The Eagles are back from their bye, which probably means we should all schedule appointments with our cardiologists for next Monday. It was a fairly quiet week in the NFL with no shocking upsets or particularly thrilling games between playoff contenders, unless you want to count Jets at Patriots.
The rankings reflect the mellow week of football, with no real surprise changes. There were some big moves, but it's pretty much all predictable. The Ravens took the biggest hit overall after getting manhandled by the Texans, who moved back up to the top of the AFC.
|4||New York Giants||19.500||-1|
|19||New York Jets||-11.304||0|
Observations are light this week:
- Say what you want about Jay Cutler, but the Bears are for real. They're +13 in turnovers and are outscoring their opponents by an average of two touchdowns per game. They also lead the league in scoring defense. With the rising Vikings, the NFC North seems to have abandoned the high-powered offenses that defined it last year in favor of the 'black-and-blue' defensive ways of old.
- The 49ers are bleeding, and the NFL can smell it. Last season, San Francisco pretty much controlled every game they played. While they still have an elite defense, they are only +2 in turnovers. Their offensive deficiencies were masked last year when they were a ridiculous +26 in turnovers. They haven't been able to sustain that and the offensive issues are now bubbling to the surface.
- Statistic of the Week. I started this section off with the defensive line. It's time for the offensive line's turn. While I mentioned how impressive it was to be positive in the defensive line category (meaning a team is forcing more sacks per game than they are allowed yards per carry), I never thought I'd see a team with a negative number in the offensive line category. Congratulations, Arizona, your team is officially allowing more sacks per game than you are averaging in yards per rush. Makes you feel a little better about the Eagles' offensive line, doesn't it?
This could prove to be a very frustrating game for Eagles fans. The game, on paper, is literally there to be won and lost simultaneously. Philadelphia has the match-ups in the roster to manhandle Atlanta offensively and defensively, but suspect playcalling could easily play right into the Falcon's hands. Let's look at the numbers to break down why the Eagles will win and why they will lose.
The Eagles will win because the Falcons' run defense is atrocious. They are giving up 5.2 yards per rush attempt, which puts them in company with New Orleans and Buffalo (and also the Giants, who have somehow managed to avoid having this exploited). The Eagles have arguably the best running back in the league in LeSean McCoy. If I'm Andy Reid, I'm scripting my first fifteen plays with at least eight runs (but for the love of God, NO quarterback draws). There's good reason to think that Andy won't do this, but he's had two weeks to let the Lions game fester and his track record for bye week adjustments is impeccable. You could also argue that the offensive line is so bad that it will make the Falcons look good, but in my experience I've never seen a bad offense break before a bad defense. Just watch two teams with bad defenses and offenses play each other; it always ends in a shootout.
Running the ball will also force Atlanta out of its comfort zone. The Falcons have been able to win because their high-powered offense is scoring early and often, forcing the opponent to become pass-happy and renders them unable to take advantage of the run. This plays right into their opportunistic defense (more on this in a bit), and we have the 2009 Saints all over again. But if you start the game by running the ball in a situation where you know you can, it'll completely slow down the tempo and keep the Falcons' offense on the bench. Atlanta has already shown struggles when it has actually had to play a close game. If the Eagles can prevent it from getting out of hand, they absolutely have the personnel to win.
On defense, I am not really concerned. The fact that they have a new coordinator adds unpredictability on its own to the unit, even if the overall scheme is the same. Additionally, the Falcons have not played a defense who is in the top half of the league in scoring, and three of their opponents have been ranked lower than twenty-fifth. The Eagles are literally the stiffest defensive test Atlanta has faced so far.
Finally, some added bye-week spice can really help out the offensive line. The most conventional way to do this is to run the ball (see above) to open up play-action, but if Andy decides that running the ball is for Communists, they can get creative in the backfield. Jimmy noted a few weeks ago on his blog about several different looks the Redskins have shown in their backfield, and I think this is something the Eagles should emulate. Throw in more I- and T-formation sets and surround the quarterback with as many eligible receivers as possible to make the defense guess who is staying in to block and who is going down field. Another thought would be to keep the deep routes on the outside in order to clear out the field for intermediate passes underneath (this is more poetx's department, so I won't get into specifics).
The Eagles will lose because of turnovers. I know, a shocker, right? But the Falcons aren't a turnover deprived defense like the Lions (who we still coughed it up three times to). They are averaging an interception per twenty pass attempts (5.26%), which for some quarterbacks is two per game. For Michael Vick that's more like three or four. Honestly, the only option here is for Marty to take the ball out of Vick's hands and feed Shady. If he is kept to around thirty pass attempts then he should be fine, provided he doesn't fumble every other snap. But Andy and Friends have been too stubborn to give the ball to anyone but their charitable quarterback, and it will destroy them if they call more than thirty passes or so. It doesn't help that the Falcons are also recovering 1.2 fumbles per game.
The turnovers are the reason why Atlanta's defensive statistics are terrible, but they are seventh in scoring defense (18.8 points per game). Matt Ryan is also having a career year, and unless Bowles can magically conjure pressure out of thin air, he shouldn't have a hard time being at least competent (I'm going to give our talented secondary the benefit of the doubt here).
I look at this game and see a disaster waiting to happen and a clutch post-bye victory at the same time. I am personally shirking all responsibility for the outcome of the game to the shoulders of Marty Mornhinweg. What will he do with the offense? Will he try and exploit Atlanta's glaring weaknesses on defense early with controlled, methodical drives? Or will he try to air it out and play right into Atlanta's waiting hands? I'm not going to pass judgment on the defense considering all that has happened, but I do expect them to play at least as well as they had all season. So really this game should come down almost entirely by the play of the offense, at least on paper.
The Eagles have ten games to make me a believer, and there's nothing better than a good first impression. It's your move, Andy. Surprise me.