By Kevin McGuire
After getting a week off to prepare for their first opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles are hoping they have Nick Foles ready to guide the offense on a postseason run. The journey begins this Saturday at home against the Atlanta Falcons, who are fresh off a road playoff win against the Los Angeles Rams. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the Falcons will arrive in Philadelphia feeling confident about their chances against an Eagles team that has seemingly lost its identity since losing Carson Wentz to a season-ending injury, but the Falcons do not have a favorable history in Philadelphia, especially in the postseason.
The Falcons went through a brief Super Bowl slump earlier in the season with a three-game losing streak and losses in four of five games, but the second half of the season ended with three wins in four of the final games to wiggle into the last playoff spot in the NFC. Atlanta will be looking for their first win in Philadelphia since 2012 when Matt Ryan had three touchdowns. The Eagles are 2-0 all-time against the Falcons in playoff games played in Philadelphia, with the most recent being the NFC Championship Game in 2005 clinching a spot in the Super Bowl.
Falcons on Offense
Matt Ryan missed a practice for personal reasons on Tuesday, but he is still going to be ready to play Saturday afternoon. Ryan passed for 4,095 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, with Julio Jones being his monster target (1,444 yards, 3 TDs). The Falcons have the NFL’s 8th-ranked passing offense, but their running game and scoring averages float around the middle of the league. The Eagles’ secondary will be busy trying to prevent big gains through the air, and the defensive front will have to find a way to attack Ryan in the backfield and keep him moving. If Ryan is allowed to drop back, scan the field and make throws, the Eagles will have a problem.
Falcons on Defense
The Falcons did not exactly shut down the Rams in their Wild Card matchup last week, but they did not allow the Rams offense to set the tempo of the game, either. The Falcons forced two turnovers and held one of the NFL’s most explosive scoring offenses to just 13 points on their home field. If the Falcons play defense the way they did a week ago against the Rams, the Eagles offense will have their hands full. The Falcons brought down Rams quarterback Jared Goff three times but allowed 7.2 rushing yards per rushing attempt to Todd Gurley. Running the football could be an advantage for the Eagles against Atlanta.
Falcons Players to Watch
Deion Jones, Linebacker: The second-year player out of LSU is coming off a team-high 10 tackles against the Rams last week. It is the third game in a row Jones has hit double-digit tackles and the fourth in his last five games. He will likely have his name called a bunch on Saturday as the Eagles look to get the running game going.
Julio Jones, Wide Receiver: Julio Jones remains a matchup problem for just about every defense in the league with his sure hands, size, and pursuit of the football. Jones had nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown last week against the Rams.
The Eagles are getting a hot Falcons team this week in Doug Pederson’s first career playoff game as a head coach. Without Carson Wentz, the Eagles offense must find a way to get in sync and feed off the energy of the home crowd if they are going to take it to the Falcons.
Defensively, the Eagles can hold their own weight against the Falcons with the game being played at home, but asking the defense to pitch a shutout or keep the Falcons out of the end zone is a tall order in a game where Foles has to make some plays with his arm. The Falcons are dangerous, and after last weekend they are coming to Philadelphia with a high level of confidence in their mission to return to the Super Bowl.