Eagles v. Falcons Week 1 preview: key matchups and predictions
After months of waiting, we are less than 24 hours away from the Philadelphia Eagles kicking off their season in Atlanta. There is a lot of excitement going into Sunday afternoon for the new-look Eagles with the Jalen Hurts era getting underway.
Although the Eagles are on the road, the Atlanta Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league this season. If things go as planned, this could be a big debut for Nick Sirianni & company.
The most significant mismatch for the Eagles is in the trenches on both sides of the football. Atlanta runs a 3-4 defense and their 3 most effective pass rushers — Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Dante Fowler — only combined for 11.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, Brandon Brooks is returning to play for the first time in over a year for Philly’s offensive line and looks ready to go. The rest of the offensive line remains the same, with Jordan Mailata receiving a big payday this afternoon.
It isn’t much better for the Falcons’ offensive line, who will be without starting left guard Josh Andrews. In his place is rookie Jaylen Mayfield, who will line up next to sophomore center Matt Hennessy. Hennessy is a local product, playing at the University of Temple before being drafted in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. On the other hand, Jonathan Gannon’s defensive line looks dominant once again, with Josh Sweat having a tremendous training camp. The Eagles’ defense ranked 3rd in the NFL in sacks a year ago with 49.
Falcons’ head coach Arthur Smith was the architect behind the Tennesse Titans’ run-heavy offense. With a weak receiving group outside Calvin Ridley, that playstyle will likely remain the same here. Mike Davis saw a lot of time in Carolina last year, with Christian McCaffrey being hurt for most of the season. During 2020, Davis had 642 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns with 373 receiving yards — all career highs.
Atlanta also has the #4 overall pick in Kyle Pitts alongside Hayden Hurst, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see them run a lot of 12 personnel which could hurt the Eagles. Jim Schwartz’s defense was exposed over the middle consistently last year, and Alex Singleton isn’t strong in the passing game. Combine that with K’Von Wallace at safety, who is also weak against the pass, and it could hurt this Eagles’ defense early.
In addition to his tight ends, Matt Ryan has the dangerous Calvin Ridley out wide. Without Julio Jones, Ridley could have a superstar-caliber season. Ridley had over 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns last season, and he has a chance to surpass that this year. Atlanta was fifth in the NFL last year in passing yards per game with 272.7.
Darius Slay did a great job last season at locking down every other team’s leading wideouts outside of D.K. Metcalf and Davante Adams. If Slay continues his 2020 production, Ridley should be decently contained and have his receptions limited.
For Jalen Hurts and Nick Sirianni, they will likely target the Falcon’s secondary heavily, being amongst the worst in the NFL this season. Atlanta spent a combined $3.3M on their secondary this offseason — CB Fabian Moreau, S Duron Harmon, and S Erik Harris are all on one-year deals — and AJ Terrell is still young in his second year. The Eagles’ shiny new receiver DeVonta Smith should have a productive debut.
Philly stacks up better on paper, but things could get shaky with a new coach and system during the first week. However, if Jalen Hurts stays composed in the pocket and looks like he did earlier this preseason, the Eagles should be able to come out of Atlanta with a win.
Final prediction: Eagles win 24-14
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Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis | USA TODAY Sports