We’re finally here. After seven football-less months, the NFL is set to kickoff their Week 1 slate of games.
For our Philadelphia Eagles, they’ll be traveling down to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. Both teams are entering the year with tempered expectations. But they both come equipped with some promising young talent and could surprise fans this year. This matchup should serve as a good barometer test for each team’s respective rebuilds.
Here’s everything you need to know heading into the Eagles first regular season game of the 2021 season.
The final injury report from the Eagles indicated only two players will sit out for certain this week. Safety Rodney McLeod and center/guard Landon Dickerson. This isn’t that surprising, although it felt like McLeod was destined to make his debut Week 1 when he wasn’t put on the PUP list to start the year.
Nevertheless, this injury report is slim compared to past iterations. Heading into Week 1 in 2020, the team was without Miles Sanders, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Javon Hargrave, and Derek Barnett. Only missing one projected starter heading into this year is huge.
Another name on the team’s injury report, linebacker Davion Taylor, is listed as questionable. He’ll likely be a game-time decision.
For Atlanta, their injury report is clean. But starting left guard Josh Andrews was placed on IR to begin the season. More on his absence in a bit.
Biggest offensive threat to Philly: Kyle Pitts
Atlanta boasts a solid group of skill position players on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Ryan has Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage on the outside, with Mike Davis behind him in the backfield. At tight end, the duo of rookie Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst could prove to be one of the best in the league by year’s end.
Hurst presents some matchup issues, but the guy to focus on at tight end is Pitts. He was a complete nightmare for opposing defenses at Florida and he figures to cause similar issues in the pros.
With McLeod sidelined, matching up with Pitts becomes even more difficult. K’Von Wallace or Eric Wilson may get the first crack at it, but the best option may be sliding Steven Nelson into the slot to man up with Pitts. Nelson has spent time in the slot throughout his NFL career, so this should be a feasible option.
Regardless of how Jonathan Gannon decides to attack Pitts, the rookie will more than likely have a few splash plays. As long as the defense is able to limit his targets, by getting pressure or mixing up coverages, that’s all we can hope for. Containing him is the key here.
Biggest area of weakness for Atlanta’s offense: Interior offensive line
As stated earlier, the Falcons will be without Josh Andrews at left guard. That’ll leave rookie third-round pick Jalen Mayfield to fill his spot. He’ll be facing Javon Hargrave for the majority of this contest, and I have a hard time envisioning the young pup having much success against him.
Atlanta will also be starting Matt Hennessy at center this year. He’s coming of a brutal rookie year where he posted a PFF pass-blocking grade of 28.6. He’ll get a dose of both Hargrave and Fletcher Cox, with a little Milton Williams sprinkled in there for good measure. That’s a difficult task for the best offensive lines in the league, let alone one that has a rookie third-round pick and a subpar second-year center starting.
Getting constant pressure should be the focus on Gannon’s defensive game plan in this one. Disrupting Ryan’s rhythm will help the coverage, and they’ll need it facing Pitts at tight end and Ridley at wideout.
Biggest defensive threat to Philly: Grady Jarrett
Atlanta only has one truly elite player on their defense, and that’s defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. He’s coming off a bit of a down year in 2020, posting only 4 sacks. But his PFF pass-rushing grade of 83.3, along with his 16 quarterback knockdowns and 30 total pressures speaks to his pass rushing effectiveness.
Jarrett will lineup primarily between Jason Kelce and Isaac Seumalo. While Seumalo is probably the weakest link along the Eagles front, he’s an underrated blocker who’s a very solid starter. Having the Eagles worst offensive lineman facing the Falcons best defensive lineman isn’t ideal, but having Kelce lend a helping hand when need be should keep Jarrett at bay.
Biggest area of weakness for Atlanta’s defense: Secondary
The Falcons were one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last season. Last in passing yards given up, most passes of 20+ yards allowed, third-most passing touchdowns allowed. Dan Quinn’s group was downright terrible in 2020.
But with Deen Pees now coordinating the defense in Atlanta, they should be an improved unit. Not to mention the three new starters the team will have on the backend in Fabian Moreau at corner, and Duron Harmon and Erik Harris at safety. Nevertheless, this secondary is still average at best and should be easy pickings for good quarterbacks this year.
Is Jalen Hurts a good quarterback? Well, we don’t really know yet. But we’ll get a clearer picture on Sunday, that’s for sure. The Eagles have the weapons to dismantle a defense like Atlanta’s, it’ll just be up to Hurts to make sure they get the ball.
If you can’t tell already, I’m feeling pretty good about this Week 1 matchup. It’ll tell us a lot about where this Eagles team is. On paper, this should be a pretty even matchup — but I believe the Eagles have some key advantages over Atlanta. Especially along the lines. There will be a handful of games that the Eagles win this year based solely on the play of their offensive/defensive lines, and this Week 1 game should be one of them.
For my final score prediction I’m going with 27-17, Eagles. Go Birds.
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