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