January 08, 2018

Eagles already have blueprint to beat the Falcons

Eagles NFL
010818_Eagles-Falcons-Ertz_usat James Lang/USA TODAY Sports, File

Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal during last year's meeting at the Linc.

The Falcons may have been Super Bowl runner-up last season, but when they came to the Linc in November to face the Eagles, they left with a loss. Over their next nine games, including the postseason, Atlanta lost just twice – the first was a one-point loss to the Chiefs and the second was an overtime loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The Birds put up 439 yards in that 24-15 win, including 208 on the ground. A balanced attack like that might be the top-seeded Eagles' best chance at upsetting the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs, but they know there's much more to it than simply using that game film as a blueprint for advancing in the playoffs.

"You certainly look at it," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Monday. "But this is playoffs, so like I said, you're exhausting every resource you have. And that's the thing about today, it's easy to do and spend a lot of time doing it.

"Their defense is a very distinct style of defense that a handful of teams play in this league. So there are – there's always certain ways that you – it's the same every week. ‘X’ percent of what you're going to do each week in your game plan is based on who we are, our DNA. This is what we do no matter who we play because we're good at it, and our players are better than your players, and so we're going to do what we do.

"And then there's ‘X’ percentage that is, okay, what's unique about the scheme that we're playing? This scheme has certain uniqueness to the coverages they play, but even within that scheme they play it slightly different than everybody else. So you look back on it and you maybe pick up one or two things. But I'm focusing honestly more on this film this year. I'm focusing more on their film this year."

While watching that film, Reich has seen an improved unit under first-year defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel.

"I think what stands out with watching their tape is that their defense is playing very fast and very aggressive," he said. "I think obviously they had a tremendous year as a team last year. I think their defense has stepped it up a notch, even from last year, playing fast and playing aggressive."

And the results have shown. The Falcons rank in the top 10 in the NFL in both scoring defense (8th) and total defense (9th) and Manuel's unit has been as important to the team's overall success as the offense. Last season, it seemed like they were winning in spite of their defense, which ranked 27th and 25th, respectively. 

Not this year.

As Reich alluded to, the Falcons are one of just a handful of teams who utilize a similar defensive scheme. And he doesn't have to go back to last year's tape to see how his offense played against it. According to Reich, the Falcons' style of defense is similar to what the Eagles saw earlier this year from the Seahawks and Chargers, with the common thread between the three being Seattle coach Pete Carroll – Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and Manuel all worked under Carroll.

And while they each have their own individual wrinkles, they have much more in common than not.

"I think there's similarities in all those teams that have done that and played that," Reich said. "Definitely similarities there. Although it does express itself slightly different and that's based on the personnel."

With Nick Foles now at quarterback, Reich will have to make sure the Falcons defense doesn't dictate how he runs his offense. 

So, after three bland offensive showings to wrap up the regular season, how might Reich and the Eagles go about attacking a defense that currently seems much more confident in its own identity than the offense it'll be facing on Saturday?  

"Sometimes you can change up the personnel, sometimes you can change up the formation, you can motion to it," Reich said. "Every now and then you get a new idea. You get a new idea, you look and you see, ‘Oh, this team, they tried to attack it ‘this’ way; that worked pretty well. Well, let's see if we can have our version of that.’ "


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