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January 09, 2018

Eagles' biggest concern is indeed quarterback – but it’s not Nick Foles

Opinion Al Morganti
010918_ryan_usat Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams in the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The rallying call from within the Eagles locker room and from around the Delaware Valley is loud and proud – “Nobody believes in us.”

The voices got even louder when it was quickly discovered that the Eagles were rated as an underdog for Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Despite the bye week, and despite a 13-3 record, the Eagles were listed as an underdog.

An underdog. At home.

An underdog. As a No. 1 seed.

It’s one of the oldest rallying cries in all of sports, but it works. The whole world is against us, and we have nobody on our side outside of this locker room.

The only problem in this situation is that the guys in the other locker room can use the same slogan. The guys from Atlanta can also use the same howls about being disrespected, and nobody believed in them outside of their own locker room.

The issue with the Eagles is pretty simple: The Eagles have lost all their weight as a Super Bowl contender since the injury to quarterback Carson Wentz. The situation was made even worse because backup quarterback Nick Foles looked below average in the final two games of the season.

Never mind that Foles came on to win the game in Los Angeles when Wentz was injured. Foles really struggled over the next two weeks, and all of the optimism seemed to fade as faith in Foles waned.

But all of that was turned around when the lords of Vegas installed the Falcons as a favorite in the game. All of a sudden the fans rallied around their team and their quarterback, all of a sudden the feeling of disrespect turned into a tribal howl that the Eagles would show ‘em.

This will be a beautiful thing to behold – a Philadelphia fan base whipped into a frenzy before the opening kickoff. This is going to be television gold, the Philadelphia fans in full throat as the team takes the field.

It is a scene that should ignite the team, especially the defense. Just imagine Brian Dawkins times about 50,000. That is what you are going to get when the television cameras go live to South Philadelphia.

In the meantime, Matt Ryan, a quarterback who was raised in Exton, played locally at Penn Charter, seasoned at Boston College, and leader of the Atlanta Falcons will be charging up on the other sideline. Matt Ryan will be trying to revive the nickname Matty Ice as he tries to get his team back to the Super Bowl.

Much as the Eagles might feel they have a lot to prove, there is as much if not even more on the other side of the field.

Matt Ryan and his Falcons were embarrassed last year in the Super Bowl where they suffered through one of the worst choke jobs of all time when they collapsed against the New England Patriots. The Falcons had to live with that debacle through the summer and then into this season.

The Falcons were supposed to be the next version of the Super Bowl losing hangover. The Falcons were supposed to collapse under the weight of their own Super Bowl meltdown.

And early in the season, it appeared that might be the case. The Falcons hardly looked like a team ready to grits its teeth and get back to rebuild their reputation in another Super Bowl.

For whatever chip on a shoulder might be on the Eagles' shoulder pads, there will also be a chip on the shoulders of the Falcons and Matt Ryan.

The biggest worry on Saturday afternoon should be the quarterback on the other side of the ball. The Eagles hopes likely rely on coach Doug Pederson taking the ball out of the hands as much as possible and running the ball, especially with Jay Ajayi.

The Falcons will need Ryan to have a big game, and escape the fire and frenzy brought by an Eagles defensive charge led by Fletcher Cox against the Falcons’ suspect offensive line. In the victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Ryan managed to escape the claws of Aaron Donald and run the offense while out of the pocket.

The danger for the Eagles is that Matty really is ice as he avoids the Eagles rush and ignites as offense while bouncing outside the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield and rekindling an offense that has potential to burst into its past prowess – even in the red zone.

The message here is that Nick Foles performance isn’t the only quarterback issue to worry about on Saturday. The bigger worry is that Matt Ryan is once again Matty Ice, and the best way to end that worry is an early game sack or two to make the Falcons think there will be no chance to return to the Super Bowl.

Putting Ryan on the turf early in the game will be the Eagles and Philadelphia fans the respect they should have earned from a 13-win season.