Why Falcons Are Still Eagles' Ideal Opponent

Last week, prior to wild-card weekend, I took a look at the three possible opponents for the Eagles (Falcons, Panthers, Saints), concluding that Atlanta was the best chance for the Eagles to survive and advance. And I stand by that. However, let me throw out this caution flare: Just because I think the Falcons are the optimal choice for the Eagles doesn't necessarily mean I think the Eagles will win the game.

Foles factor
This isn't breaking news here, but the bottom line is Nick Foles has to play much better, not just manage the game. At some point, Foles is going to have to convert a big third down, make a throw down the field and/or sidestep a blitzer and complete a play off-schedule. The kind of things a playoff quarterback must do to win. The types of plays we did not see from Foles in his last two outings. 

Despite what he has said publicly, Foles looks like a player severely lacking in confidence. In other words, he can't play like Tyrod Taylor or Blake Bortles did Sunday.  

Slightly off
Atlanta's offense averaged 34 points per game in 2016 but dropped off to 22 per game this regular season, which placed them in the middle of the pack. 

As mentioned last week, Matt Ryan has not played at the MVP level he did last year. Maybe it's him, maybe it's a change in offensive coordinators. The Falcons ranked 23rd in red-zone efficiency in the regular season. In their 26-13 wild-card win over the Rams, Atlanta's offense was not particularly sharp. Los Angeles gifted the Falcons 10 points off turnovers. 

Devonta Freeman averaged 3.7 yards on the ground and Tevin Coleman just 2.9. The Falcons were 5 for 15 on third down, and ageless kicker Matt Bryant accounted for 12 of their points with four field goals.  

Historically speaking
Ryan is 3-3 in his career vs. the Eagles but just 1-3 in Philadelphia, including a 24-15 loss last year at the Linc. The Penn Charter alum went 21 for 30 for 218 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Atlanta rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry that afternoon. The Eagles' threesome of Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood rushed for 208 yards. 

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The keys
The Eagles must commit to and be successful running the ball to take the heat off of Foles. They were third in the NFL in rushing yards per game this season. Further, Jay Ajayi in Week 6 as a Dolphin rushed for 130 yards on 26 carries versus Atlanta. The Falcons will load the box to try to stifle the rushing attack. And even if the run game is not popping early, Doug Pederson must stay with it. 

I'd also like to see Pederson adopt as much of Chip Kelly's playbook from 2013 when Foles had the best run of his career. Atlanta's defense has not allowed more than 21 points in the last seven games. So this will not be easy from an offensive standpoint. 

As mentioned, this is a good, not great Falcons offense. The Eagles' No. 1-ranked rush defense needs to stuff the ground game and make Atlanta predictable. Julio Jones will get his but they can't let him go off. 

The Eagles were 7-0 in meaningful home games this season. If all of the above happens, they'll make it 8-0.

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