Despite all the predictable negativity raining down on the Eagles (3-3) right now from not only the talking heads but Philly's own fan base, it's somewhat encouraging to hear Atlanta's much-respected defensive coordinator Mike Nolan give us a dose of respect.
Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan referred to the Philadelphia Eagles' offense as "a sleeping giant" in his weekly press conference.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a ton of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but so far this season, they haven't been able to put it all together. The Eagles rank 30th in the NFL in scoring at just 17.2 points per game. But that doesn't mean Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan isn't worried about them as he prepares for the teams' matchup this weekend.
Nolan spoke to the media in advance of Sunday's game, and he acknowledged that despite their struggles, Philadelphia's offense is dangerous (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
"It's surprising when you watch the tape. It's surprising to me that they haven't scored as much because they move the ball very well. I don't know exactly what their issue is. They'd know best what it's been. They are a sleeping giant in a lot of cases as far as their offensive output. They have always been good on offense. They have been good since Andy (Reid) got there. Marty Mornhinweg, who does a lot of the offensive work, but doesn't get much credit for it, does an outstanding job game-planning. He's one of the top coordinators in the league. I think he's got as much to do with their prowess as anyone."
As Nolan said, Philadelphia has moved the ball well this year, ranking seventh in the league in total offense. Turnovers and an inability to finish drives have hurt the Eagles all season long.
One major area of concern for Nolan is missed tackles, and Atlanta cannot afford many against a running back like LeSean McCoy. The Falcons have one of the worst run defenses in the league, so McCoy should get plenty of opportunities. Nolan said that his players just need to focus and keep working on getting better at tackling.
The Falcons enter the bye week as the only undefeated team in the NFL at 6-0. The bad news for Atlanta? The Falcons have "limped" into the bye week with close wins over Carolina (1-4), Washington (3-3) and Oakland (1-4). While the Falcons should be very happy to be undefeated, they understand that the mission is far from accomplished and the team still has a lot of issues to work out if they want to make a dent in their winless playoff reputation.
The Atlanta defense has been up and down this year as they have been doing some very good things— and there are other things they aren't doing so well. Right now, the Falcons are 21st in the league in yards allowed. The big issue has been stopping the run (the Falcons are 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed and have given up at least 100 yards in every game so far). The good news for them is that despite giving up all of those yards, the Falcons are sixth in the league in points allowed, giving up 18.8 points per game. How is that possible? Turnovers. The Falcons are first in the league in take-aways with 17 (tied with Chicago) and turnover margin of +10 (tied with New England).
The Falcons' defense has to toughen up against the run as the competition will be stiffer as the season moves forward. Defensive tackle Corey Peters is now able to come off the "physically unable to perform" list and could be a big addition to the squad if he is healthy and ready to return after this bye week (or shortly thereafter).
Offensively, the Falcons have had good and bad games and are currently right in the middle of the league in terms of yards gained per game. The Falcons are 10th in total passing yards but just 25th in total rushing yards. In terms of points scored, the Falcons are among the league leaders as they are sixth in the league. Again, this can be contributed to minimizing turnovers, as the Falcons have turned it over just seven times in six games— which is a good stat. It's great when you once again consider the turnover margin differential that is in the Falcons' favor. The Pizzini-trending negative stat here is that the Falcons have turned the ball over five times in the last two games (versus turning it over two times in the first four games). That's a very poor trend for Atlanta, and it's good for them that maybe the bye week allows them to get that trend turned around.
So far the Falcons have zero wins against teams that currently have a winning record. You can only play the teams in front of you, but I don't think we know exactly how good the Falcons are just yet. It's clear that the Falcons need to do a better job stopping the run, and they need to be more consistent running the ball on offense (they don't necessarily need more yardage, they just need to be able to run it better when they have to run it). It's great for them to be 6-0, as the Falcons are off to the best start in the history of the franchise, but there are adjustments that need to be made if the Falcons want to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders at the end of the regular season.
All of this smells like blood in the water to me. The Falcons are there for the taking… I know, the Eagles have their issues right now. But if you ever sensed a watershed moment of opportunity for the 2012 Eagles to put something great up on tape, this is it.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had his weekly press conference, and he spoke about how the Eagles' change in defensive coordinator affected his preparation for this weekend's game.
In his weekly press conference, Koetter was asked how the change would affect his preparation (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
"That's the million dollar question this week because you don't really know the answer. All we can go with is what they have been doing so far. Obviously, there is going to be some kind of a change or they wouldn't have changed coordinators. The talk seems to be is that they are going to become more of a pressure team. They have not been a big pressure team in terms of how many guys they rush. But they do put a lot of pressure on the quarterback with the four-man rush, as good as any team in the league. So, I guess if I was reading between the lines, I would say they are going to blitz more."
Koetter touched on a variety of other topics, including how Atlanta will attack Philadelphia's vaunted cornerback duo of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Koetter also brought up the "Over Wide Tackle Nine Technique" defense, which as we know is the term for when the defensive ends line up outside the tight end and crash down hard.
Atlanta's offense has been one of the best in the NFL this season, racking up 28.5 points per game on the year. Still, Koetter knows his group can be better, and he will be looking for just that this weekend in order to grab a tough road win.
Falcons' head coach Mike Smith talked about third downs, noting that the Eagles have been good at stopping opponents, while the Falcons are good at converting them:
"Of course, you always want to try and get the yardage to be in your favor which means you'd like it be less than five on third down. It's definitely an advantage for the offense. Our goal would be to try and get as many first downs on first and second down and try and stay out of those third downs if we can."
Atlanta has converted 45 percent of their third downs this season. Philadelphia is third in the league, allowing opponents to convert only 29 percent of the time.
Smith also speculated that the bye week would favor the team, rather than leaving them rusty:
"I think the guys have had an opportunity to recover physically and mentally. It's been ten weeks of games plus two weeks of training camp before we started playing games. They came back and had a spirited practice on Monday. We had yesterday off and I thought today was good. We've got to get better on the execution in terms of our preparation, but I thought the energy and the effort was outstanding."
The Falcons are 3-2 after a bye since Smith became head coach.
It's sounding more and more like a Waterloo/Vidalia moment of opportunity for the Eagles to send a message, Maria…and address it to the rest of the league.