Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Week 10 To-Do Checklist
As the weeks of the 2016 season continue to accumulate, the Atlanta Falcons continue to look a little more impressive. This past week, the Falcons managed to overcome key injuries to notable players and two games in five days to improve to 6-3 on the season.
Awaiting the Falcons in week 10 is the Philadelphia Eagles. Led by a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, the second overall pick in this year’s draft. After starting out 3-0, the Eagles had an early bye week in week four and have lost four of their last five. The four losses are by a combined 19 points and make no mistake about it, the Eagles have enough assets on both sides of the ball. Based on that, this is a tricky road game for the Falcons before their week 11 bye week. With an important NFC contest on the slate for Atlanta, here is their to-do checklist for this week’s contest.
4. Protect The Ball
For a moment, disregard the record. The Eagles have talent. With the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball, Philadelphia is fifth in the league in takeaways with 15 so far this season. The defense has been quite active as they have caused a turnover in all eight games this season. In their week seven win over Minnesota, the unit caused a season-high four turnovers.
So of course, the onus here for the Falcons offense is to take sweet care of the ball. For the most part this season, the Falcons have been extremely careful with the ball as quarterback Matt Ryan has only thrown four interceptions on the season while the team only has seven giveaways so far. Impressively, the Falcons also have three turnover-free games which resulted in going 2-1 in those contests.
For an offense such as Atlanta that is second in the league in three-and-out percentage at 12% and averaging 6.8 yards per play, the Falcons have consistently made the most out of their offensive drives and turning the ball over to an opportunistic Eagles defense is something that can’t happen, especially in a hostile environment such as Lincoln Financial Field.
3. Minimize 3rd Down Conversions
For defenses, getting critical stops on third downs is one of the most focused objectives for defenders on game days.
In the case of the Eagles, the offense is 30th in the league in third down conversions. In their last five games, the Eagles are 22-of-63 on third downs, including their last two games in which they converted just nine of their 30 attempts on third down.
Why this facet may need a little more attention is based on the fact that Atlanta has not been necessarily strong on third down defense this season. The unit has allowed 45% of opponent’s third downs to be converted to first downs which ranks the unit 28th in that category.
A Philadelphia team that likes to deploy multiple WR sets along with a dangerous scat-back in Darren Sproles and tight end Zach Ertz, third down stops are going to rely heavily on discipline play from rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell as well as rookie strong safety Keanu Neal. Of course, key third down stops and sound tackling go hand-and-hand. Minimizing these conversions also means having the defensive line, led by Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn, having drive-stopping sacks on obvious third down passing situations.
2. Neutralize Darren Sproles
The Eagles have a different face as the lead role at running back.
What once was Ryan Mathews as the #1 back for the Eagles, now the offense turns to the 5’6 speed racer in Sproles. The 11-year vet has 526 yards from scrimmage this season and is tied for second on the team in receptions with 25. He is also pulling off 4.8 yards per carry and is a legitimate threat on special teams as a punt returner. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has stated recently that Sproles will have a larger role in the offense with Mathews taking a demotion.
Going back to the 2015 season opener, Sproles gave the Falcons defense plenty of issues with five rushes for 50 yards and seven catches for 76 yards while being targeted nine times in the passing game. The versatility that Sproles provides to the Eagles offense makes him arguably the biggest threat on that side of the ball. Shutting down Sproles is easier said than done so limiting his tendency of soaking up yards after catches as well as properly wrapping up the slippery back can go a long way to making him a limited factor in the game.
1. Blazing Start
Out of 98 drives on the season, the Falcons have scored on 52 of the drives which is an average of 53%. In other words, the Falcons know how to score and they know how to score often.
The Falcons have outscored their opponents 74-31 in the first quarter this season. Which is a clear indication that the team has made an emphasis of getting on the scoreboard to establish flow and offensive rhythm.
The Eagles defense is sixth in the league in scoring defense at 18.1 points per game. So establishing scoring drives against a stingy scoring defense takes a little more importance this week. Having Ryan connect with receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Justin Hardy has just as much as significance as getting the run game behind Devonta Freeman. If the Falcons are fortunate to having the luxury of deploying running back Tevin Coleman, that makes things a little easier for Ryan to throw a deep arsenal at Philly. Getting Ryan and the offense scoring early not only takes the energetic Eagles crowd out of the game but it also changes the strategy of the Eagles by having them trying to play catchup instead of going at a balanced approach.