Paul Domowitch: Falcons were ready for Eagles defense

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns in the Eagles' loss. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

THE NEW Eagles' defense of Todd Bowles didn't look all that much different Sunday than the old defense of Juan Castillo. It was like putting a fake mustache and glasses on Sofia Vergara.

"They did some things a little bit differently in terms of coverage," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "At times, they crowded the line of scrimmage and their safeties were very active, which we knew they would be. They actually ended up playing closer to the line of scrimmage than we thought.

"We felt like there were going to be opportunities for us to get one-on-one matchups. And we knew that when we had them, we had to try to take advantage of them."

Like the one in the second quarter when Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones found himself one-on-one against cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha on a second-and-14 play at the Atlanta 37. Maybe 5 years ago, Asomugha might've been able to stay with Jones. Not now. Not at 31.

Jones blew by Asomugha and outran him down the sideline, catching a perfect pass from Matt Ryan for a 63-yard touchdown that gave the Falcons a 21-7 lead.

Andy Reid's defensive coordinator switcheroo forced the Falcons to do a little more tape study, but the Eagles didn't do anything that caught Ryan and the Atlanta offense, which scored on its first six possessions, off-guard.

"I know they had a bye week, but you can only do so much as far as changing schemes," Falcons center Todd McClure said. "We know that they basically were going to be the same defense with a few new wrinkles.

"You can't change a whole lot in a week. You had all of training camp and the first 6 weeks of the season to put your scheme in. We knew, that for the most part, it was going to be the same defense."

Said Ryan: "Their tendencies were probably a little different than what they were coming into the game. They played some different zone coverages from what we had seen against certain formations. But we kind of prepared ourselves for being ready to see anything."

The Falcons attacked the Eagles with a steady diet of screens and draws that neutralized their aggressive pass rush. Ryan completed 22 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Michael Turner combined for 118 rushing yards.

"Their pass rush is as good as it gets, and I thought [offensive coordinator] Dirk [Koetter] had a great game plan to counteract that, and I thought our guys stepped up," Ryan said. "I think our offensive line stepped up and played really, really well."

Ryan was sacked just twice, and not until midway through the third quarter when the Falcons already had a 14-point lead and were about to increase it to 17.

The tweaks made by Bowles only seemed to confuse the Eagles' defense.

The Falcons took advantage of that uncertainty by going to a lot of no-huddle early on.

"I thought we did a very good job of executing and controlling the tempo," Smith said. "We wanted to not only set the tempo, but control the tempo of the ballgame. And I thought we did a nice job with that."

Bowles tried a fire-zone blitz on the Falcons' first possession. On a third-and-10 at the Atlanta 37, he dropped Jason Babin into coverage.

Babin found himself on tight end Tony Gonzalez and was called for holding Gonzalez on an incompletion that would've forced the Falcons to punt. Instead, it gave them a first down and they drove down and scored.

The Falcons' first score - a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to slot receiver Drew Davis - also came on a mistake. Davis lined up in the slot on the same side as Jones. Ryan faked a screen to Jones, which prompted the Eagles' overaggressive safety, Kurt Coleman, to bite on the fake rather than stay with Davis, who ran downfield and was wide open.

"Screening to Julio is something we've done quite a bit," Ryan said. "Drew just slipped behind the defense and made a good catch. It was a good design."

Many teams have used max-protections to counter the Eagles' pass rush this season. The Falcons didn't, but the screens and draws had the same effect.

"The running game was a key," McClure said. "You can't get one-dimensional with that pass rush. You've got to make them respect the run. I felt like we got our running game going today. It kept them on their heels."

 


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pdomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at eagletarian.com.