Falcons Week 8 Preview vs. Eagles
Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.
Time: 1 p.m.
Point Spread (Danny Sheridan’s odds as published in USA Today): Philadelphia is favored by 2 1/2 with an over of 42 1/2.
Key Offensive Matchup: Falcons starting right tackle Garrett Reynolds is active but was limited in practice every day this week because of his back. The situation raises a comparison to the Falcons’ previous game against Oakland when linebacker Stephen Nicholas was active but only played on special teams because of an ankle injury. Might the same be in store for Reynolds, along with a possible lineup change?
The past two seasons, Falcons head coach Mike Smith has found the bye week an advantageous time to make changes to the starting lineup. He did it last season at right guard, replacing Reynolds with center Joe Hawley, and also the previous season at nickelback when Christopher Owens was replaced by Brian Williams.
The bye week is when the Falcons conduct an extensive self-scouting analysis and no doubt the weakness in the running game, which could be related to the effectiveness of the offensive line, was a primary area of scrutiny. Smith was asked about his philosophy on changing personnel in the starting lineup during the bye week.
“Well, I think you have a better opportunity to evaluate in the bye week,” he said. “When you’re in the routine of going through the games and you’ve got a set deal that on Monday you’re doing this, Tuesday you’re doing that and you’re into game-planning, you don’t get an opportunity to sit back and evaluate on all levels, so I think you’ll see there are teams that will make a lot of changes, if there’s going to be changes on their personnel that may take place during their bye week.”
On the depth chart behind Reynolds is Peter Konz, the team’s second-round pick in 2012. Konz has been active for every game this season and has played, though mostly at positions like the jumbo tight end and fullback, along with special teams.
It’s not easy for a rookie lineman to jump right in and make a difference, as coaches often like to take at least a year to build up strength and technique, which is much more important than pure athleticism in the NFL than in college. Konz, 23 and a shade on the younger side for NFL linemen, told FOXSportsSouth.com he doesn’t think that his strength is an issue.
Having had the benefit of almost half a season to acclimate and another six months with the Falcons’ strength and conditioning staff to build up his body, it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff is ready to make that change on Sunday.
The running game, with weather conditions expected to be cold, windy and rainy, could prove significant against the Eagles if it is successful for the Falcons.
Key Defensive Matchup: Starting defensive tackle Corey Peters, coming off a foot injury, will return to the lineup for the first time since last season’s 24-2 playoff loss against the New York Giants. It will telling to see how many snaps Peters gets, as he only began to practice with the team on Monday after coming off the reserve/non-football injury list and might not yet be in top game shape. The Falcons officially activated him on Friday.
The Falcons’ run defense ranks among the worst in the NFL and the Eagles have a top-10 running offense.
In addition to the return of Peters, Smith has talked about possibly slanting the defense and “changing the math” at the point of attack, essentially getting more players to the ball.
With Eagles quarterback Michael Vick struggling this season with turnovers, the Falcons could force Philadelphia into some uncomfortable – passing -- situations if they can stop LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ running game.
Inactive: For Atlanta: quarterback Dominique Davis, center Joe Hawley, tackle Lamar Holmes, wide receiver Harry Douglas, defensive tackle Travian Robertson, defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, defensive end Cliff Matthews; for Philadelphia, quarterback Trent Edwards, wide receiver Damaris Johnson, running back Dion Lewis, linebacker Jamar Chaney, guard Danny Watkins, tackle/guard Nate Menkin, defensive end Vinny Curry.