green-Beckham (56 percent) played a majority of the snaps and Bryce Treggs (19 percent) was on the field for 15 plays for the second time in two weeks, but neither of them were even targeted.

*Darren Sproles (39 percent) played the most snaps among running backs, but he had the fourth-most carries on the team with just two for 19 yards. Ryan Mathews (33 percent), meanwhile, played only 26 snaps, but he ran the ball 19 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood (24 percent) had the second-highest snap count of his career as he rushed the ball 13 times for 70 yards.


Player# of snaps% of snaps
Malcolm Jenkins50100%
Rodney McLeod50100%
Jalen Mills50100%
Jordan Hicks4896%
Nigel Bradham4794%
Fletcher Cox4182%
Connor Barwin3978%
Brandon Graham3876%
Jaylen Watkins3366%
Bennie Logan3060%
Leodis McKelvin2754%
Vinny Curry2652%
Nolan Carroll2346%
Mychal Kendricks1938%
Marcus Smith918%
Beau Allen918%
Destiny Vaeao816%
C.J. Smith12%
Stephen Tulloch12%

*Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod both played 100 percent of the snaps yet again, and while McLeod hasn’t missed more than two snaps in a single game this season, Jenkins hasn’t missed more than one. The Eagles were in nickel for about two-third of the snaps as Jaylen Watkins (66 percent) was on the field for 33 plays at safety while Jenkins shifted down to slot corner.

*Rookie seventh-round pick Jalen Mills played 100 percent of the defense’s snaps for the first time in his young career, and although Julio Jones caught four balls for 48 yards against Mills, the first-year player from LSU held Jones out of the end zone. Rookie undrafted free agent C.J. Smith (2 percent) also recorded the first snap of his career.

*Bennie Logan (60 percent) played 30 snaps, which is his fourth-highest amount of the season after missing the last three games due to a groin injury. Vinny Curry (52 percent), who recorded a tackle-for-loss and quarterback hit, played a majority of the defense’s snaps for the second time this season.

*Nolan Carroll (46 percent) played a season-low 23 snaps as he left the game in the second quarter with a concussion. Leodis McKelvin (54 percent), who decided during warm-ups he couldn’t play because of his hamstring injury, ended up playing a majority of snaps by replacing Carroll.