Atlanta Falcons: Philadelphia Eagles A Great Test For Offensive Line


The Atlanta Falcons begin their 2015 season tonight against the Philadelphia Eagles. The greatest cause for concern is the offensive line and they will be matched up against one of the strongest front-sevens in the league.

The Eagles’ front seven is littered with talent. They swung a trade for Kiko Alonso to already add to a bright young linebacker in Mychal Kendricks as well as battle-hardenered leader DeMeco Ryans.

More from Atlanta Falcons

The Eagles totalled 49 sacks last season which was 2nd best, behind only the Buffalo Bills.

ALSO ON SPIN ZONE: NFL: After Further Thought: Week 1 Late Edition

Connor Barwin, who led the team in sacks with 14.5, and disruption machine Brandon Graham flank the linebackers.

The linebackers have their jobs made easier by the big men playing in front of them. Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan are premier run stuffers who helped hold opponents to just 3.7 yards per carry last season – good for fifth-best in the league.

And, the player who’s making this star-quality front seven even fiercer is Fletcher Cox. He grew into his role and was dominant over the second half of the season. He finished 3rd in run stop % and 4th in pass rushing efficiency in that span, per Pro Football Focus. A full season of that high level of play and you have to start mentioning him in the same breath as defensive lineman like Ndamukong Suh and Marcell Dareus.

Dec 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end

Fletcher Cox

(91) along the sidelines prior to playing the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Lions 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles also have a great reserve in Vinny Curry, who put up a very impressive 9 sacks. He played the vast majority of snaps as a pass rusher so he needs to be someone the Falcons have to keep an eye out for. He will most likely play opposite Chris Chester and that’s a matchup which the Eagles should be confident in.

The Falcons’ offensive line suffered a humiliating reality check against the Miami Dolphins in the third preseason game which prompted a trade for guard Andy Levitre via the Tennessee Titans last week.

Levitre is in line to start which gives the impression that the Falcons are very desperate as it seems unlikely he has learned the entire playbook and protections in a single week. He will be presented the challenge of taking down Fletcher Cox. Again, this is another matchup I think the Eagles will be confident in.

Don’t expect the Falcons to be able to get the run game going.

They were very inept at servicing holes to the running backs all throughout preseason and that won’t change so quickly — Especially against a front seven of this level.

I don’t think the Falcons matchup well anywhere along the offensive line in the run game, but we’ll see how they do in the regular season where they will show their full hand.

The game will largely come down to how well the team can protect Matt Ryan, who has usually played well on Monday night. If he’s being ambushed every snap like in the Dolphins game, the Falcons won’t stand a chance. It should be noted however that the offense did look particularly vanilla as the play-action passing, which has been synonymous with Kyle Shanhan’s offense, was absent in contrast to the first two preseason games.

With manageable time, we know Ryan can pick apart any defense and Julio Jones will get free from coverage. You can count on arguably the league’s best QB-WR tandem to keep the team competitive. Shanahan needs to mask the offensive line through scheme which can mean plenty of running, playaction, screens, draws and misdirection in the game plan to slow down the pass rush.

If the offensive line struggles, it will be a very long day similar to the Bengals, Ravens and Panthers games from last year. The team found themselves in 3rd and long situations too often, which enabled the opposing rushers to pin their ears back coming upfield and overwhelm the offensive line.

So the key to the game for the Falcons is their offensive line. I think the defense will surprise as they’ve assembled an impressive looking squad. Sam Bradford has looked good, but I’m sure there will be some nerves after 694 days since he’s thrown his last professional pass as well as playing  under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.

If the protection proves to be adequate against a tough unit, it could be a stepping stone for a return-to-glory season for the Falcons.

Next: Atlanta Falcons 2015 Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

More from NFL Spin Zone