Hobbs thinks Eagles may be facing a crossroads game

Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs
remembers the game in which he realized the 2007 New England
Patriots were really something – and not something made up.

Hobbs, a starting cornerback with the Patriots who went
undefeated in the regular season, recalled New England’s riding an
11-game winning streak when it traveled to Baltimore. On a chilly
December Monday night against the steely Ravens defense, nothing
went the Patriots’ way and they still found a way to win.

The
Eagles’ sixth game of 2010, against
the 4-1 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, could be that type of game.

The point is not to compare a 3-2
Eagles squad to a team that came
within a last-minute touchdown pass in the Super Bowl – one that
sailed over Hobbs – from finishing 19-0. But every team faces a
crossroads – it could be the first game or the last – when it finds
out if it’s going one way or the other. The Falcons may provide
that barometer.

An
Eagles victory would give them their
first quality win and catapult them among the top teams in a
for-the-taking NFC. A loss, while not crippling, would drop them
back among middling teams fighting for a playoff berth.

“I think that’s where the great teams and the better teams
separate themselves throughout the season,” said Hobbs. “I think
this team is definitely capable of that and we’re going to get
tested on that level. I mean, in the NFL, the margin is so
small.”

For the first time since 1970, this season opened without a team
going 4-0. Nineteen of 32 teams have either two or three losses.
And just five teams have more than three losses.

“You can’t tell who’s who,” Hobbs said. “It’s crazy, man. Out
the gate you always assume Indianapolis is going to rope off a
bunch of wins. And all of a sudden they’re only [3-2]. The Cowboys
are 1-3 and
somehow they’re still predicted as a team to
beat.”

Dallas, the preseason favorite to win the NFC East, is two games
behind a three-way, division-leading tie among Washington, the New
York Giants, and the
Eagles. Atlanta is only a half-game
ahead of Tampa Bay in the NFC South, but it has an impressive win
over the defending-champion Saints and an overtime loss to
defense-minded Pittsburgh.

“They have a loss, too, so obviously they’re beatable,” Hobbs
said. “But we got to understand that they’re definitely not going
to hand anything to us. They get paid, too.”

The Falcons team that will take to the grass Sunday at Lincoln
Financial Field is different from the one the
Eagles whipped last December in
Atlanta. Quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner were
injured and sat out that 34-7 drubbing.

This
Eagles team, too, will be without a
few valuable pieces on offense. Quarterback Michael Vick will not
start, but Kevin Kolb is a much-more-capable backup than the
Falcons’ Chris Redman was a season ago.

More of a concern is at left tackle, where Jason Peters will sit
after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week and King
Dunlap will get his first career start. A victim of three sacks
last week against the 49ers, Dunlap has the responsibility of
fending off defensive end John Abraham from Kolb’s blind side.

The
Eagles will have ace receiver
DeSean Jackson, who was held out of last year’s meeting with a
concussion. Jackson, though, has been stifled the last two weeks,
accounting for only five catches for 43 yards.

Eagles offensive coordinator Marty
Mornhinweg said that Jackson has been the victim of “the Jerry Rice
treatment,” as defenses focus their efforts on stopping the speedy
23-year-old.

“There’s nothing I can really do,” Jackson said. “I can’t throw
the ball to myself. I can’t create plays for myself.”

The
Eagles’ defense will center its
attention on stopping Atlanta’s second-ranked running attack, led
by the bruising combo of Turner and Jason Snelling.

Last week, the
Eagles’ run defense – then ranked
27th in the league – was able to impede the 49ers’ ground game. But
defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, a gap filler, is out with an
elbow injury, and replacements Trevor Laws and Antonio Dixon are
unproven against the run.

“You have to commit to stopping the run, because if they get
those two running backs going, that opens up their passing game,”
Eagles defensive coordinator Sean
McDermott said, “and that’s hard to stop.”

Ryan is a more consistent quarterback than the one who returned
to his native Philadelphia two years ago and tossed two
interceptions in a 27-14 loss.

That game was the
Eagles’ seventh of the season and
moved them to 4-3. But that was not their moment of clarity. That
point would come in December, when they went on the road and beat
the Giants.

For Hobbs, that moment is now.

“It’s Week 6, but we’re starting to move into those November,
December games,” he said. “And we definitely don’t want to be the
team scratching and clawing to get to November and December.”

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or
jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane