Playoff Preview: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 13: Jalen Mills #31 of the Philadelphia Eagles interferes with Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on November 13, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Falcons 24-15. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Stage is Set!

  • Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles
  • Saturday, January 13th, 2018, 4:35 PM, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA.
  • Forecast at Kickoff (As of 1/7/18, According to Weather.com): 42 F, Mostly Cloudy. 

The 1st seeded Philadelphia Eagles will play host to the 6th seeded Atlanta Falcons in a NFC Divisional Round matchup.  The Eagles finished the season with the NFL’s best record at 13-3, earning them a bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.  The Falcons on the other hand, being the 6th seed, had to fight to get to this matchup.  Atlanta finished the season with a 10-6 record, 3rd in a tough NFC South, just getting them into that last wild card playoff spot.

On Saturday the Falcons went into Los Angeles and defeated the 3rd seeded Rams 26-13 to move on.  An advantage of being the top seed in your conference is drawing the lowest seeded winner from Wild Card weekend.  Atlanta winning and being the lowest seed locked in for Philadelphia to host Atlanta.  Had the Los Angeles defeated Atlanta, Philadelphia would’ve awaited the winner of the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers.

History Being Made?

The initial line from Vegas opened up with Atlanta as a 2.5 point favorite as the lowest seeded visiting team.  For the first time since 1970 the top seeded Eagles are an underdog in the divisional round according to Football Outsiders.  

Recent History Between Eagles and Falcons

Playoffs

Since 2000, Philadelphia has played Atlanta at home and won both in the playoffs in 2003 (20-6)  and 2005 (27-10).  If the Eagles can stay consistent with recent playoff history than there should be many happy fans in Philadelphia next Saturday night.

Regular Season

Philadelphia faced Atlanta in regular season play two years in a row prior to this season in 2015 and 2016.  The teams split the two games with the Falcons winning 26-24 in 2015 and the Eagles winning 24-15 in 2016.

The Eagles of 2015 and 2016 were two completely different teams.  In the 2015 season opener in Atlanta, Chip Kelly was the head coach and Sam Bradford was the Quarterback.  2015 would end up being a dumpster fire which lead to the firing of Chip and the trading away of Bradford.

The 2016 game would be a perfect preview of this playoff matchup, but with Eagles QB Carson Wentz out (Torn ACL) and QB Nick Foles in, the game will look different one way or another.

Game Preview

It seems so long ago, but it was just last year that Falcons were one half of football away from winning the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots.  The Falcons are not in any way, shape, or form a team to be looked past, especially when the Eagles are missing QB Carson Wentz.  As I mentioned before the Eagles are a home underdog to the Falcons without Wentz.  It did not matter who the Eagles were going to face in this matchup because each team presented a problem to this team and Atlanta has many of them.

Stopping The Falcons Offense

Plain and simple, if Philadelphia is going to win this game their defense is going to have to completely shutdown or severely slow down this high powered Atlanta offense.  If Carson Wentz were playing this would not be as big of a focal point, but we can not expect Nick Foles to get into a shootout with Falcons QB Matt Ryan and expect to win.

The Falcons have the luxury of having elite players at almost every phase of the offense.  QB Matt Ryan is one of the games best at the most important position in football.  It also doesn’t hurt that Ryan has one of the games best wide receivers in Julio Jones.  With a good cast of supporting receivers in Mohammad Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, and adequate tight ends in Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo, Ryan has all the weapons he could need to throw the ball to.  Oh…did I forget to mention the two headed monster they have in the backfield in Running Backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman?  These two change of pace backs are one of the best RB duos in the league, who can catch the ball out of the backfield as well.  The offensive line for the Falcons aren’t too shabby either.

Last season, when the Falcons and Eagles played each other the roles were reversed going into their matchup.  The Falcons were about to beginning a late season surge that would eventually send them to the Super Bowl and the Eagles were sliding, trying to hang in the playoff race.  Roster-wise Atlanta looks practically the same, where the Eagles made upgrades on both sides of the ball, but again will be sans Wentz.  The key here for Philadelphia is that they possess the same Jim Schwartz defense that shutdown Atlanta’s offense last season.

Last year’s execution makes for this year’s blueprint.

If the Eagles can formulate a similar game plan as they did last season against the Falcons, they very much could win this game.  Here is how they defeated the Falcons 24-15 in Week 10 of 2016:

  • Falcons QB Matt Ryan had a pedestrian game going 18/33 for 267 yards and one TD.
    • The lone Ryan TD was a wide-open 76-yarder to WR Taylor Gabriel.  Gabriel burnt former Eagles CB Leodis McKelvin, who had no business being on a football field, on a double move with no help over the top.
      • The one thing the Eagles have done better this year is limit the opposition’s big plays.
  • RB Devonta Freeman was held to 49 yards on the ground and the Eagles Run Defense has improved greatly since last season. (Best Run Defense in the NFL in 2017)
    • The issue here is that the Falcons other RB threat Tevin Coleman did not play in last season’s game due to injury.
  • WR Julio Jones had 135 reception yards on 10 catches, which is solid for him, not great.
    • The reason why he didn’t make a difference was that the Eagles essentially let him catch the ball, but made sure he couldn’t make plays past the reception.
  • But the biggest defender on the day for the Eagles defense was the offense.
    • The Eagles ran the ball down the Falcons throat with former RB Ryan Mathews and won the time of possession battle.

Saturday’s Gameplan

  • Stop the Run
    • Philadelphia’s Run Defense is the best in the league this year, but Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman didn’t play in last year’s game and could be the X-factor.
  • Contain Julio Jones
    • Julio is going to get his, that’s a fact, but always have an extra body keeping tabs on him (i.e. Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins).
  • Keep the ball out of Matt Ryan’s hands.
    • The Eagles best defense on Saturday, just like last season will be there offense, especially without Carson Wentz.
    • Atlanta’s defense under HC Dan Quinn has improved greatly since his arrival, but they’re nowhere near as talented as the offense.
  • For the Eagles Offense: Keep it simple for Nick Foles and rely on the running game.
    • HC Doug Pederson needs to feed RB Jay Ajayi and the talk this week has been as such.
      • Ajayi ran for 135 yards against this Falcons defense earlier this year when he was still a Dolphin.
        • The Dolphins defeated the Falcons in a low-scoring affair 20-17.
    • If Philadelphia can get Ajayi going they can open up the intermediate pass game for Nick Foles.

Prediction

The game plan sounds easier said than done.  The question is can the Eagles execute?  I believe Philadelphia shows that they are team that hasn’t given up with the chips stacked against them.  For Eagles fans the game will be frustrating at times on both sides of the ball.  First Atalanta will be able to bend the Eagles Defense by moving the chains, but they won’t break too often.  I can see Falcons kicker Matt Bryant kicking at least 3 Field Goals in this game.  Then on offense, Nick Foles and the offense will get off to a slow and shaky start.  Pederson will then find a way to get the ball in Ajayi’s hands and lull Atlanta’s defense into making mistakes.

My prediction: The Eagles pull out a close win 24-23.

About Marc Tomasini 10 Articles
Philadelphia Eagles Beat Writer for Wildfire Sports (@_WildfireSports) and Co-Host/Show Writer/Producer of The Small Ball Lineup Podcast (@SmallBallLineup) on Wildfire Radio (@Wildfire_radio). Follow Marc on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/marc.tomasini and Twitter/Instagram @PhillySportsSrc!

2 Comments on Playoff Preview: Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles

  1. Nice article and agree- Foles can handle this game, as long as we feed Ajayi. If they take that away, a fast paced, short passing game should work. I don’t think he starts slow, though. I think Foles will come out of the gate fast. 30-24, Eagles.

    • Thank you Ryan!

      I hope you’re right about Foles getting off to a fast start and there definitely is a chance that he comes in ready for this game with the time off and the reps in practice. My reasoning of a slow and frustrating start is that Dan Quinn has the capability of frustrating an offense that hasn’t been getting much going lately with a QB like Foles as they are very young, athletic, and ambitious.

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