The Eagles – who have dropped their last 2 games to fall to .500 – face a huge challenge in the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons.
The Eagles are not only trying to avoid slipping below .500 – they are trying to prove that firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo was not only justified, but that they will play better defense under Todd Bowles.
Yes, the defense blew a 10-point 4th quarter lead in their last game.
Yes, they have no sacks over the last 3 games and only 7 so far on the season.
But what about the other problems – like Michael Vick’s turnovers, the porous offensive line and the unreliable kickoff coverage?
Is Castillo’s firing going to act as a wake-up call to the team, or is Andy Reid going to find himself like a stranded polar bear on a rapidly melting ice floe?
This week will begin to answer the questions which persist from a chorus of fans and observers which grows louder as the season goes on.
Five reasons why the Eagles will win:
1. They are 13-0 coming off the bye week under Andy Reid.
2. They have won 5 in a row at home against Atlanta, having not lost since 1988 at the Vet.
3. Todd Bowles will be able to stand up to Jim Washburn and scrap the wide 9 as the situation dictates.
4. The Falcons are terrible in stopping the run – and the Eagles have one of the best backs in the league in LeSean McCoy.
5. The Falcons keep escaping with close victories and are due to have one go the other way.
Five reasons the Eagles will lose:
1. The post-bye win streak will end in the same season that Andy Reid’s tenure as Eagles head coach will end.
2. The Eagles’ offensive line is terrible – and while King Dunlap returns from injury to replace Demetress Bell, the upgrade is marginal. Meanwhile, Danny Watkins’ ankle will either limit his effectiveness or force the Eagles to start rookie fifth rounder Dennis Kelly. To be kind, Kelly is a work in progress. To suffer another downgrade up front may be simply too much for the Eagles to overcome.
3. Matt Ryan is the best quarterback in the NFL so far this season. And with a defense that struggles to pressure opposing QB’s, Ryan should put up big numbers again.
4. Michael Vick knows Atlanta is watching. And a Vick who tries to do too much is a Vick that loses the ball, loses games and often gets hurt.
5. Atlanta is the better team.
What might happen: The Eagles get off to a terrible start, and Atlanta scores 3 first-half touchdowns – preying on the Eagles’ weaknesses in not pressuring the QB, in coughing up big return yardage and in turning the ball over.
The Eagles get booed repeatedly in the first half and finish the half trailing 21-3. But the home team rallies to draw within 4 at 21-17 with a balanced run-pass attack, while putting the clamps on Matt Ryan.
With just over 3 minutes left, the Eagles get inside the Falcons’ 20 and end up 4th and 1. They line up to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal that would still leave them a point short and with no guarantee of getting the ball back.
Unfortunately, King Dunlap gets whistled for a false start penalty and the Eagles reluctantly kick a field goal to cut the Atlanta lead to 21-20. The Eagles pass on an onside kick, kicking the ball deep – but not deep enough. Jacquizz Rodgers returns the kick for a 98-yard TD and the Falcons extend their lead to 28-20. At least the Eagles don’t have to worry about Ryan and the Falcons bleeding the clock.
The TD return starts to look like a blessing in disguise as Michael Vick leads the Eagles all the way down the field and into the end zone (finding Clay Harbor) – with 17 seconds left in the game. Unfortunately, the two point conversion fails and so does the ensuing onside kick.
Final score: Falcons 28, Eagles 26