The past two seasons have seen narrow, low-scoring victories over Atlanta in the playoffs. The Eagles failed to keep the streak going on Sunday primetime, falling just short of another fourth-quarter comeback. Jim Schwartz briefly turned into a mad scientist at the height of insanity, calling exotic all-out blitzes compulsively. It almost worked. Schwartz had all the antidotes to the Falcons’ offense until a wide screen to Julio Jones finally broke the second-half shackles. On the offensive side of the ball, the complete loss of the first-team receiving corps to injury predictably hampered production, but the unit showed enough resilience to take a late lead.
It’s a little difficult to tell the offensive gameplan because Doug Pederson was forced to use 11 personnel almost exclusively after Dallas Goedert went down. Gone almost entirely were the outside zone runs to Sproles from last week (probably wise considering Atlanta’s speed at the second and third levels), replaced by a greater number of downhill runs. Jordan Howard had some success, but the offense generally struggled to move the ball on the ground.
Wentz started slow once again only really waking up once the situation became desperate. Screens were once again ineffective, an issue that dates back multiple weeks, as Dan Quinn won the duel of coordinators when the Eagles had the ball. Many of the offense’s more creative screen and misdirection plays are run from 12 personnel, meaning the scoring unit was limited to wide, and traditional running back, screens. In the gold zone (40+ from the endzone), Pederson appeared short of ideas at times, trying to force the seam route time and again. The offense eventually got a spark from Pederson dialling up a ton of zone beaters, when Atlanta started to try to protect their lead, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
It didn’t take long for Jim Schwartz to decide he’d seen enough from a gameplan designed to contain Matt Ryan. It’s hard to blame him. The defense continues to struggle running cover-6, on the rare occasions they try. Another touchdown conceded this week, with Andrew Sendejo once again to blame. Seeing Ronald Darby, struggling to cover the post-route, Schwartz dialled up quarters coverage on that side. The Eagles executed poorly, and found themselves with an early deficit again. Containment soon gave way to chaos, as Schwartz’s calls became increasingly wild. Remarkably, the plan worked. Fletcher Cox almost had an interception on a zone blitz, and Sendejo made a huge sack on a key third down. Ronald Darby’s interception also came after Schwartz brought the house, another key play in shifting the momentum back briefly in the Eagles’ favour.
Atlanta creates disguise with play action better than most NFL teams, and that was on show throughout the game. Once again the defense gave up a significant gain to a flip-90, a run in which the back runs opposite to the direction in which the offensive line is blocking. The best call of the night, however, was a fake outside zone run, where the entire offense blocked aside from TE Autin Hooper. He mirrored the same exact path to the second level he’d typically take to block off the backside pursuit, before breaking wide open down the seam.
- Rookie watch update: not a good night for the fresh faces, Miles Sanders ran laterally almost exclusively and Arcega-Whiteside caught one pass
- Seumalo struggles: a week after praising the left guard, he had his worst night as an Eagle
- Wentz rattled: it’s not often Carson gets happy feet in the pocket, but a number of his mistakes resulted from off-balance throws, and he started to feel pressure that wasn’t there with the offensive line under siege
- Active ends: as pass-rushers, the pair were relatively quiet, but you could barely count on one hand the number of plays Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett combined to make against the run
- Corner competition: Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones both enjoyed solid outings, tackling consistently was a key part of that