At long last, the season will officially begin for the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. The Falcons attempt to return to their glory years while the Eagles are trying to take the next step and become one of the elite NFC teams.
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There are several interesting matchups which will be on display tonight. The outcome of the game feels like it will revolve around the Falcons’ offensive line and the Eagles’ new quarterback, Sam Bradford. The following 12 predictions are how I believe the game will unfold:
- Kyle Shanahan‘s playcalling will help with protection but problems will manifest on clear passing downs.
There are a lot of ways a smart offensive coordinator can mask a weak offensive line. Plays such as draws, screens, misdirections and playaction will slow down a pass rush because they prevent the defense from firing off the ball with reckless abandon.
However, all the smoke and mirrors don’t apply on 3rd and long situations. Defenses aren’t going to be tricked and that’s when you’ll see the offensive line being most challenged.
Fletcher Cox is like a nuclear missile on the inside and on clear passing downs, he’ll have the ace reserve pass rusher Vinny Curry (9 sacks last season) on the other side. Brandon Graham is a disruption machine and Ryan Schraeder will need to be at his best. Connor Barwin is one of the best all-round outside linebackers so you can expect some deception on the weakside.
- The Eagles defense will control the Falcons run game.
If there’s one thing that’s been a major concern throughout preseason, it was the inability of the Falcons’ offensive line to service the running backs. The Eagles are extremely tough against the run. They surrendered just a 3.7 YPC average last year thanks to an impressive run stuffing defensive line which also includes Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan.
- Meanwhile, the Eagles will establish a consistent running attack.
I think it’s a very equal matchup in the trenches concerning the running game but the presence of the Eagles’ smash-bash-dash trio will make things difficult. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have a lot of juice in their legs while Darren Sproles is incredibly dangerous in space.
- Julio Jones won’t be stopped.
If you look at all the cornerbacks who have slowed down Julio Jones over the past couple seasons (Hint: It’s a small list), you will see they have similar characteristics – Big and strong. Josh Norman has had the most success, but he’s also been bested by Jimmy Smith and Champ Bailey.
The Eagles have Byron Maxwell, who is big and strong, but I don’t think he matches the instincts and suave of the aforementioned three. Jones is as tough of a cover as any and I think he and Matt Ryan will link up for some big gains.
- The secondary receivers of the Falcons will contribute.
Even with Devin Hester out, the Falcons have good depth at receiver. Roddy White isn’t what he used to be after injuries but he is still a chain moving threat. Leonard Hankerson and Justin Hardy gives the Falcons different dimensions. They should be able to win their battles against the weak secondary depth.
- The Eagles will cut down Matt Ryan’s greatest striking zone.
There aren’t many better anticipatory throwers than Ryan and he is money throwing to the intermediate middle. His ball placement is consistently excellent into this area, allowing for his receivers to get additional yards.
But, the Eagles are well equipped to dealing with this. They have 2 of perhaps the 10 best coverage linebackers in Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso. They both have a wide defensive radius thanks to their athleticism and instincts and will stress Ryan to deliver his best everytime he looks into that direction.
- The Eagles’ defense will outright dominate some drives.
The Falcons may have some long scoring drives but there’s going to be times where they will have the momentum completely sapped out of them.
As a team, having high levels of determination, heart and energy is great but what if you were just simply better than the opponent? That is the Eagles who heavily outclass the Falcons in terms of talent. The game could go either way but the talent difference is too great for it not to make a difference at certain occasions.
- Don’t underestimate the Falcons’ interior defensive line.
The Eagles have a questionable pair of guards and that bodes well for the rejuvenated Adrian Clayborn and a fresher Jonathan Babineaux. You can’t also forget about the hyper-athletic Ra’Shede Hageman either.
The former two made plenty of disruptive plays in preseason and the latter is poised to bring everything altogether. He had some flashes late last year of dominating defensive play and he could be on the verge of something big. Expect Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner to file for harassment charges at the end of the game.
- Don’t underestimated the Eagles’ offensive tackles.
They have arguably the best offensive tackle tandem in the NFL. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson will limit edge pressure which might send some Falcons fans into disarray for their beloved 1st round draft pick Vic Beasley. Don’t fret, Falcons fans. These guys are very good and do a great job preventing pressure from the outside.
If the Eagles’ passing offense shows to run through Jordan Matthews, Dan Quinn will have to make his move. That means, more cover-1 and putting Trufant over Matthews.
Shadowing wasn’t a thing Quinn did in Seattle much but that can be attributed to the defenses’ overall talent. I would be confident Trufant can go toe-to-toe with anyone and you shouldn’t be stubborn when it comes to these sort of situations.
- The lights of Monday Night Football at the Georgia Dome may shine too brightly for Sam Bradford.
It will have been 694 days since Sam Bradford has thrown his last professional pass. Couple that with his first game being on primetime TV and there may be some jitters in his play.
I’ve always been a supporter of Bradford and it was great to see him play so well in the dress rehearsal against the Packers in preseason week 3. He does some unreal things with the football which went unappreciated due to a weak supporting cast in St. Louis.
I think he’ll have a good season and even a good game, but there will be some mistakes here and there. It’s impossible to say how costly they are but I wouldn’t expect Bradford to be playing at his best for another couple weeks. The same way it can take a starting pitcher a few innings to get to peak performance, I think it will be the same with Bradford too.
Offensive Players Of The Game: Julio Jones (Falcons), DeMarco Murray (Eagles)
Defensive Players Of The Game: Adrian Clayborn (Falcons), Fletcher Cox (Eagles)
Final Score: 30-26 Philadelphia Eagles
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