Regular season football is finally here, and the Eagles travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons in the season opener. In our first Eagles matchup preview, we’ll go through position by position to determine which team will come out on top in Philly’s premiere fight of the 2021-2022 NFL season.
Both the Eagles and the Falcons have quarterback situations that are interesting to say the least. OU alum Jalen Hurts, who was drafted a year earlier as an apparent replacement for the QB Carson Wentz franchise, is at the start for Philly. Most NFL fans know the chaos that ensued, and in the end, Hurts was eventually named a starter for Week 1, despite rumors about the Eagles looking for other options in the position. For Jalen, who showed some lightning bolts after Wentz bench press in 2020, this is an all-but-all year in every way. However, there are still questions about his ability as a passer. Whether he takes the next step or not, Jalen has a huge impact on the running game, and his ground skills could be an X-factor against the Atlanta defenses.
However, the Falcons are returning veteran signaler Matt Ryan as the starter for Day 1. Rumors have also been circulating that the Falcons would be redesigning the franchise, but it appears they want to take one last ride with the former MVP. The Eagles D don’t have to face a top notch Matty Ice though. It is obvious that Ryan has lost some momentum on the Deep Ball and his mobility is as limited as ever, but he still has the accuracy and seasoned experience to be an above average, stable QB who will not be the reason why the hawks lose. If I had to give the advantage to one team in the QB position it would be Atlanta as they have the advantage of knowing what they are getting. However, that doesn’t mean that Hurts can’t beat expectations.
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Although this is arguably the least important position on the offensive, it is still important to consider the situation of each team when running back. The Eagles have a three-man attack on the position, led by Miles Sanders in his third year. Sanders has been constantly present when he gets snaps and scored a fantastic 5.3 YPC in 2020. Much of this came from the 24-year-old’s great ability to play as he recorded multiple runs over 50 yards. While Sander’s upward trend exists, he has tapered off since his rookie season as he struggled with drops. This is where Kenneth Gainwell comes in for the 5th round. Gainwell is an incredible retriever, with quickness in catching the ball from the backcourt and the ability to run routes from the slot or anywhere on the field. The other notable piece for Philly is RB Boston Scott, a little equalizer that serves as a nice change of pace when Miles is switched off.
The Falcons backcourt is led by former Panthers backup Mike Davis, who impressed in 2020 after Christian McCaffery went down with an injury. A powerful runner with some nice pace, Davis lends itself to a Bell Cow role in Arthur Smith’s Offense, but he’s by no means an elite back. Davis is also the only notable RB in the rotations alongside Wayne Gallman, who served as a backup for Saquon in NY. This goes to the Eagles.
O-Line has been a constant strength for the Philadelphia Eagles and while injuries caused a bad year for the group in 2020, they are hoping to recover and solidify themselves as the top unit in the league. All 5 positions have capable starters, starting with the newly declared left starter Jordan Mailata. The former rugby player could easily be described as one of the most athletic players in the entire NFL as the 6’8,346 lb. Tackle the way most people move 100 lbs. less than he can. The interior is led by former all-pro Brandon Brooks returning from injury, center Jason Kelce, who has been the rock of the Eagles line for 10 years, and Isaac Seamalo, who could be described as the weakest link in the line , but is still underrated and more than a capable player on the guard. The right side boasts arguably the best RT in the NFL, Lane Johnson, who is also fully healthy for the first time since 2019.
While the Eagles have a star-studded line, the Falcons unit has some question marks. The strongest figure on the line is former first-round pick Jake Matthews who, while not living up to his draft position, has turned into a really nice piece on the left tackle. The only other sure thing down the line is getting the right security guard Chris Lindstrom, who started all 21 games he has appeared in since his draft in 2019, center Matt Hennesy, who was shaky in his 2020 inaugural season, and Kaleb McGary which has only been a broke since its draft in 2019. While the Falcons have a young unit with potential, it’s incredibly unproven and very raw. Eagles take the cake easily here.
The Eagles have always struggled to find consistency in the WR position and their hopes will change in 2021. The New Age Eagles Wide Receiver Core is led by rookie Devonta Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy for his incredible season in Alabama. Philly hopes the extremely nifty route runner can have an immediate impact on WR1, but at this point those are all projections. Behind Smith are two second receivers with high-end speed, Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins. Reagor had a disappointing 2020 season for a number of reasons, but the Eagles are hoping he can return with a little more consistency on offense and a real off-season to prepare. Quez came as a pleasant surprise to the Org, however, as he’s proven to be just as explosive in the NFL as he was in college and is apparently well on his way to topping his pick in the 5th round.
This broad recipient corps is thin and unproven, but there are plenty of advantages here. With the loss of future Hall of Famer Julio Jones, the Hawks expect former first-round pick Calvin Ridley to take on the WR1 role for that team. Ridley had a breakout season of over 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2020. Ridley, like Smith, is a refined route runner with the quickness to part easily. There are big questions behind Ridley, however. Russell Gage has proven he could be a productive WR3 in 2020, but how will he translate as a second target? Behind these two is Olamide Zaccheaus, best known for his punt return skills. While the Falcons group is arguably thinner than the Eagles, the presence of a possible top 10 recipient in Calvin Ridley brings the Falcons up slightly in this category.
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Another strong point for the Eagles, the tight end position gives Jalen Hurts more weapons to work with. At the moment, it seems that both young star Dallas Goedert and former pro bowler Zach Ertz will share the opening appearance, each offering a huge advantage as a recipient. Goedert certainly has more juice than Ertz at this point in his career, but two secure tight ends certainly give the Eagles’ offensive a massive boost.
For most teams, it seems impossible to match the performance or influence of the Eagles-Start-TE duo. However, the Falcons have a chance to do so on the back of a young man: Kyle Pitts. At 6’6 tall, the rookie is by far one of the best TE prospects the NFL has ever seen. With 4.44 pace and incredible athleticism, Pitts is a nightmare anywhere on the field. While we haven’t seen him in NFL action yet, it seems unfair to disqualify his effect on the Falcons team’s inclusion class. We call this a wash.
As Philly’s D-Line ages, it is certainly still the strong point of the defense. Veterans Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham run a Pass Rush that was in the top 3 in sacks for the 2020 season. The 28-year-old Javon Hargrave also seemed to take it up until the end of last season and give the already powerful interior more depth. A combination of young high-ceilinged players in Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett and Milton Williams compete for edge snaps, and each has the potential for a massive breakout in 2021. One of the deepest units in the NFL, the Eagles D Line, is going to be Eliminate the run as well as anyone while having an incredible force to pass noise.
The Atlanta line of defense can best be described as abysmal. The unit’s only salvation is the incredibly underrated Grady Jarret, a force who commands double teams for his influence in both pass rush and run play. Other than him, the options are limited. Dante Fowler has some juice but isn’t an important factor on the side. Tyler Davison and Jonathan Bullard, the other two suspected starters, are next to no factors. Jalen Hurts should expect a day off provided that Jarret is taken care of, while Matt Ryan may have an issue upfront. Just point to the birds.
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The Eagles have not rated the linebacker position in the past, and it shows if you take a look at the depth map. New signing Eric Wilson should be a helpful tool in reporting, but he’s extremely limited to playing the run. Singleton is the opposite in that the captain made a name for himself sniffing the ball carrier and accumulating tackles but lacking Wilson’s skills. TJ Edwards is the most versatile of the group, but nowhere really shines. The Eagles group is thin, and that’s to be expected.
Atlanta has some much more inspiring pieces at LB. Deion Jones is a real star in the LB position and possibly one of the best coverage backers in the game. Behind him, pieces like Foyesade Oluokun and Mykal Walker offer some versatility with this second option, as well as some nice perks. This position is largely won by Jones’ underrated skills, but it’s an easy point for the Hawks nonetheless.
It appears the Eagles have a solid starting CB duo for the first time in a while. The combination of veterans Darius Slay and Steven Nelson is cause for hope in secondary school, and while the former is looking for a rebound a year after the 2020 regression, it may be obvious that he has been asking too much. Nelson, a free agent signing, is giving the Eagles a high-end CB2 that they have been missing for years. However, behind these two it becomes noticeably thinner. Avonte Maddox will return to its natural position in the slot, but the only downside noticeable is the fourth round Zech McPhearson who had a nice stock but is currently extremely raw. An injury could be catastrophic for the Philly secondary, but the starting core isn’t bad.
The Falcon’s CB core is much less proven. The current number 1 is sophomore AJ Terrell, who had a good rookie season but still stands out as one of the worst CB1s in the NFL. There are all question marks behind Terrel. Fabien Moreau and Isaiah Oliver seem like the most likely candidates for the CB2 job, and neither has more than depth in most cadres. With CB Kendall Scheffield’s starting position on IR at the start of the season, it is possible that both of them will be on the field, which falcon fans should not be looking forward to. That point goes to the Eagles.
To round out the final group of positions we’ll be comparing, the Eagles would launch a security duo of Anthony Harris and Rodney Mcleod earlier in the year, but signs are suggesting that Rodney will be unavailable for Week 1 is. Harris, a free agent, shone in Vikings high school and is a really nice starter for Philly. Mcleod tore a cruciate ligament at the end of the season in 2020 but had a pretty incredible season before the injury. With Mcleod not going to play, the Eagles are turning to both year 2 Kvon Wallace, a former round 4 pick with some perks, and Marcus Epps, a rotation player who made a few games in 2020. ll be good enough to play in the box or on the field when needed.
Similar to the corner, the Falcons lack both talent and depth in security. The first two will be Erik Harris and Duron Harmon, players who will be number two in safety or depth at best but not exactly terrible. Behind them is rookie Richie Grant, arguably one of the more exciting secondary school players who should have an impact on the snaps he gets. Really not much to brag about in the Falcons security room, which gives the Eagles the final point.
In the group points of the overall position, the Eagles outperform the Falcons with 6-4 (one draw). However, just looking at how many groups one team has versus another obviously doesn’t give you a complete picture. The Falcons and Eagles both have weaknesses on the offensive, but Atlanta has more proven and explosive weapons than the Eagles. The same goes for QB as Jalen Hurts is a huge question mark while we already know Matt Ryan has what it takes to win. What really matters in this game is defense, and that’s where the Eagles take the cake. The Falcons have abysmal defense aside from a few high-end pieces, while the Eagles have deep passing frenzy and more stable abutments. With the Falcons D being as thin as paper, the Eagles shouldn’t have a problem scoring points and the Eagles D have the potential to really put pressure on Matt Ryan due to his subpar offensive line. Either way, I’m projecting a game with a lot of goals, but the Eagles’ defense puts them at the top for me.
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