According to my Falcons 2012 preview, the Falcons will just be coming off their week 7 bye, and will pay a visit to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Falcons have played the Eagles each of the last four seasons, making this quite a terrific matchup. The 5th consecutive year of this matchup will prove to be the Falcons’ biggest test so far, one which they may not emerge from looking completely unscathed.
Matchups are the most important thing to look at when comparing two teams, and I see one area that the Falcons held the matchup advantage in 2011, that they won’t in 2012. That would be the Eagles linebacking corps. In 2011 the Eagles boasted the best defensive secondary in the league with Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They also had a teriffic pass rush with Trent Cole lining up opposide Justin Babin at the DE position. When they lined up outside the offensive linemens’ shoulders in the Wide-9 look, they were a pass rush to behold. The Eagles have even bolstered that line with the addition of DT Fletcher Cox. He will make that line even more formidable. However, while the line sacked and hit QB Matt Ryan numerous times, and DBs Samuel and Asomugha both picked off Ryan, these were not the spots where the Falcons held the true advantage.
That was the Falcons offense against the line-backing corps. The Eagles had all the talent in the world on the line (save for D-Tackle) and DB, but couldn’t defend the run or deal with the tight end over the middle of the defense. Tony Gonzalez torched the Eagles for 2 TD’s and 7 catches, and Michael Turner ran for a TD and over 100 yards. This against the ‘Dream Team’. Unfortunately for the folk of Philadelphia, the linebackers were every bit as bad as the rest of the team was good. But now, the Eagles have signed LB Demedo Ryan from the Texans, and he will fortify that LB group. He may not win every battle with Tony Gonzalez, but he will certainly win more than the 2011 defenders did. As a Falcons fan, I would like to say that the Eagles aren’t vastly improved with just one addition, as their secondary isn’t much different and their line is at the least the same. However the truth is that Ryans makes that entire defense better. The defense will use more press-man coverage, which will play to the tremendous skill-set of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie. A homer might say ‘the Eagles haven’t gotten much better this offseason’. I would reply to that simply by saying that the Falcons haven’t exactly been flooded with an influx of talent over last year’s team.
Offensively, the 2012 Eagles will pose about the same threat that the 2011 team did. Michael Vick is very hard to contain, and even when you contain him, he can still find ways to beat you. The receiving corps features tremendous talent in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, two players who have and can toast the Falcons defense at a moments notice. Add in the threat that LeSean McCoy presents both carrying and catching the ball out of the backfield, the Eagles offense is just as potent as the Falcons, if not more so due to the running ability of Michael Vick. The Falcons secondary is better, but the defensive line isn’t much more improved, and the Falcons caught some lucky breaks in 2011 as far as having the ball bounce their way/having Vick get injured. I would love to pick the Falcons and have them keep rolling through the rest of the 2012 season, but I can’t do it in good conscience. I don’t think this is a game the Falcons can win, especially since they only barely did so in Atlanta last season. Doing so in Philly would be nothing short of miraculous. Vick may turn the ball over through fumbles or interceptions or both; however, I suspect that the Eagles defense could also coax a couple of turnovers out of the Falcons just as easily. As much as it pains me to say it: Philadelphia 31- Atlanta 21.