Date & Time: September 12th – 1:00pm
Location: Atlanta, GA – Mercedes Benz Stadium
- Eagles Injury Report
- OL Landon Dickerson (knee)
- S Rodney McLeod (knee)
- LB Davion Taylor (calf)
- Falcons Injury Report
The Eagles kick off their 2021-22 season on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. A lot has changed for both teams since their last meeting – 2019.
Jalen Hurts is the starting QB for the Eagles. WR Julio Jones is longer a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Both teams have rookie head coaches.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons were two of the worst NFC teams a season ago. The two teams combined for 8 wins and 23 losses (with 1 tie). Both teams have made drastic changes to their rosters this offseason.
The Eagles are getting their offensive line back healthy, along with Sunday’s game serving as the debut of Eagles rookie WR DeVonta Smith. The Falcons added a dynamic receiving threat in Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley has been elevated to the number 1 receiver in Atlanta.
The Eagles were the most pressured team in the NFL in 2020. They allowed the most sacks in the NFL. But, things will likely change with the much-improved health of their offensive line.
The right side of the line will be sured up by the return of G Brandon Brooks and now fully healthy, T Lane Johnson. The left side will be manned by T Jordan Mailata, who at this point in his career, offers much more than Jason Peters did in his last two seasons as the Eagles bodyguard. The Eagles offensive line is facing an Atlanta defensive line that ranked 15th in pressure rate a year ago.
Elsewhere, Jalen Hurts is facing an Atlanta pass defense that allowed the most passing yards per game in the NFL last season. Atlanta’s number one corner, A.J. Terrell, allowed a 109.6 passer rating when targeted in coverage last year as a rookie.
On the ground, Atlanta gave up 104.8 rushing yards per game (6th in the NFL) a year ago. Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell should see a lot of action out of the backfield.
5 Things to Watch for the Eagles
1) Play of the Trenches
When healthy, the Eagles arguably have the best combination of offensive and defensive line talent in the NFL. The Eagles were 3rd in the NFL in sacks and 2nd in pressure percentage (via Pro-Football-Reference). The addition of DE Ryan Kerrigan and selection of DT/DE Milton Williams should give the Eagles a leg up on the Falcons.
The trenches decide football games.
2) The Performance of the Falcons Top 2 Weapons
Jonathan Gannon will immediately have his hands full in his first full game as Eagles defensive coordinator. Calvin Ridley can make an argument for being a top 5 route runner in the NFL. Kyle Pitts is a monster and can lineup at TE or WR.
If I was Jonathan Gannon, I’d elect for Darius Slay to follow Ridley all day (when in man coverage) and rotate defenders at Pitts.
3) The Debut of DeVonta Smith
DeVonta Smith makes his NFL debut Sunday afternoon and he’ll see his first NFL game action in a stadium that he’s had success in before. In the 2020 SEC Championship game which took place in Mercedes Benz Stadium, Smith hauled in 15 catches for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Smith’s ability to create separation has been something talked about ad nauseam and it’s not without good reason. Smith’s combination of quickness and decisiveness as a route runner is elite.
Going against a cornerback, A.J. Terrell, who allowed 13.2 yards per completion a season ago is music to Smith’s ears.
4) Jalen Hurts Ability as a Passer from the Pocket
One of the more well known things about Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator, Dean Pees is his acumen for disguise as a play caller. He loves to blitz and blitz from a variety of places.
“Every position will blitz. We’re coming from everywhere,” Pees said in his introductory press conference with the Falcons.
Jalen Hurts ability to diagnose what he sees pre and post snap and decide where to go with the football quickly and decisively will play a huge part in this game.
An area where Hurts will likely be at an advantage is his ability to get out of the way of pressure and use his legs. Hurts has also benefited from going against a Jonathan Gannon defense in training camp practices, that disguised a ton of its pressures and defensive looks.
Hurts ability or lack thereof to stand in the pocket and deliver on target and on time passes will indicate a ton about how this season will go for the Eagles.
5) The Matchup of Rookie Head Coaches
Nick Sirianni vs. Arthur Smith in a battle of rookie head coaches. Smith comes from the Tennessee Titans where he was the Offensive Coordinator for 2 years (2019-2020). In those two years, Smith faced off against Nick Sirianni 4 times, splitting both of those games.
Smith’s offenses in Tennessee featured heavy 12 personnel and a lot of play action passing, with heavy emphasis on the running game. Of course, Tennessee’s offense had something this Atlanta offense doesn’t–Derrick Henry.
For Nick Sirianni, we know 2 main things about his offense: 1) He will primarily scheme to place his players is risk adverse situations and 2) The offense will utilize the quick passing game.
As far as personnel is concerned, the Eagles were one of the top teams in terms of 12 personnel frequency in 2020. This can be expected to change under Sirianni, as the Colts offense utilized 11 personnel 67% of Sirianni’s time as Offensive Coordinator.
Expect a ton of 3 WR looks. The Smith-Reagor-Watkins trio will see a lot of action Sunday.
Pick: Eagles 31, Falcons 21
To be frank, I don’t think the Falcons can hang with the Eagles. The Eagles are the more well-rounded and more talented roster. Matt Ryan’s kryptonite has religiously been pressure up the middle. The Falcons will be starting rookie Jalen Mayfield at left guard. Elsewhere, along the offensive line, I just don’t see the Falcons being able to hold up and protect Matt Ryan for a full 4 quarters. I expect Javone Hargrave and Fletcher Cox to eat.
Bold Prediction: The Eagles finish the day with 7 sacks.