Do you smell that? That smelly smell? That’s football. It’s back.
It’s whispering sweet nothings in your ear. You can try to ignore its sultry allure, but it won’t work.
You feel hurt that it would ever leave, but you can’t stay mad. You’ve been feigning interest in baseball for the past three months. It’s time to put away the nerd stats, crack open a cold one, and enjoy the sport of Gods. You’ve earned it.
When we last saw football, the Eagles won, the Patriots lost, and the city of Philadelphia was happy for once. It was like a Black Mirror episode that took place in the Twilight Zone.
Cops hugging drunks, people starting fires in the streets, cats and dogs living in complete harmony, it was mass hysteria.
And the quest to do it all again begins tonight, as the Eagles take on the Atlanta Falcons at home to open the NFL season.
These two teams last met in the divisional round of the playoffs. Not much has changed since that encounter, except for a fancy new banner soon-to-be hanging in the rafters of Lincoln Financial Field.
The Falcons will be looking to avenge their heartbreaking playoff defeat to the Eagles and – coming in as four point favorites – many are expecting them to do so.
Here are some of my biggest concerns going into tonight’s home opener:
Nick Foles was terrible in the regular season last year, then went on to have one of the greatest postseasons in NFL history.
He’s was terrible in the preseason this year, so does that mean he’ll be great in the regular season? I wouldn’t really bank on it.
In just about three quarters of play this preseason, Nick Foles 16 of 26 attempts for 171 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not very Super Bowl MVP-like.
You could make the argument that Foles struggled because he was without most of his top weapons, but it goes beyond that. Foles was a mess this preseason, consistently under-throwing or over-throwing his intended receivers. Oh, and he STILL doesn’t have two of his top four receivers.
He was also without a quality running game for the majority of the preseason, which limits the effectiveness of run-pass options. Foles could begin to look like his Super Bowl self with a solid ground game, but that something else I’m not ready to bank on yet…
The Running Game
The Eagles ground game as a whole isn’t much of a concern to me, but going into tonight’s game, Im nervous.
Jay Ajayi was hobbled by a foot injury for most of the preseason. Same goes for Corey Clement with a lower body injury. Darren Sproles is an under six-foot, 35 year old running back coming off a torn ACL and a forearm fracture. And Wendell Smallwood, well he’s just kinda lucky to be here.
Excluding Smallwood, this group hardly played in the preseason. While all four seem good to go for tonight’s game, their level effectiveness is yet to be determined. We have no idea what to expect in terms of rotation or snap distribution.
We can assume Ajayi will get the start, Clement will be the change of pace back, and Sproles will come in on passing downs, but outside of that, this unit is a bit of an unknown for now.
The Eagles have one of the better running back groups in the NFL, but it may take some time for them to get up to speed.
If the Eagles want to win tonight, it’s probably going to have to come on the back of their defense.
Linebacker is by far the thinnest position on the entire Eagles roster and with Nigel Bradham serving a one game suspension, their depth is going to be tested.
Jordan Hicks’ return gives the team their most talent linebacker, but outside of him, the group leaves a little bit to be desired. Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill are both relative unknowns. Grugier-Hill was a special teams star last year, while Gerry was more of a developmental piece. Tonight, both will more than likely be starting on the outside.
Grugier-Hill managed to beat out Gerry for the WILL linebacker job, and teammates believe he could really blossom in the starting role, but with Bradham on suspension, he’ll be thrown in at SAM linebacker tonight, position he hasn’t played much this preseason. Grungier-Hill on Falcon tight end Austin Hooper is a match up to watch tonight.
The Eagles primarily run out of the nickel on defense, meaning we’ll see more of Malcolm Jenkins at linebacker than Gerry, but I expect the Falcons to go after the former Nebraska safety whenever he takes the field.
I believe a lot is going to depend on the success of the slot tonight.
Sydney Jones is easily one of the players I’m most excited to see tonight, but I also expect the Falcons to go after him heavily.
Jones will see his first meaningful playing time tonight starting in the slot. He was arguable the best corner from last years stacked draft class, but he has yet to prove himself on the field. Jones might be the most talented player in the Eagles’ secondary, but tonight he represents their weakest link.
The Falcons have a trio of wide receivers capable of playing on the outside on in the slot, Mahammed Sanu, 2018 first round pick Calvin Ridley, and Julio Jones. I expect the Falcons to rotate these three consistently to try and keep Jones on his toes.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jones excel in the slot tonight, but I also expect him to have his fair share of rookie mistakes.