The Philadelphia Eagles 2015 regular season football schedule begins on Monday, Sept. 14 as the Eagles take on the Atlanta Falcons. In preparation for the game, I reached out to our friends over at The Falcoholic. Dave Choate kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming match-up.
Let's take a look at the answers.
1) How are Falcons fans feeling heading into the season with a new regime? What are the expectations for the 2015 season?
The expectations are probably higher across the board than they have any right to be, given the last two seasons and the state of the roster heading into this year. That's the kind of optimism a couple of nice free agent signings, a promising rookie pass rusher and a well-regarded new coach buy. There are very few Falcons fans who genuinely believe this team will be worse in 2015.
I'd say the average fan expectation is between 8-9 wins, a solid improvement and enough to make fans feel better about the direction the team's heading in. With the NFC South looking weak again, though, I think playoffs are in the back of our minds.
2) The Falcons defense was bad last year. It ranked dead last in DVOA by Football Outsiders. The team added head coach Dan Quinn and first round pick Vic Beasley, but it looks like Atlanta will be without at least one defensive starter with Brooks Reed sitting out. To what extent are you confident in Atlanta’s defense being able to match up against Philadelphia’s offense?
Not incredibly confident. This unit has added rookie Vic Beasley, inconsistent but talented pass rusher Adrian Clayborn, and useful upgrades like Justin Durant at linebacker and veteran cornerback Phillip Adams. I expect a marked improvement, but when you're talking about arguably the worst defense in the NFL against one of the league's most potent offenses, that's not going to be enough to really shut down the offense. Their best bet is Desmond Trufant matching up with Jordan Matthews, the stout two-down front four at least slowing down DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, and an actual pass rush that puts some heat on Bradford.
This has all the hallmarks of a shootout, though, and I'm leery of your team's firepower. I'm hoping for a turnover or two to give the team more chances on offense.
3) The Falcons have some nice offensive weapons, but there are some questions about Atlanta’s offensive line. The team recently traded for Andy Levitre, signed former Washington starter Chris Chester, and is working out formerly injured Jake Long. What’s the concern level with this unit?
High. Kyle Shanahan has shown time and time again that he prefers mobile, athletic linemen, and that he's willing to sacrifice a little bit of talent to do so. Levitre is a fine bounceback candidate at left guard and Chester is at least decent, but this is a team starting the relatively anonymous Mike Person at center.
4) Name one matchup that really favors the Falcons and one matchup that really favors the Eagles.
I like Julio Jones against the defense, and I mean no disrespect to Byron Maxwell when I say that. Jones is just so good and so tough to cover that he'll likely force the defense to bracket him with a safety, opening up opportunities for other options in the passing game. I'd never bet against him just torching Maxwell, either, because Julio is just unreal. I like the upgrades the Falcons have made at wide receiver, tight end and running back, but Jones is the key to everything.
On the side of of the coin, I think Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, and Zach Ertz are going to be an issue. This secondary looks competent, but those are quality options, and it will be the first big test for rookie free safety Ricardo Allen, who I think Bradford will try to target early. Outside of Trufant, there's no one approaching a shutdown coverage option for this defense.
5) Let's hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
I'm being a homer and have the Falcons winning a high-scoring game, something like 31-27. Ultimately I think a new-look Falcons pass rush is able get to Bradford enough to force a bad throw and/or a fumble, and the offense can win in a shootout so long as Matt Ryan doesn't throw any of the backbreaking picks we all hated in 2014. The Eagles are a damn fine football team, though, so I'm not the most confident I've ever been with a prediction.