The Eagles and Falcons are well acquainted, having played each other in each of the previous three seasons including in January's divisional playoff round. Atlanta, of course, hasn't played a game since ( excluding the preseason). Aside from a few minor changes, the players and the schemes are relatively the same as the teams meet again in Thursday night's 2018 season opener. The Super Bowl champion Eagles don't look much different either. Both teams have dissected the film from that game.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn: You go back and look at it. It's part of our scouting report. We've added some new pieces to our style of play. They have, too. So I'm sure both sides will have some un-scouted looks that neither has shown since the season ended and the preseason.
But you are what you are.
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz:There's going to be one or two things that are exotic that we'll have to dissect on the sideline. Everyone has a few wrinkles up their sleeves for the first game … but each team has their bread and butter.
Here's Part 1 of my film breakdown, looking at the Eagles offense vs. the Falcons defense. (Here's Part 2 on the Eagles defense vs. the Falcons offense.)
Quinn comes from the Pete Carroll school of defense. His scheme isn't exotic. There's a lot single-high safety with man coverage underneath or Cover 3 zone. The Falcons play their defense and they're sound.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson: It's a really good defense. Because they don't do a lot defensively, they kind of just line up and make you march down the field. … Those have always been tough defenses to scheme against.
The Eagles will likely try to establish the run game early with Jay Ajayi. He gained 50 yards on eight carries before the half in the playoff meeting. He had success with inside zone runs that created space with pulling linemen.
Ajayi gained six yards on this carry, behind a Lane Johnson pull, but he fumbled on the second play of the game. He was held to only four yards on six carries after the break.
Ajayi: They're a speedy defense. They got athletic players all around and they do a good job of flying to the ball.
Linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell cover a lot of ground.
Johnson: They do a good job of getting a jam front, trying to create mismatches. That's kind of their M.O.
The Falcons will have a strong safety in the box on occasion, mostly Keanu Neal. Ertz and fellow tight Trey Burton had trouble blocking the edges in the second half. Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert looked decent in the preseason, but he has yet to be tested in the regular season.
Ertz is a matchup problem for most teams. He's bigger than defensive backs, faster than linebackers and runs routes as well as any NFL tight end. The Falcons had both safeties – Neal and Ricardo Allen – and linebacker Duke Riley cover him last year.
Ertz: They're all established players, really good players. So I'm going to have my hands with all three of those guys, whoever they put on me.
Ertz only caught 3 of 5 targets for 32 yards in the playoffs, but with Alshon Jeffery out he could be the focal point. He should get the green light when matched up vs. Riley.
The Falcons have two solid cover corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Their man skills allow Quinn to stick in his base coverage if the Eagles go up tempo. On his play, Foles had nowhere to go and took a sack.
In zone, the Falcons' Cover 3 can sometimes look like single-high man pre-snap. Nick Foles will need to use the Eagles' motions to get pre-snap reads.
Eagles OC Mike Groh: They do a really good job of making it look like they're doing one thing but disguising their coverages – and they mix it up enough.
Foles entered the playoffs in a slump. As great as he played in the final two games, he got off to a slow start against the Falcons. He overshot an open Burton on this second-quarter corner route.
Foles: You never really know 'til you get in the game, because the bullets are flying, things are going on, the defense is giving you different looks. There's adversity.
With the Eagles trailing 10-6 late in the first half, Foles tried to mount a drive. He got lucky when a toss to Jeffery on a deep dig caromed off Neal and into the arms of Torrey Smith.
But Foles has shown great resiliency throughout his career, and this 15-yard out to Jeffery as the seconds ticked down set up a 53-yard Jake Elliott field goal.
Foles: I have to get to the point where, in the game, I'm not really thinking, I'm just seeing and reacting and understanding subconsciously. That's sort of where I hit my zone.
Pederson used his RPO game to help get Foles in rhythm. On the Eagles' second drive of the second half, the quarterback got going with slant passes to Jeffery.
Foles became adept at reading coverages – man or zone – and leverages on RPOs in the postseason.
Quinn: What I saw was really good execution … in terms of making decisions of what to do. When you talk about the option piece of it, you're usually talking about a leverage of a defender. OK, do I see a linebacker run? Do I rip a pass in there? Do I see the linebacker sitting up, hand it off?
In an RPO, so often it can be dependent upon the leverage of a defender. … Whether a player's playing man-to-man or zone there's a certain leverage that can take place. It some ways when zone read came about it was a reading of a defensive end. Do I hand it off or do I keep it?This is an extension of that. Do I hand it off based or based off the leverage of a linebacker or safety do I rip it in?With Philadelphia, they're equipped to run both of those.
Foles is more mobile than given credit. But he needs a consistently clean pocket. He was sacked only once and hit only four times in the playoff game. On this play, he had to step up, but he had space and delivered a third down strike to Jeffery.
The Eagles had most of their success through the air with three-receiver sets, but with Jeffery and Mack Hollins out for Thursday can Pederson trust Markus Wheaton or Shelton Gibson on the outside?
The Falcons have two quick edge rushers in Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley. Johnson was an all pro last season and Jason Peters was playing a high level before his season-ending injury, but the 36-year-old left tackle hasn't played since October.
The Eagles' screen game improved as last season progressed. With Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles, they have three backs that run well in space. And they have athletic offensive linemen to get out and create lanes.
Quinn: They have a very unique center [Jason Kelce], who can get out and lead the way and block people in space. … They have their timing down for it. They know the vision of what it should look like.
Pederson called several screens against the Falcons and, surprisingly, called the same screen on back-to-back plays even though the first failed. The second converted third and seven and gained 32 yards when a Stefen Wisniewski block sprung Ajayi.
Ajayi: He was able to take two guys out and me just being patient enough to let it all clear out.
The Eagles settled for a field goal and a 15-10 lead that would hold up, but they may need to convert all their red-zone possessions into touchdowns if they are to beat the Falcons on Thursday night.
Groh: We were able to move the ball well. We just didn't get touchdowns.