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September 11, 2019

Eagles vs. Falcons: Five matchups to watch

Eagles NFL
091119BrandonGraham James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Graham must find a way to generate pressure against a pair of vulnerable Falcons RTs.

In every year during the Doug Pederson - Jim Schwartz era, the Philadelphia Eagles have played the Atlanta Falcons, all at home. This year, they'll face them on the road. Obviously, this is an opponent that the Eagles' brain-trust (and its fans) should know quite well by now.

Here are five matchups to watch.

1) Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu vs. the Eagles secondary

In Week 1, the Eagles' secondary got lit up by guys like Case Keenum and Terry McLaurin. In Week 2, they're facing the league's MVP of three years ago in Matt Ryan, as well as a trio of receivers that is among the league's best.

In years past, Malcolm Jenkins has typically drawn Sanu responsibilities and kept him in check, while Jalen Mills would often follow Jones wherever he has gone. Jones' numbers against the Eagles the last three seasons:

 Julio Jones vs. EaglesTargets Rec Yards YPC TD 
 201616 10 135 13.5 
 201716 101 11.2 
 201819 10 169 16.9 
 TOTAL51 29 405 14.0 


Jones has been targeted a ton in those games, and he has made his share of catches, however, the Eagles have kept him out of the end zone, and the rest of the Falcons' offense has not been able win matchups elsewhere on the field.

Atlanta has scored 37 combined points in those three games (12.3 points per game).

The way the Eagles defend Jones in this matchup will change, of course, as Mills is on PUP. Jones' production against the Eagles might indicate that's a good thing, while the overall results might indicate the opposite. Someone smarter than me can figure that one out.

2) The right side of the Falcons' OL vs. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox

The Eagles' secondary will be helped if the Eagles can get some pressure on Ryan, as they have done in the past. Their best bet is on the right side of the Falcons' line.

Heading into the season, the Falcons were starting two rookies there -- RT Kaleb McGary, who was drafted 31st overall, and RG Chris Lindstrom, who went 14th overall.

McGary is a 6'8 offensive tackle who had a heart procedure done late in July. He missed most of the preseason, and split work at RT with backup Ty Sambrailo Week 1 against the Vikings.

Lindstrom, meanwhile, broke his foot Week 1, and is now on IR. It appears that Jamon Brown will be the next guy up in Lindstrom's absence. Brown knows Cox well, as he has faced him in each of the last two seasons (2017 with the Rams, and 2018 with the Giants). Here's a gif from that matchup last season:

091119FletcherCox

The Falcons would be crazy not to give Brown added help, and when they do, Timmy Jernigan and/or whatever passing down DE the Eagles slide inside will have to capitalize in their one-on-ones against LG James Carpenter.

Also, one other quick note -- Falcons LT Jake Matthews struggled mightily Week 1 against Everson Griffen's inside spin move. The inside spin is something Derek Barnett has put a lot of effort into, and this could be a week in which he can use it effectively.


MORE: Eagles make several roster moves, including soon-to-be signing of DT Akeem Spence | Report: Eagles DT Malik Jackson done for the season | Eagles power ranking roundup: Week 2


3) Devonta Freeman vs. his fumbling issues

Here's an oddball stat for you. In his first 57 regular season games, Devonta Freeman had 4 fumbles. In his last 7 regular season games, he has 5! In fact, 3 of those 5 fumbles occurred inside the Falcons' opponent's 5 yard line. 

Week 1 against the Vikings, down 14 and threatening near the Vikings' red zone, Freeman had a costly fumble.

091119DevontaFreeman

The Vikings scored on the ensuing possession, and that was essentially ballgame.

Against some explosive running backs, you can't just be ripping at the football every time they have the ball, because they can get break the tackle and burn you. Freeman, on the other hand, missed the majority of the 2018 season after undergoing hernia surgery, and he did not look like the player he once was Week 1. The Eagles should be looking to create turnovers whenever he gets the football.

4) The Eagles' rushing attack vs. the Falcons' run defense

Week 1 against the Vikings, the Falcons got whipped up front by a mediocre Vikings offensive line as well as some flashy running by Dalvin Cook: 


That was sort of a weird game, because the Vikings blocked a punt deep in Atlanta territory after their first possession, which led to a quick score. Then a Ryan INT on Atlanta's second possession led to another quick score, and the Falcons were down 14-0 with more than half of the first quarter left.

Then the Vikings just ran it all day. 38 rushes, 10 passes. Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison combined for 30 rushes for 160 yards and 2 TDs. 

Still, you can't just hand-waive away the Falcons' rush defense issues because Week 1 was an oddball game. In 2018, the Falcons were 25th in rushing yards allowed per game (124.9) and 28th in rushing yards allowed per attempt (4.9).

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles divide carries among Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement, but it's a pretty good bet they'll want to test Atlanta's run defense with their elite offensive line.

5) The screen game vs. the Falcons' front seven

The Eagles' screen game didn't work Week 1 against Washington, but that doesn't mean it's going away. Screens are difficult to disguise and run, particularly early in the season, especially with no preseason reps. Still, I expect Doug Pederson to continue to try to run them, as the Eagles have found the screen game to be an effective weapon against the Falcons in the past. For example: 


This could be an important game for the Eagles' running backs.


MORE: What they're saying about the Eagles: Carson Wentz has never looked better, making sense of running back rotation and more


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