Eyes on the Enemy: Atlanta Falcons
The Eagles kick off their highly anticipated season opener at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sunday afternoon as they face Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. The game will see Nick Sirianni make his head coaching debut, and the man on the opposite sideline will also be taking the lead coaching role for the first time in Arthur Smith. Sunday will also see the debuts of exciting rookies Devonta Smith and Kyle Pitts.
It will be a big afternoon all around with plenty of the Eagles organisation looking to prove a point. Jalen Hurts will be hoping to show that he is the guy for the long-term in Philadelphia, while Miles Sanders hopes to show everyone that he is a sustainable running back one for the entirety of an NFL season. The Philadelphia tight end room will also be looking to prove things to themselves as Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert hope to show Howie Roseman why they deserve new contracts. There will also be a new-look defense for Eagles fans to watch out for with Jonathan Gannon now at the helm. The depth in the defensive line and increase in quality at the linebacker position has given Eagles fans a reason to feel optimistic about their defense this season. The Atlanta Falcons are also going out to prove their doubters wrong, and in the words of the legendary Jim Ross- it's set to be a real slobberknocker.
What changed for Atlanta?
It has been a big offseason for change in Atlanta as well. Former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith became their Head Coach, and despite the top-five draft pick, the Falcons stuck with Matt Ryan. They instead took one of the highest-rated and most hyped players in the draft in Kyle Pitts. The man viewed as the ultimate offensive weapon not only has people in Atlanta excited but many fans across the NFL to see what he can do in his rookie season. Another huge change at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium was the trade of the Falcons' cornerstone player in Julio Jones. It will certainly be a new-look offense come Sunday and something the Eagles will have to watch out for.
The Falcons also found a new defensive coordinator in Dean Pees. The 72-year-old will now control the defense after Dan Quinn was relieved of his duties during the 2020 season. That will be another thing that the Eagles will have to watch out for because they will be going into the game not really knowing what to expect. However, the same can be said for the Falcons.
The Biggest Threat- Calvin Ridley
The Falcons letting Julio Jones go was them admitting that they believe Ridley is a guy that can compete to be the best wide receiver in the NFL. He had a great second season totalling 90 receptions, 1374 yards and nine touchdowns. Those are the numbers of an elite wide receiver, and Darius Slay will have a difficult job keeping him contained. It is also important to remember that Ridley will also be eating into Jones' targets, so expect the ball to be thrown his way more often than usual. Ridley's presence on the field will also open up the game for other Atlanta players. With a lot of the focus on stopping him, there will be open spaces for the other Atlanta offensive players to capitalise upon. How the Eagles deal with Ridley may be the deciding factor in this game.
What to Target- The Falcons Secondary
The Atlanta defense was the worst against the pass last season, giving up 4697 yards through the air. Despite the obvious issues, not much has been done to change the fortunes. They drafted safety Richie Grant in the second round, but apart from that, there has not been any significant changes. AJ Terrell will be starting the second year of his NFL career against Devonta Smith. In his one pre-season outing, Smith showed just how nifty his footwork was. He got the better of the opposing cornerbacks on every single occasion. He could have a fun afternoon in his first-ever start. The Eagles tight ends could potentially have a huge afternoon considering Atlanta struggled to contain tight ends in 2020. Sunday could see the breakout of Jalen Reagor after a turbulent rookie season. Plenty of Eagles fans will be hoping for a positive performance, and this could be a great opponent for him to open his account for 2021.
Who else to watch out for:
Russell Gage- The 2020 season was mostly negative for Atlanta, but the emergence of Russell Gage was a rare positive. He had a breakout season accounting for 72 receptions, 786 yards and four touchdowns as his role in the Falcons offense increased. It will certainly grow this year with Julio Jones no longer in Georgia, and Gage will be a benefactor of all of those new targets that will become available. He will also benefit from the attention Ridley will get Sunday.
Grady Jarrett- Jarrett is one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the league. Recently voted into the Top 100 players, he is beginning to gain the recognition he deserves. His sack numbers may have come down from 2019, but his disruption and opening up plays for others are what made him so impressive. With Brandon Brooks returning from injury and Isaac Seumalo being inconsistent, Jarrett could cause the Eagles interior offensive linemen issues on Sunday.