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Your in-depth Eagles vs. Falcons Week 1 preview

The Philadelphia Eagles are in a precarious position and one they weren’t in during their unforgettable 2017 postseason run.

They’re favorites!

We’ve also found out who the quarterback will be. Head coach Doug Pederson made the announcement on Monday afternoon, naming Nick Foles the starter for Thursday night’s season opener as Carson Wentz continues to work back from his ACL and LCL injuries.

Wentz has yet to be cleared for contact.

Pederson’s announcement came a day after getting testy with reporters Sunday because he was unhappy about Ian Rapoport’s report that Foles would start on Saturday.

Pederson explained what went into the decision Tuesday.

“Well, I will tell you what. Obviously, I’m not going to get into all the ‘why’s,’ ‘therefore’s,’ what went into ‘this’, what went into ‘that’. I made the decision. Had been in conversation obviously with both [QB] Carson [Wentz] and Nick this entire time, dating all the way back to the spring. I made the decision yesterday and both guys have embraced it and we’re getting focused and ready for Thursday night.”


PHI- 97.6 PASSER RATING (7/32), 234 YPG (13/32)
ATL- 91.9 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (21/32), 214 YPG ALLOWED (12/32)

Which Foles are we going to get, the Super Bowl LII MVP or the one who struggled in the preseason?

Foles’ success will be dictated by the offensive line, which allowed just two sacks during the Eagles’ postseason run but didn’t keep him upright in August. In the two halves that Foles played in, the line surrendered eight sacks. He had three turnovers against Cleveland in the preseason dress rehearsal.

Jason Peters will be returning from his ACL injury Thursday, which is big because Halapoulivaati Vaitai was getting abused during the exhibition. Peters will be battling second-year player Tak McKinley. Vic Beasley, who had just five sacks last year after tallying 15 1/2 in 2016, squares off with Lane Johnson.

We’ll also be seeing the run-pass options again, which were instrumental in Foles’ magical postseason run when he tossed a trio of touchdowns in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl, respectively. The RPOs allow Foles to get into a rhythm and play without thinking, that’s when he’s at his best. When Foles has to digest defenses, work through his progressions and navigate through trash in the pocket, that’s when we get the backpedaling, lollipop-throwing side of him.

Foles will be without his top receiver Alshon Jeffery as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh discussed how his absence will affect the other receivers.

I think that remains to be seen a little bit. We feel like we’ve got a lot of weapons on our offense: [TE] Zach [Ertz], [WR] Nelson [Agholor], [RB] Darren Sproles; added [TE] Dallas Goedert in the draft and anxious to see him play on Thursday night; and [WR] Mike Wallace; our running backs, [RB] Corey Clement, guys like that have done a lot in the past in the passing game for us. We still feel like we have a lot of weapons that they have got to account for.

I expect to see a lot of 12 personnel and a huge dose of Zach Ertz and rookie Dallas Goedert, who had a strong preseason. Groh said that Goedert will be a major contributor this year.

He’s going to have to be a major contributor for us throughout the course of the season. As a rookie in his first game, he’s done a nice job in the preseason, and we’ve got to get him in there and get his feet wet a little bit and get him into the game. But I feel comfortable when the ball goes to him he is going to make plays.

The Falcons have a strong pair of cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and with Jeffery out, it’ll be tough for Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson to get open. Expect to see Ertz and Goedert working the seams and the middle of the field. I also believe Nelson Agholor can generate consistent separation against Brian Poole in the slot. I’m also looking at Darren Sproles being a contributor in the slot and the screen game, again to counteract what Atlanta will be taking away along the outside.


PHI- 4.5 YPC (4/32), 132.2 YPG (3/32)
ATL- 4.1 YPC ALLOWED (19/32), 104.1 YPG ALLOWED (9/32)

The Falcons were stout against the run in the Divisional Round showdown, with the Eagles mustering a measly 96 yards on 32 carries. This came after the Birds totaled 208 yards on 38 carries during a 24-15 regular season victory in 2016.

In that game in 2016, the Birds held the ball for over 38 minutes and used a lot of counters and mis-direction to deal with the aggressiveness and youth of then-rookie linebackers Deion Jones and DeVondre Campbell. But Philly wasn’t as successful in the Divisional Round as Atlanta’s eight-man boxes were too much to handle with Foles struggling.

And if Foles does poorly Thursday, Philadelphia’s offensive line needs to dominate this game and allow Jay Ajayi to slam away on first and second down to set up Foles with easier third down situations.


ATL- 92.4 PASSER RATING (12/32), 249 YPG (8/32)

The Falcons led the NFL with 540 points scored in 2016, but that number dipped all the way down to 353 and a No. 17 ranking last season. Atlanta moved the ball, it was third in yards per drive, and converted third downs, it was second, but the huge dropoff came in the red zone where the Dirty Birds finished 23rd in the NFL with a 50 percent touchdown rate.

Matt Ryan tossed 38 touchdowns during his MVP campaign last year, but threw only 20 last season, with only three of them going to Julio Jones.

Jones usually gets his against Philly, but Ronald Darby had a phenomenal offseason, so he’ll be tested right away. The defensive line may dictate if Jones goes off, because Atlanta likes to take deep shots with Jones off play-action, whether it’s a go-route, post or deep cross over the middle of the field. If Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett and company can pressure Ryan consistently, it’ll disrupt the timing between the two. And with Bennett in the fold, we may see a quartet of Graham, Barnett, Bennett and Cox ready to unleash on third downs.

Atlanta has a pretty solid offensive line, but there is a weakness at right guard in Brandon Fusco and I’m sure Cox is licking his chops. Fusco will get some help from center Alex Mack, however.

The Eagles will be without Nigel Bradham due to his suspension, so lack of depth at linebacker might be felt. Jordan Hicks is still there, but Austin Hooper will be a tough cover. Dealing with Freeman and Coleman in the flats could be difficult as well. Covering tight ends and running backs was a huge weakness for Philly the final month of the season last year.


PHI- 3.8 YPC ALLOWED (6/32), 79.2 YPG ALLOWED (1/32)
ATL- 4.3 YPC (8/32), 115.4 YPG (13/32)

The Eagles have always fared well against zone blocking schemes and they bottled up the talented DeVonta Freeman in the Divisional Round, limiting him to seven yards on 10 carries. Freeman is an outstanding cutback runner, but he had no cutback lanes in January.

Tevin Coleman, however, found some success in that game, tallying 79 yards on 10 totes.


PREDICTION: The energy felt inside Lincoln Financial Field as the Super Bowl banner is raised will be the switch needed for Philadelphia to flip following a lackluster preseason. Jeffery’s absence will be felt on the outside, but I see Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert getting a bulk of the work in the passing game and faring well. I like the Eagles in this one.

24-20 Eagles

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