Two pieces are most critical above all others to winning in the NFL: Quarterbacks and coaching. And as the Eagles prepare for Thursday night’s game against Atlanta, both are going to have to come up big for a win.
Nick Foles, we know about. He’s the starting quarterback on Thursday and we know the track record. He’s been a winning quarterback as a starter for the Eagles. He won the Super Bowl. He played the best football of his life in wins over Minnesota and New England as the Eagles won Super Bowl LII. Foles does not carry an offense. He functions when those around him do their jobs, when the coaches play to his strengths and when the Eagles win on special teams and give him a chance with good field position.
In this game, the coaches are the ones with a huge challenge. Even larger than normal. The Eagles enter the 2018 season shorthanded, and potentially in a pretty huge way. SAM linebacker Nigel Bradham is suspended for the game. The offense is not going to have wide receiver Alshon Jeffery as he recovers from his offseason rotator cuff surgery. Wide receiver Mack Hollins is down with a groin injury. All of a sudden, receivers like Shelton Gibson, DeAndre Carter and Markus Wheaton are in the spotlight as needed contributors for this game.
At running back, Jay Ajayi has been slowed with a foot injury. Expecting to be the team’s go-to running back, Ajayi reported to Training Camp in the best shape of his life. The injury has, at least for Week 1, put that expectation in jeopardy. Corey Clement is next in line, along with Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles.
So how are the Eagles going to beat the Falcons, a playoff-caliber team that comes to Lincoln Financial Field healthy and hungry? This is where the coaching comes into play.
Even without some key pieces – quarterback Carson Wentz is at the head of the list – the Eagles have some offensive firepower. They have to rely on winning the line of scrimmage, which is a prerequisite every week. But the Eagles have an advantage here, especially with the return of Jason Peters at left tackle. Atlanta is really good up front, quick and twitchy on the edges, explosive and powerful inside, but the Eagles have the capability to win that battle. That have to here.
The Eagles are going to introduce some tweaks to the scheme in this game and they’ve got to make the big-play opportunities pay off. Expect the Eagles to employ the two-tight end look with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert a lot. And expect those two to move around the formation to create favorable matchups. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor is going to play on the outside, as well as from the slot. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Agholor is targeted 10 times against Atlanta.
An X-factor in this game is Sproles, who could be used more as a receiver than as a running back. The idea is to get Sproles into space and use him prominently in the passing game. He’s been under wraps throughout the preseason, but that won’t be the case on Thursday night. The Eagles want to, need to, get Sproles some touches. How does 10-12 touches from the line of scrimmage sound? He’s a big-play waiting to happen.
And then there is Clement, the second-year running back who was a dangerous threat as a receiver last year and who came up big with four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. This is a breakout moment waiting to happen for Clement.
But there is no doubt the Eagles go into the game shorthanded without Wentz, Bradham, Jeffery, Hollins and perhaps Ajayi not at full strength. Can they pull off the “next-man-up” approach one more time?
Who knows what’s going to happen but the call here is a relatively low-scoring game, some surprises with personnel usage and play calling from both teams and a victory for the Eagles as they win in the trenches and on the scoreboard to cap an historic night at Lincoln Financial Field.
This feature is a weekly piece on BleedingGreenNation.com titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.