JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 19: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons calls a signal during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on August 19, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Seeing as we're at the midweek point, perhaps it's time to take a gander at the Eagles upcoming opponent to see what we might expect out of this weekend's game. On Sunday, the Eagles play the Atlanta Falcons in Michael Vick's big return to the city he once reigned over. Remember, last year Vick was injured against his former team and Kevin Kolb led Philadelphia to victory in his absence.
In preparation for the matchup, I went back and watched the Falcons week one loss against the Bears. Honestly, I didn't find much to be worried about, but that is only one week.
Let's start on defense, where the Falcons looks average at best. They mostly played a vanilla 4-3 scheme with infrequent blitzing. The Football Outsiders Almanac said that the Falcons had more zone blitzes than anyone else in the NFL in 2010, but I didn't notice that. Not that I would mind if they did. Defensive end John Abraham, like Trent Cole the last few years, is far and away the best pass rusher they have and dangerous off the edge. Dropping him back into coverage only helps the offense.
The Falcons defense added Ray Edwards in the offseason, and at his size he's hard to miss. But even against Bears rookie tackle Gabe Carimi, Edwards made little impact. Sean Weatherspoon is a tremendously fast linebacker, but missed a few tackles that even Asante Samuel would be ashamed of.
One big takeaway: Atlanta had an especially hard time covering Bears running back Matt Forte on screen passes. Forte had two long gains, one for a touchdown and one that should have been a touchdown if not for a bad officiating call that put him out of bounds at the one yard line. LeSean McCoy must be licking his lips.
The Falcons offense has far better weapons on paper than the Rams did, but they barely registered because Matt Ryan looked so mediocre. The typical pass play involved Ryan dropping back with plenty of time and then dumping the ball off to the open man underneath. I'm all for taking what the defense gives you, but Roddy White and Julio Jones were relative nonfactors against the Bears.
For a while I thought it might just be the Bears cover two scheme on defense, but then I checked the stats from last year. Ryan was 26th among quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.5) and 28th in yards per catch (10.4). And while he's decisive with the football, Ryan isn't particularly mobile. That's especially bad considering his left tackle Sam Baker had nine blown blocks in 2010 according to the FOA, third-most in the league.
Overall, this looks to me like an overrated team. Last year Atlanta won 13 games but their Pythagorean wins were closer to 11. They don't look significantly better, while the Eagles have improved substantially since their 2010 victory.
All in all this will be a much more difficult test than week one, and any further lapses in run defense or tight end coverage won't make it easy on the Eagles defense. But if those holes can be patched up, I don't see much reason to expect anything other than a 2-0 start.