The road to the Super Bowl is truly going through Philadelphia. The Eagles will host the NFC Championship Game after defeating the Falcons 15-10 in a tense game. It was their first playoff win in nearly a decade, and first home playoff win since they last played the Falcons in the playoffs in the 2004 NFC Championship Game. Fly Eagles fly.
Through two seasons, Doug Pederson appears to be a pretty good play caller. A top QB can mask a lot of problems, we’ve seen plenty of coaches turn to ash without their franchise QB. It’s fair to wonder how big of a role Carson Wentz plays when evaluating Pederson. But not tonight. Pederson had a great game as a playcaller, outcoaching Dan Quinn for the second time in as many seasons. The run with Nelson Agholor was a great call, and the decision to go with more run/pass options in the second half got the Eagles the lead. The decision to kick a FG instead of go for it on 4th down from the 3 was debatable, but trusting your defense that was shutting out the Falcons when they weren’t starting with a short field is at the least defensible. And he nailed his decision to challenge, which hasn’t always been the case this year. He was not without fault, his use of timeouts was poor (more on that later) but overall Doug Pederson was as responsible for this win as anyone and deserves every accolade.
Bill Belichick’s game plan for Super Bowl XXV resides in the Hall of Fame and it was beautifully simple: let Thurman Thomas do pretty much what he wants on the ground and singularly focus on stopping the pass. It worked, as the Giants beat the Bills (with some luck as Scott Norwood infamously missed a FG) with Thomas rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown but Jim Kelly passing for just 212 yards and no TDs. It made Belichick’s plan the stuff of legends. I’m reminded of that when looking at how the Falcons performed against the Eagles the past two seasons. Julio Jones caught 10 passes for 135 yards in 2016, and caught 9 for 101 yards tonight. But crucially, he caught no touchdowns, and Matt Ryan threw for 241 yards to everyone else, while the Falcons rushed for 134 yards in both games combined. Julio Jones got his numbers, Jim Schwartz and the Eagles defense got the wins.
His very good stat line of 23/30 and 246 yards isn’t a fair reflection of his complete game as he was poor in the first half. But he was good enough. In the second half he moved the offense with tempo, and most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over, though that fluke 20 yard pass “to” Torrey Smith was a noble effort. If the Eagles are to keep on winning, they have to win the turnovers.
Just another game where Lane Johnson doesn’t give up a sack. And the dog mask at the end was beautiful.
The fumble was bad (duh) and his spell on the sidelines in the 3rd quarter was strange, but Ajayi further established himself as the Eagles lead back. 54 yards on 15 carries isn’t an impressive rate, but 4 runs went for a first down and four more went for at least 5 yards on first down. 15 carries isn’t enough.
0 targets until the end of the first half, but then he produced. His 15 yard catch set up the end of half 53 yard field goal, and then he caught passes of 12, 13, and 21 yards, all on the go ahead drive.
The Eagles offensive line struggled with him out, but with Wiz back in the fold the line was dominant. Somebody with some free time put his two-block run in slow motion to the theme from Chariots of Fire.
Doug Pederson’s time outs
Pederson had a great game, but he deserves criticism for his clock management. He probably should have called timeout after the first play on the end of the half possession, as 24 of the remaining 46 seconds passed before Halapoulivaati Vaitai forced him to use one on a false start. That’s way too much time to pass after a 7 yard play in your own half. His decision to call a timeout then kick a field goal in the fourth quarter was terrible, just take the delay of game penalty and save the timeout. That said, Pederson has been a good game/clock manager throughout his career, and we should expect that to continue.
Jay Ajayi fumbled for the third time on his 81st touch as an Eagle, LeGarrette Blount completely missed a handoff that fortunately was recovered by the Eagles, and Corey Clement fumbled for the first time in his NFL career and was lucky that Nick Foles made a tremendous play to recover it. And that’s to say nothing of the special teams muff. Teams don’t usually win when they fumble four times or turn the ball over two more times than the other team, the Eagles got a little lucky. But then, teams don’t usually fumble four times in a game or turn the ball over two more times either. Like Pederson’s time outs, we should expect that to improve next week.
As noted above, the Falcons were outcoached by Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz for the second game in a row. Don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is let go in the next few days. It would be one part scapegoat, one part deserved, as the Falcons offense wasn’t anything special this season.
10 carries for 7 yards. Seven.