Premium Preview: Eagles / Falcons

In January of 2005, the Eagles beat the Falcons in Philadelphia to win the NFC Championship. Now, almost two years later, the Eagles look to again beat Atlanta, this time to clinch the NFC East.

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)

GAME PLAN:

The Falcons have had a tough time running the football with much success the last month, but the Eagles have been vulnerable on the ground all season long. Atlanta will try and get RB Warrick Dunn untracked early, while also mixing in short passes to WR Michael Jenkins and TE Alge Crumpler. On defense, the main task will be to lock in on RB Brian Westbrook and not allow him to gain extra yardage after initial contact.

The Eagles have become a much more balance offense since Jeff Garcia replaced Donovan McNabb at quarterback. They've run the ball 72 times in the last two games, including 42 in last week's 23-7 win over Dallas. They likely will follow the same offensive formula Sunday against struggling Atlanta, even though the Falcons defense is among the worst in the league at stopping the pass. In the Eagles' playoff win over Atlanta two years ago, they did an excellent job of pinning quarterback Michael Vick in the pocket, where he is much less effective than outside of it. They will try to do the same Sunday.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

  • Falcons WLB Keith Brooking against Eagles RB Brian Westbrook
  • Brooking will have to be more disciplined than ever in dealing with the dangerous Westbrook, who's had a career year in rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time, and leading Philly in receptions and touchdowns.

  • Falcons QB Michael Vick against Eagles FS Brian Dawkins
  • Just as much as Vick is Mr. Everything for the Falcons offense, so too is Dawkins for Philadelphia's defense. While Dawkins will be relied on to spy Vick and look to keep him from breaking loose on long runs, Vick must be aware of Dawkins' whereabouts in pass defense, as his 32 career interceptions attest to.

  • Eagles C Jamaal Jackson v. Falcons DT Grady Jackson.
  • Jackson is an immovable object in the middle, but Jackson did a good job last week against Cowboys NT Jason Ferguson.

  • Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter and WLB Omar Gaither v. Falcons RBs Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood.
  • Falcons will try to run the ball to take the pressure off Michael Vick.

  • Eagles WR Donte Stallworth against Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall
  • Simply put, these two don't like each other. They got familiar with each other playing twice a year when Stallworth was with the Saints and believe me, there were no Christmas cards exchanged. When asked if he would ever spit in Hall's face like Terrell Owens did, Stallworth simply replied "No, I value my money too much." He then cut off the conversation saying that he didn't want to get himself in any trouble. This should be a good one.

    Inside The Falcons:

    With the Giants win over Washington Saturday night, the Falcons are done as far as playoff consideration. Even had the Giants lost, it was an uphill battle for Atlanta. The Falcons have some health issues with two of their starting linebackers heading in to their final regular-season game against the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

    Outside linebacker Michael Boley didn't practice for a second consecutive day due to a slightly strained hamstring, and middle linebacker Ed Hartwell also sat out Thursday's workout due to soreness in a knee.

    Boley, who was injured early in Sunday's loss to the Panthers before returning to finish the game, was listed as probable on Wednesday's injury report, but he was downgraded to questionable Thursday. However, coach Jim Mora said it was more of a procedural move in sticking to NFL rules since Boley didn't practice again, and that he's confident Boley will play.

    Hartwell is also listed as questionable for the Philadelphia game. He's coming off a season-best 12-tackle performance against Carolina after suffering through another injury-plagued campaign. Hartwell already has missed eight games this year after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees during the preseason. In 2005, after signing as a free agent, he was lost in the fifth game of the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

    If Boley is unable to go, former Eagle Ike Reese would take his place. Boley has been a mainstay at the strong-side position since taking over there last season when Hartwell went down and the Falcons had to reconfigure their linebacking corps. Pro Bowler Keith Brooking shifted from the weak side to the middle, and DeMorrio Williams slid over from the "buck" to the "will."

    With Hartwell once again a question mark, the Falcons won't ask Brooking to man the middle this time, though, and will instead look to second-year pro Jordan Beck as the first option, if indeed Hartwell can't play in the must-win contest.

    KEYS TO THE GAME:
    The Eagles have rushed the ball 72 times the past two games, a bad sign for a Falcons team that watched Carolina hold the ball for 41:47 while calling 52 rushing plays last Sunday. If Atlanta can't shore up its run defense, the porous secondary will be even more vulnerable to red-hot Eagles QB Jeff Garcia. Meanwhile, the Eagles have been playing much better run defense during their four-game winning streak. The Falcons' offense begins and ends with the success or failure of its ground game. RB Warrick Dunn needs to get rolling early to provide momentum for an offense that needs to build some confidence on the road. Atlanta can't afford to come from behind considering Philadelphia has been rushing the passer better of late, and the Falcons' passing game is still far from imposing.


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