The two teams that will square off on the Week 2 edition of Sunday Night Football each got off to extremely bad starts in Week 1. The difference was in how they responded.
The Eagles fell behind division rival Washington 17-0 early in the game, but ended up storming back and beginning their season 1-0. The Falcons fell way behind the Vikings early in the game, and ended up meekly rolling over, for the most part, and only wound up losing 28-12 due to their garbage time exploits.
The Falcons welcome the Eagles to Atlanta on Sunday night, and they’ll be looking to rebound, while Philly attempts to get off to a 2-0 start. We’re here to break down everything you should be looking for on both sides of the field.
Info on Eagles at Falcons
When the Eagles have the ball
Philadelphia got off to a slow start in Week 1, struggling early on to move the ball against an underrated Washington defense. Then DeSean Jackson started taking the top off the coverage, and everything clicked into place for Carson Wentz and company.
Jackson’s presence on this team changes so much for the Eagles. He brings the deep speed element they lacked for much of last season after they waved goodbye to Torrey Smith and got nothing out of Mike Wallace, opening things up for Ertz over the middle, Jeffery on the perimeter and in the intermediate range, and the Eagles’ varied screen game. They tried to compensate for the lack of over-the-top threat with massive variety last season, but their only truly reliable receiver for much of the year was tight end Zach Ertz. Alshon Jeffery missed three games due to injury and played banged up in several others, while slot man Nelson Agholor was basically an extension of the run game, given his low average depth of target.
We saw the benefit of Jackson in action in Week 1, as Wentz hit both of his deep passes to DeSean for 104 yards and two scores. Prior to the first Wentz-to-Jackson bomb, Philly had run nine times for only 22 yards, while Wentz was just 10 of 15 passing for a paltry 56 yards in the air. After the 51-yard strike, the Eagles gained 101 yards on 22 rushing attempts and Wentz was 17 of 23 for 206 yards and two more touchdowns. Just the threat of being beat deep changes the geometry of the defense, and it helped spark the Week 1 comeback.
If the Falcons’ season-opener is any indication, the Eagles may not need quite as much help this time around. The Vikings absolutely manhandled the Atlanta defensive front on the ground last week, clearing the way for Dalvin Cook’s 111 yards on 22 carries and Alexander Mattison’s 49 yards on nine additional totes. Concerningly for Atlanta, they yielded nearly 2.3 yards per carry before contact, then allowed both Cook and Mattison to break through tackles and gain nearly 3.1 yards after first contact as well. They each kept ripping off chunk plays, and the Vikings turned five of the duos 30 totes into 10-plus yard gains.
The Eagles ended up running the ball fairly well last week, but perhaps the more interesting thing was the distribution of touches and snaps between their stable of backs. Rookie Miles Sanders was on the field for nearly half the team’s offensive snaps, while Darren Sproles was next in line, followed by Jordan Howard. Sanders was the least effective of the three backs in terms of pure numbers, but still looked like the most dynamic player and could pose problems for an Atlanta front that clearly struggled with the speed and decisiveness of Cook and Mattison last week.
Atlanta’s pass defense was barely tested last week as Kirk Cousins was asked to throw only 10 times, but he did complete eight of them for 98 yards and a score, which — and you’ll have to check my math on this — is not great, from the defense’s perspective! Cousins didn’t even qualify for the NextGen Stats leaderboard at NFL.com due to his lack of volume, but a review of the game on NFL Game Pass shows that only four of his throws were into tight coverage, and one of those four was a throwaway over the head of Kyle Rudolph. If the Falcons give Jackson, Jeffery, Ertz, Agholor, and Dallas Goedert that much room to run through the secondary, Wentz is going to tear them up all night.
That’s especially true if the line holds up as well as it did in the first week of the season, when Wentz was pressured on only 11 of 41 drop backs, a 26.8 percent rate that would have ranked fourth-lowest among 39 qualified passers last season. Philadelphia’s is among the best offensive lines in football so that’s not too surprising, but considering Wentz’s passer rating dropped off from 110.5 in clean pockets to 76.9 under pressure last season (and that he’s seen his season end due to injury in each of the past two seasons), it’s of paramount importance to keep defenders out of his face.
When the Falcons have the ball
Atlanta’s revamped offensive line took a hit this week when first-round pick Chris Lindstrom hit injured reserve with a broken foot suffered during the team’s embarrassing Week 1 loss to Minnesota. Wes Schweitzer took over at that spot after Lindstrom exited last week, and considering his poor performance last year was part of what motivated Lindstrom’s selection in the first place, that’s not necessarily an ideal situation.
The Falcons now have the misfortune of locking horns with one of the league’s best defensive lines this week, though they did luck out with the Malik Jackson injury. The strength of this Philadelphia front is still up the middle with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan and they added a nice piece with Akeem Spence; but Jackson was expected to provide a different element and add to the team’s spectacular depth, which is part of what makes their defensive line so good because Jim Schwartz loves to rotate guys in and out of the game to keep them fresh.
If the line can hold up, however, it’s not too difficult to see Matt Ryan finding success against this Eagles secondary through the air. (Ryan posted respectable numbers by the end of last week’s game, but he was atrocious early on and didn’t do much of anything until the game was out of hand.) This is a unit that yielded 380 yards and three scores to Case Freaking Keenum last week, getting lit up by rookie Terry McLaurin for five catches, 125 yards and a score in the process. Malcolm Jenkins is still an excellent safety and Ronald Darby is capable of big things at corner, but the rest of this defensive back grouping leaves a lot to be desired.
Anyone who bumps down into the slot tends to get going against this Eagles defense (only the Jets allowed more receptions per game to the slot last season, per Football Outsiders), and that continued in Week 1. The Eagles have also struggled to defend tight ends, which means Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper should be in position for success, as they’re the two targets that tend to spend the most time working in those areas of the field. Of course, Julio Jones is always going to be the top target, and he should be able to work over Darby in shadow coverage, and torch Rasul Douglas if the Eagles elect to stick to playing sides.
Jones only caught six of the 11 passes thrown his way last week and gained just 31 yards, but he did find the end zone, and hopefully we can stop talking about how he never scores touchdowns. The Eagles do not have a corner as good as the Vikings’ Xavier Rhodes when Rhodes is at his best, which he was close to last week, so Julio should find himself working in a bit more open space than he did a week ago. And when Julio gets going, he tends to bring the rest of the Atlanta offense with him.
For the Falcons, it sure would be comforting if they could find a way to get Devonta Freeman going. Freeman missed most of last season with various injuries, but he was also extremely ineffective when he was on the field. That continued last week against Minnesota. He now has 30 touches for 122 yards and no scores in the three games he’s played since the end of the 2017 campaign. Freeman is only in his age-27 season so he should not be nearly cooked just yet, but he needs to show a whole lot more than he did last week to justify his $6.75 million cap hit, which is sixth-highest among all running backs. The Falcons can get out of that deal after this season, but they’d have to take a $6 million dead money charge on their books in exchange for just $3.5 million in savings.
Atlanta has Ito Smith and Brian Hill behind Freeman, but neither has shown any degree of effectiveness at the NFL level just yet, so if Freeman can’t get himself untracked, that could be pretty bad news for the Atlanta offense for the foreseeable future.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Falcons 23