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Keys to an Eagles Playoff Win Over Falcons

Philadelphia hosts Atlanta on Saturday in NFC Divisional Round.

The No. 1 seed Philadelphia Eagles face off against the No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Divisional Round this Saturday. With the season on the line, here are the keys that will lead the Eagles to victory.

Get the Run Game Going

This is the most obvious and probably most important key for the Eagles in order to win. Until quarterback Nick Foles can at least look competent throwing the football, the defensive strategy to beat the Eagles has been simple. Stack the box. Take away the middle of the field. Finally, force Foles to beat you with his arm on the outside, which he has yet to show he can do. The stable of running backs for the Eagles was a key component of their offense all season. However, since Carson Wentz went down with his ACL injury they have been unable to get the run game going. Through the first three months of the season, the Eagles were averaging about 4.8 yards per carry. Since December, that average has plummeted to four.

The Eagles only failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards in a game four times this season, one of which was Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, where they did not yet have running back Jay Ajayi. Two of the other three came in weeks 16 and 17 respectively, both with Nick Foles at the helm. Of course, I have to mention the Week 17 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys was meaningless from a playoff seeding standpoint. Even so, they must get in a rhythm and running downfield against the Falcons if they want to open up the field for Foles and stand a chance. Which leads to the next key.

Make it Easy on Foles

This as well is important but certainly far from an easy task. If we’ve learned anything about Foles since Wentz went down, it’s that his 27 touchdown season may be the biggest fluke in the history of the NFL. However, there may still be hope. Foles has looked uncomfortable, hesitant, and jittery at times this season, even in a clean pocket but receivers are still creating separation. Even in Foles’ four-touchdown performance and probably his most impressive showing this season, against the New York Giants, he wasn’t much better than he has been the rest of the season in regards to accuracy. But, his receivers stepped up and made some highly difficult catches that made Foles look decent at least and gave him and the offense confidence.

Foles has to at least give them a chance to make the plays, as there definitely isn’t a shortage of weapons in the Eagles offense that can make any average quarterback, maybe even Foles, look good. Expect lots of screens and dump-offs early to get Foles in a rhythm, but to come away with the win, he’s going to have to hit some big plays downfield.

Defense Must Show Up

Of course, the defense must show up in any playoff game, but with the Eagles, it’s a bit different. There’s no question the talent is there. They have maybe the most disruptive defensive line, a premium front seven, and finished the season in the top five for both opponents points per game and total yardage. The secondary has been inconsistent, to say the least. To their credit, they have played fairly well most of the season but it may be that much of their success comes as a byproduct of the defenders in front of them. When they haven’t been able to get to the quarterback, the secondary has been exposed.

In the Falcons’ win over the Los Angeles Rams, defensive tackle Aaron Donald was able to dominate the interior linemen of the Falcons. That, in turn, disrupted both the run game and quarterback Matt Ryan. Part of this is due to just how great of a player Donald is, recently named a first team all-pro. However, the guard positions could also be Atlanta’s biggest weakness, especially after recently putting guard Andy Levitre on the IR. Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan should have a field day against them.

However, the secondary will also have to hold up their end of their bargain, especially against a strong receiving corps featuring Julio Jones. The Eagles corners have recently been beat a lot recently after biting on double moves and sluggos. Expect the Falcons to feature several of these. It will be important for the secondary to remain disciplined and not play too aggressively.

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