The debut of the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles is just days away. All eyes will be on Jalen Hurts and new head coach Nick Sirianni as they attempt to bring the Eagles out of the depths and back into relevancy in the NFC.
Based on matchups, a handful of Eagles players should have nice outings in their Week 1 contest against the Atlanta Falcons.
Here are three players who could be in for a big game.
We’re going to find out pretty quickly whether first-round pick DeVonta Smith is the real deal or not. My money’s on Smith showing out early and often in 2021, and he’ll have a favorable matchup heading into his NFL debut.
The Falcons had one of the worst pass defenses in football last season. They allowed the most passing yards of any team in the league and they gave up 66 passes of 20+ yards, also the most of any defense last year.
Smith’s individual matchup will likely be against second-year corner A.J. Terrell, who’s coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign. He allowed 71 completions on the year, with a 67 percent completion percentage and 109.6 passer rating when targeted. Not to mention 6 touchdowns given up. But, it’s important to note that Terrell did have some fine performances as a rookie and is expected to be a defensive cornerstone in Atlanta for years to come.
Nevertheless, Smith should be a headache for any defensive back who’s lined up against him this season. His route running is second to none and his sneaky speed will likely catch corners off guard.
The Smith-Terrell matchup should be a fun one to watch throughout, but I’ll give the edge to Smith due mostly to how proficiently he runs his routes.
While Fletcher Cox is the guy every opposing team circles on the scouting report, Javon Hargrave deserves to be respected as an interior force. He’s coming into the season fully healthy and reports out of camp suggested that he was dominant.
Facing a banged up Falcons offensive line, Hargrave should be able to apply pressure throughout the game. Rookie third-round pick Jalen Mayfield is slated to get the start at left guard, and second-year center Matt Hennessy is the new starter at center with Alex Mack’s departure.
Mayfield had a nice camp, but struggled in preseason action. Hennessy filled in at guard and center during his rookie campaign but failed to have a positive impact. His Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 28.6 speaks to that.
Hargrave will be primarily lined up over Mayfield and Hennessy throughout this contest, and they’re no match for the second-year Eagle. This defensive line as a unit should have a strong impact on this game, but the guy leading the charge in this one may very well be Hargrave.
In an unexpected turn of events, Zach Ertz will be a Philadelphia Eagle this year. He’s had an outstanding camp and seems to have put the beef with management behind him. Heading into the year fully healthy and with his focus squarely on football, Ertz should have a bounce back season in 2021.
At his best, Ertz is still a top-10 tight end in football. While his best play may be behind him, he’s still a nightmare for defenses to matchup against. With Dallas Goedert expected to get a lot of attention this year as the TE1, Ertz will have favorable matchups week in and week out.
Atlanta doesn’t have anyone who can adequately guard one good tight end, let alone two. I’d expect nickel corner Isaiah Oliver to man up with Goedert, leaving either safety Duron Harmon or linebacker Deion Jones to face Ertz. Regardless of which player they place on Ertz, he should be able to get open with ease.
We know Nick Sirianni will focus on the tight ends in the passing game, and Jalen Hurts will likely lean on them in big situations. Both tight ends should see a lot of targets, but expect Ertz be a bit more effective based on the matchup.
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