The Defense of the Eagles has been outstanding all year long. They’re 4th in total yards allowed and 1st in rushing yards allowed. With their first playoff game just under three days away, the Eagles need their defense to show up now more than ever. Coming off two weeks rest (three weeks for some starters), I have no doubt that this defensive unit for the Birds will control the game and dominate the line of scrimmage.
Say what you want about the Falcons’ offense, but they’re nowhere near the level they were at last season during their Super Bowl run. Their two headed monster in the back field of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can be dangerous, but for the best rushing defense in the NFL I’m not so worried about them hurting the Birds on the ground. What I am skeptical about, is if the Eagles can come up with a game plan to neutralize their running backs in the passing/screen game. This was the same concern I had going into the Rams game and matching up against Todd Gurley. Gurley ended that game with 96 yards on the ground and only 39 receiving on 5 targets. For the most part, Gurley wasn’t a factor through the air as much as he was on the ground, and his 96 yards rushing was the most any player had against the Eagles all season (except for Zeke Elliot in the last game of the season, he had 103 yards on 27 carries). Freeman and Coleman both had solid years once again, but I just can’t see Jim Schwartz letting the Falcons beat us on the ground, especially after two weeks of rest and game planning.
The one player that really scares me going into this game is Julio Jones. Jones has a knack for killing the Eagles almost every time he matches up against them. In four careers games against the Birds, he has 428 receiving yards with three touchdowns. That’s an average of 107 yards per game. He caught nine passes for 94 yards and a touchdown last week in LA despite being questionable heading into the game with ankle and rib injuries. If the Eagles can shutdown the Falcons’ running game, it’s going to come down to this matchup. Jones is Matt Ryan’s favorite target, especially in the playoffs. In their seven post season games played together, Ryan has completed 80 percent of his passes that he’s thrown to Julio. That’s quarterback to wide receiver chemistry at its finest. The Eagles are going to need to find a way to contain him to the best of their abilities. I expect Schwartz to mix up the coverages in hope of confusing Matt Ryan and causing a turnover or two. I also expect Schwartz to mix up the coverages against Julio just because the Eagles don’t possess a true number one shut down corner who can matchup with him play in and play out. The secondary does have playmakers and a lot of depth to go along with it. They have four, possibly five, corners that they feel comfortable putting in the rotation. The defensive line will also play a huge role in helping the secondary. If they can create pressure with just four rushers, it should be a very long day for Matt Ryan and company.
I really expect the Eagles’ defense to dominate this game. Julio will have his catches, but if we can limit his big plays and neutralize the running game, the Falcons are hopeless. The defense has been a big reason for the Eagles’ success all season, and on Saturday they’re going to be the reason we’re heading to the NFC Championship game.