After a hard fought game in Los Angeles, the Falcons escaped with a 26-13 win over the Rams. The defense played a great game and the offense played well enough to score 26 points. The Falcons controlled the ball in the game and ended the game with a wire-to-wire victory over the 11-5 Rams.
That victory earned them a trip to face the top seeded Philladelphia Eagles. The high flying Falcons will travel to “The City of Brotherly Love” in an attempt to knock off the 13-3 Eagles and earn themselves a spot in the NFC Championship game for the second straight year.
This has been the main story-line this week as the Falcons are known as a “Dome Team.” The Falcons are 5-2 outside and got a win in New York in sub 50 degree weather and a monsoon basically. Its going to be near or below freezing with some wind at kickoff and will get progressively worse as the game progresses. I don’t expect the weather to have a huge effect on the offense or defense but I think it will have an effect on Matt Bryant. He’s gone 9/11 in his games in Philadelphia so it might not have a huge effect on him but it could.
Earlier this week, Dan Quinn said that everyone, even the ones with little to no practice, will play. This is great news for the Falcons as they’re going to need to be at full strength to beat the Eagles on the road.
The Eagles also come into this game with relatively full strength. The only two players that are questionable are the 3rd string cornerback and the starting Middle Linebacker. Daniel Ellerbe, starting middle linebacker, is questionable for the game. The Eagles don’t have a designated backup MLB so the fact that they didn’t sign a LB this week tells me that he will most likely play. If he doesn’t play it will be a huge advantage for the Falcons especially if Sarkisian can focus on the interior running game.
Matchups to Watch
Keanu Neal/Ricardo Allen vs. Zach Ertz
Zach Ertz has been very good this year getting 8 TDs and averaging almost 60 yards per game. Last year, the Falcons kept him out of the endzone but Ertz still caught 6 passes for 55 yards. He will definitely be one of Foles’ main targets this week and it will be interesting to see how Manuel decides to cover him. This year, the two safeties Neal and Allen have mainly played man against TEs. I expect that to continue as Neal and Allen have played well this year when defending the pass.
Jay Ajayi and the Eagles Running Backs vs. the Falcons Defense
Jay Ajayi, earlier this year, went for 130 yards on 26 carries vs. the Falcons. The falcons did keep him out of the endzone though. The falcons run defense has improved since then and must play well for the Falcons to have a chance. Ajayi is a great back but the Eagles also have a RB duo like the Falcons with LeGarrette Blount as their other RB. The Falcons defense can’t take any plays off no matter the RB.
Eagles CBs vs. Julio Jones
Last year, Julio Jones was targetd 16 times and caught 10 passes for 135 yards and no touchdowns. They used a lot of Cover 2 last year to try to limit Julio and it didn’t work great. Jalen Mills, then a rookie, was on Jones for much of the game and did not play very well. This year, Mills has been targeted the most out of any corner in the NFL according to PFF. Jones has done extremely well in the playoffs in his career and I expect Sarkisian and Ryan to target him a lot.
Keys to the Game
Containing Jay Ajayi
Jay Ajayi destroyed the Falcons earlier in the year when he was on the Dolphins. To win this game, the Falcons will need to contain him or at the very least keep him out of the endzone. These are some Gifs from the game earlier in the year and how the Falcons can adjust to keep him contained.
On this play, Poe gets double teamed and gets an awful jump and so can’t get through. A huge hole opens up in the B gap from Clayborn (99) and Riley (42) both going outside. It’s important in the run game, especially with a multi-purpose back like Ajayi, to keep contain but two players don’t need to be outside. On this play, Riley most likely had contain, sees the seal and goes to the edge. At this point in the game, Ajayi and the Dolphins offense was commited to the inside runs and so Riley needs to trust his read keys. Campbell and Riley will need to make the correct reads on most of the runs if Ajayi is to be stopped.
Campbell does the exact opposite of Riley here. In the previous play, Riley didn’t read Ajayi’s movements but instead picked a gap and went. Campbell does a nice job of stepping up 2-3 yards, getting in an athletic stance, and watching Ajayi’s movement before moving closer to the offensive line. Campbell also does a great job of actually wrapping up properly and preventing Ajayi from getting the first down.
This is a huge gain for Ajayi and stems from poor play all around. Originally, Brooks Reed sheds his block and gets two hands on Ajayi. The problem is that Reed doesn’t continue moving his feet to continue through the tackle and Ajayi is able to run through. Ajayi is great at making cuts when his original hole isn’t open and he shows it here. Sharrod Neasman (20) gets baited in to thinking Ajayi will continue inside. Neasman and all of the Falcons CBs need to continue reading the backs eyes and movement so they can prevent from taking an extra inside step and still set the edge.
Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount are great runningbacks and will cause problems if the Falcons don’t do their job (and only their job) whether it be wrapping up, setting the edge, or being patient.
Win Turnover Battle
This is a key every week for every team in the NFL but it especially is a key for the Falcons. They were 31st in turnovers during the regular season only forcing 14 turnovers. The problem this year has been that a lot of turnovers have been wiped out by undisciplined penalties. The falcons won the turnover margin in the Rams game and the two turnovers led to 2 field goals. While only 6 points came from the turnovers, the turnovers were created at opportune times and positions on the field. This needs to continue for the Falcons to stop the Eagles’ offense.
Control the Ball
The Falcons had a 15 minute advantage last week in Time of Possesion and it was a big reason why they won as they were able to keep the high-powered Rams offense off the field. While the Eagles offense isn’t as good as the Rams they still have offensive weapons that can beat you at any time. It will be key for the Falcons to have long drives that actually result in points to not only keep the Eagles’ offense off the field but also to put the pressure on their offense to score.
The Falcons will have their hands full as they travel to Philadelphia. Not only will they have to face the Eagles great defense and the Eagles great runningbacks but they will face a team with a chip on their shoulder. They’re very similar to the Falcons last year and this year in this aspect as they aren’t getting much respect in the national media. I expect the Eagles to play this game very tough and with a chip on their shoulder. Knowing Atlanta sports, Nick Foles might torch us but I don’t see any way the Eagles offense scores enough points to keep up with the Falcons offense who are getting hot at the right time. I also expect the young Falcons defense to create some problems for Foles. I think this is a low scoring game that the Falcons will win to make their 2nd straight NFC championship game and 3rd in 6 years.
Falcons 17-13 Eagles