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.
More from Atlanta Falcons
- 2023 NFL Season: NFC South shaping up to be an exciting division
- 5 rookies to target for your Fantasy Football drafts In 2023
- 3 reasons why the Falcons can make NFC Championship Game
- Atlanta Falcons rookie pass rusher flashing early in training camp
- Ryan Tannehill to the Falcons feels inevitable at this point
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
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 endFletcher 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.
More from NFL Spin Zone
- Dallas Cowboys made the trade everyone else should have made
- Pittsburgh Steelers rookie sleeper everyone should be talking about
- Anthony Richardson putting jaw-dropping talent on display immediately
- Denver Broncos’ stud wide receiver might be out for a while
- Washington Commanders: Three takeaways from win over Ravens