We are less than two days away from the Eagles' first game of the season, and finally we will get the answer to some of the pressing questions that have dogged this team since they last played a meaningful snap.
But they aren't the only Bird-themed football team looking for a season of redemption after one filled with struggles. The Falcons are hoping for a bounce-back as well after going through a season where the only good thing they did was botch the recovery of an onsides kick that helped them draft Kyle Pitts.
In some ways, the Falcons and the Eagles are kindred spirits. They both played New England in a Super Bowl in recent years. They both have new head coaches. They both have respected owners who are easy to root for. And they both have exciting new weapons on offense.
And both teams are expected to be bad this year.
The Eagles are underdogs, but it feels like one of those games that the oddsmakers just throw -3.5 points at the home team and move on a more interesting game, kind of like an AFC East matchup that doesn't involve the Patriots from the last 30 years.
But should we be an underdog? Let's take a closer look at the opponent.
The Falcons have a pretty good, if not aging, QB in Matt Ryan, and decent targets in Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. Their new coach, Arthur Smith, used a lot of 12 personnel in Tennessee, and he has two really good TEs in Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst.
Now, this may be something that could come back to haunt me, but I wasn't a big Kyle Pitts fan coming out of college. I definitely wasn't excited about the Eagles drafting him, and I am not sure he will be the matchup nightmare that many people are predicting. But he does present a problem for the team in how they will defend him. My guess is that we will play a "big nickel" package with Epps, Harris and Wallace on the field with Slay and Nelson. I think Maddox is too small to play against 12 personnel, and TJ Edwards isn't athletic enough, so Wallace seems like a decent compromise. Davion Taylor would be an interesting choice, but it seems unlikely he will see a lot of snaps due to the fact that he missed a lot of training camp. Wallace seems risky as well for the same reason, but he seems more pro ready than Taylor.
The Falcons offensive line seems problematic, and I would imagine a lot of their success on offense will depend on their ability to protect the QB and run the ball. In what I think will be an ongoing theme, we will have to decisively win the battle at the LOS to control the other team's offense. And on paper, that should be easy. But games aren't won on paper. I do think, if we can generate pressure with our front four, it could be a long day for Matt Ryan as our back seven is a lot better this year than last year.
On offense, all eyes will be on Hurts and DeVonta Smith, but this could be the first stop on the Zach Ertz redemption tour. I honestly recognize four names out of the defensive starters on the Falcons depth chart, and one of them - Steven Means - I only know because he used to play for us.
This feels like a game where Zach Ertz can really feast on young defenders and find the soft areas in zone, giving Hurts easy looks. I expect the Falcons to use a spy against Hurts, and drop deep into coverage to prevent big plays, so a lot of underneath passes should be available. If I were scheming against the Eagles, I would make Hurts throw as many short, accurate passes as possible.
Can we win this game? It seems really winnable if Hurts can avoid mistakes and make the throws he should. Their pass rush shouldn't be an issue and the game plan should be focused on keeping us in third and manageable spots.
On defense, if we struggle against this team, then it's going to be a long season. Our linebackers/safeties/slot corner are going to be busy, and those are perhaps our weakest positions. At the same time, they shouldn't be outmatched. This is a team with an average offense that replaced Julio Jones with Kyle Pitts, which seems like a good trade from our perspective, at least while the new guy is still learning the ropes.
This should be a good game for us to get our feet wet. But if we struggle, I think we will all have to prepare for a long season.