Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Offense Vs. Falcons’ Defense

Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Falcons’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.

1. In many ways, these two units have shared a similar theme through six games: Turnovers have been the story. The Eagles are tied for the second-most giveaways in the league with 17, and they are averaging just 17.2 points per game (30th). Football Outsiders ranks them 27th in overall offense – 27th in passing and 31st in rushing. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 11th in overall defense – fifth against the pass and 27th against the run. Atlanta is second in the league, averaging 2.8 takeaways per game. The Falcons are also winning the field-position game on a weekly basis. Opponents are starting drives, on average, at their own 23.14-yard-line; that’s the top mark in the league. The Eagles, meanwhile, are losing the field-position battle each week, starting drives at their own 23.47-yard-line, second-worst in the league.

2. When they’re not creating turnovers, the Falcons’ defense has been middle-of-the-pack. Against the run, they’re giving up 143.8 yards per game, 28th in the league. And opponents are averaging 5.2 yards per carry against Atlanta, the second-highest mark in the NFL. We should be able to gauge the level of concern with the Eagles’ running game after this week. Against the Steelers and Lions, LeSean McCoy had trouble finding room and managed just 100 yards on 29 carries (3.4 YPC). You’d think he’d be able to have more success in this one. Meanwhile, the Falcons are 18th in opponents’ completion percentage (62.6) and 24th in yards per attempt (7.6). In other words, if the Eagles take care of the football (yes, this is a giant IF every week), they should be able to put drives together.

3. The Falcons will likely play six defensive linemen: Ends Ray Edwards, John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, along with tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Vance Walker. Abraham is the best pass-rusher of the group. He had a team-high 9.5 sacks and 35 hurries last year, per Football Outsiders. In 2012, he’s got six sacks, tied for ninth in the league. Abraham will line up at both defensive end spots. King Dunlap is back at left tackle and should provide an upgrade to Demetress Bell in pass protection. Dunlap actually faced Abraham and the Falcons back in 2010 and held his own. Todd Herremans will see plenty of Abraham too. Abraham dropped back into coverage more often than any other defensive lineman in the league last year, per Football Outsiders. But this year, he’s done so just eight times in six games, per Pro Football Focus. It’s not just sacks either with Abraham. He’s forced three fumbles, including one against Carson Palmer a couple weeks ago. As a team, the Falcons have forced nine fumbles in six games. Edwards got a nice contract after notching 16.5 sacks in 2009 and 2010 with the Vikings. But he has just 3.5 sacks in 22 games with Atlanta.

4. At tackle, Babineaux was a one-man wrecking crew against Oakland. He forced a fumble in the first and later made a huge stop, dropping Darren McFadden for a 3-yard loss on 3rd-and-goal from the Falcons’ 1. Overall, he had three tackles for loss in that game, and on the season, Babineaux’s got 2.5 sacks. Evan Mathis will see plenty of him on Sunday. As of this writing, it’s unclear whether Danny Watkins will be healthy enough to start at right guard. If he can’t go, rookie Dennis Kelly will get the nod. The Eagles switched backup centers during the bye week, but Dallas Reynolds remains the starter.

5. At linebacker, the player to watch is Sean Weatherspoon. He’ll be used in a variety of ways, including as a blitzer. Weatherspoon blitzes an average of 5.7 times per game, per PFF. And he’s second on the team with three sacks. Michael Vick’s been great against the blitz (29-for-42, 405 yards, four TDs, 0 INTs) in his last three games. Akeem Dent takes over at middle linebacker after Curtis Lofton left for New Orleans in the offseason. Stephen Nicholas plays the SAM and stays on the field with Weatherspoon in nickel. The Falcons have been the top team in the league at covering opposing tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. Brent Celek is coming off a rough game against the Lions, in which he dropped a couple balls (including a touchdown) and was called for offensive pass interference in the end zone, negating another score.

6. With Brent Grimes injured, Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson are the Falcons’ starting corners. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin don’t have to worry about getting pressed at the line of scrimmage. Samuel and Robinson will play off for most of the game. The Falcons have allowed a league-low six touchdown passes and are tied for third with 10 interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson’s been targeted 37 times and Samuel 32 times. At safety, Thomas DeCoud has four interceptions, and William Moore has two. For the Eagles, Jackson is quietly having a really good year and is on pace for career-highs of 77 yards and 1,240 yards. He has yet to drop a pass all season. Jeremy Maclin gave the Falcons fits last year with 13 catches for 171 yards on 15 targets, although he dropped a fourth-down pass from Mike Kafka with the Eagles driving late.

7. There is a lot going on for the Falcons on any given play. Let’s start with their pre-snap looks. Here, you’ll see they stack the box with eight defenders against the Raiders. The key is the safety, Moore, who hovers around the line of scrimmage. This is a couple seconds before the ball is snapped. It appears that the deep middle of the field is going to be wide open.

But just before the ball is snapped, Moore retreats deep.

Part of the pre-snap calls for Vick and Reynolds involve identifying where the safeties are. You can see that the Falcons don’t make that easy.

And then there’s the movement up front. Another angle of the pre-snap look on the same play. Eight defenders in the box. Only three with their hands down. Who’s going where?

Babineaux, the defensive tackle, drops back into coverage. But instead of dropping back immediately, he first engages the center.

When Babineaux drops back, Abraham, who started at left defensive end, loops inside and gets in Carson Palmer’s face as he releases the ball. The center was initially blocking Babineaux and is now accounting for no one. The left guard can’t get there in time either.

Again, this was all going on before and during one play. Reynolds, Vick and the offensive line will need to be sharp mentally, or the offense will commit more turnovers Sunday.

8. One of Mike Nolan’s chess pieces is Biermann, the versatile DE. Not sure many other DEs in the league are being used the way Biermann’s being used. He does the typical things – rushing the passer, playing the run. But then he does things like you see here. The Falcons show a heavy blitz look with eight at the line of scrimmage on this 3rd-and-7 play.

Atlanta ends up rushing six, and Biermann drops back. But it’s not like your average defensive lineman dropping back into coverage. He’s pretty much the free safety on this play.

Biermann is asked to get way downfield. He pretty much turns and sprints towards the deep middle part of the field. This only happens a handful of times per game, but it’s something the opponent needs to be aware of. Biermann has played about 68.7 percent of the Falcons’ defensive snaps, per PFF. He’s another guy Vick and the Eagles will have to account for.

9. You saw the good and bad of Samuel on consecutive fourth-quarter drives a couple weeks ago. With the game tied at 13, the Raiders faced a 3rd-and-6 at the Falcons’ 28-yard-line. Worst-case scenario, you set up for the field goal on fourth down, right? Well, not exactly. Here, you’ll see it looks like wide receiver Denarius Moore has space against Samuel.

But as he’s done so many times in his career, Samuel reads the quarterback, jumps the route and picks Palmer off for a 79-yard game-changing score.

On the next drive, with the Raiders now down seven, they faced a 1st-and-10 from the Atlanta 43 with 1:15 left. This time, Palmer gave Samuel a little pump-fake, and he bit.

Derek Hagan ran right past him for a 38-yard gain.

Two plays later, Darren McFadden scored the game-tying touchdown.

Samuel will definitely want an interception in his return to the Linc. Will he get one? Or can the Eagles make him pay for gambling?

Considering how far off Samuel plays, don’t be surprised to see screens to his side. And if I’m the Eagles, I’m running to the right all game long.

10. Leftovers: Atlanta’s red-zone defense is 27th, allowing touchdowns 64.29 percent of the time. The Eagles’ offense is 26th, scoring touchdowns 42.1 percent of the time. …The Falcons are 20th in third-down defense, allowing conversions 41.67 percent of the time. The Eagles’ offense is 14th, converting 41.38 percent of the time. …Vick was 8-for-12 for 91 yards last year when the Falcons blitzed him.

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