I took a look last night at the Falcons' Week 1 loss to the Bears.
My overall impression? The defeat wasn't nearly as bad as the 30-12 score indicated.
Keeping that in mind, here are 15 thoughts on this week's Eagles-Falcons matchup.
1. Matt Ryan went 31-for-47 for 319 yards last week. The Falcons went no-huddle to start the game, and Ryan completed his first seven passes. He looked to be in a good rhythm until Brian Urlacher intercepted his eighth pass. Ryan was picked off just nine times in 571 attempts last season. That translates to one INT every 63.4 attempts. That's better than Michael Vick, who was outstanding with just one INT every 62 attempts in 2010.
2. Turnovers killed the Falcons against the Bears. Along with the Ryan interception, Atlanta also lost a pair of fumbles - one by Ryan and another by Michael Turner. In 2010, they turned it over a league-low 17 times and finished first in the NFL with a +14 giveaway/takeaway differential.
3. The Falcons and Eagles were similar with their offseason plans in some ways. Both teams felt they were close after strong seasons in 2010, and both targeted specific areas of need. For the Falcons, that meant wide receiver and defensive end. Atlanta traded up for rookie Julio Jones, who had a pretty good debut with five catches for 71 yards on six targets. The Falcons need big plays from Jones. Ryan averaged just 6.49 yards per attempt last season, 27th in the NFL. Jones had a nice 32-yard catch on a play last week when the Bears sent six defenders.
4. Speaking of extra pressure, Ryan was very good against the blitz in 2010, completing 63.7 percent of his passes with a QB rating of 100.2. We know the Eagles only blitzed the Rams on seven of 40 dropbacks last week, and I'd expect that to continue against Atlanta.
5. The Falcons' offensive line did a poor job of protecting Ryan last week. He was sacked five times and hit 11 times. One thing I noticed is Ryan will stay in the pocket and take a hit, even when there's pressure. He delivered just before a crushing blow on several occasions, including a 30-yard completion to Tony Gonzalez. Center Joe Hawley, right guard Garrett Reynolds and left tackle Sam Baker all had issues last week in protection. And most of the time, the Bears were only rushing four.
6. Aside from Jones, the Falcons' weapons in the passing game are Roddy White and Gonzalez. White was the most-targeted receiver in the NFL last year (180), according to Football Outsiders. His 73 catches for first downs also ranked first. In Week 1, he lined up on both the right and left sides, so White could draw either Nnamdi Asomugha or Asante Samuel, depending on the play. Ryan made a nice throw to White for 14 yards on a 3rd-and-10 last week. In 2010, Ryan was outstanding on third down with a 104.1 QB rating. Gonzalez, meanwhile, looked good in Week 1 with five catches for 72 yards on seven targets. He averaged 14.4 yards per catch.
7. On the ground, it'll be Michael Turner testing the Eagles' run defense. Turner had 10 carries for 100 yards in Week 1. He had 38 broken tackles in 2010, according to Football Outsiders, third-most in the league. On one carry last week, Turner was hit at the line of scrimmage, but stayed on his feet and scampered for a huge 53-yard gain.
8. Turner was a weapon in the red zone last year. He had 11 red-zone scores, and 10 of them came within 10 yards of the end zone. White, meanwhile, had 13 catches for 93 yards and six scores in the red zone. And Ryan threw 22 touchdowns, compared to one INT, in the red zone. In other words, the Eagles will be tested inside the 20. Last week, the Falcons were down, 16-3, in the third but had to settle for a field goal. I thought a touchdown there could have changed the game.
9. It'll be interesting to see how the Falcons line up now that they have some different personnel on offense. In 2010, they played with two tight ends 40 percent of the time, second-most in the NFL. And to a large degree, it worked for them. Ryan had a 111.6 QB rating out of two tight-end sets. And 229 of Turner's carries came out of two tight-end sets.
10. Defensively, the Falcons will have their hands full with LeSean McCoy and will be without defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.. Since the start of the 2010 season McCoy has averaged 8.3 yards per carry indoors (47 carries for 391 yards). The Falcons' run defense was OK last week as Matt Forte had 68 yards on 16 carries (4.3 YPC). Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was very good against the run, dropping Forte for a 3-yard loss and no gain on a couple plays early. He finished with a game-high 10 tackles (9 solo). Linebacker Curtis Lofton also made several good plays against the run. He finished with eight tackles.
11. The pass game was a different story. Weatherspoon missed a tackle on Forte as he took a Cutler pass 56 yards to the house. On a 3rd-and-10, the Falcons completely lost track of Forte as he picked up 23 yards. Overall, Atlanta just gave up too many plays. Forte had a 27-yard run. And Devin Hester had a 53-yard catch and run. Jay Cutler averaged 9.8 yards per attempt, which was fourth-highest in Week 1.
12. The Falcons' secondary features cornerback Brent Grimes, who was the second-most targeted cornerback in the NFL last year. He made a couple good plays on passes last week, deflecting them in the air, but safety Thomas DeCoud was unable to come up with interceptions.
13. Atlanta sacked Cutler four times and had six QB hits. They played eight defensive linemen, and John Abraham was the best of the group in Week 1, picking up a pair of sacks. Abraham will line up at right defensive end opposite Jason Peters. Last year, King Dunlap did a good job on Abraham, but he got a lot of help from the Eagles' running backs and tight ends. On the other side, Todd Herremans will draw Ray Edwards, one of the pass rushers many wanted the Eagles to go after this offseason. Defensive end Kroy Biermann also had a sack last week, and he made a very athletic play on an interception and 50-yard touchdown return. Biermann had only three sacks last year, but 20.5 hurries, according to Football Outsiders.
14. In 2010, the Falcons zone-blitzed more than any other team in the league, according to Football Outsiders. That means Vick and the offensive line will be tested in terms of recognizing what they're seeing before the snap and adjusting accordingly. Cutler burned them on a number of occasions last week. On one play, the Falcons' slot cornerback blitzed, and Cutler hit Roy Williams for a 23-yard gain. It's almost certain Vick will see a similar look.
15. The Falcons were the least-penalized team in the league last year, but had nine penalties for 65 yards in Week 1. The Eagles had eight penalties for 91 yards against St. Louis.