Atlanta Falcons Week 1 preview: Philadelphia Eagles

FLOWERY BRANCH — After being Super Bowl contenders and actually winning the big game, the Eagles, much like the Falcons, quickly have fallen on hard times.

ExploreFalcons at near full-strength for season opener

Just a few years after tossing the Falcons out of the playoffs and going on to win Super Bowl LII, the Eagles dumped their franchise quarterback (Carson Wentz) and Super Bowl-winning coach (Doug Pederson).

The Eagles are trying to rebound from a 4-11-1 season with a new coach, Nick Sirianni, and former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts.

The Falcons, who also sank fast after their Super Bowl LI appearance, are set to host the Eagles at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This will be the 33rd regular-season meeting. The Eagles lead the series 17-14-1. The Falcons won the last regular-season meeting 24-20 on Sept. 15, 2019.

ExploreFalcons depth chart for Week 1 against Eagles

The teams have met four times in the playoffs with the Eagles holding a 3-1 advantage. The Eagles won the last playoff meeting 15-10 on Jan. 13, 2018 and went on to win Super Bowl LII.

The game will be a mystery as Sirianni and Arthur Smith are first-year head coaches, who purposely didn’t show much during the exhibition season.

“I think it’s to both of our advantages,” Sirianni said to the Philadelphia media Monday. “I’m imagining that they thought the same thing that we did. It’s pretty common on new staffs.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t play a snap in the exhibition season. Hurts, who went 1-3 as a starter last season, played just 10 snaps against Pittsburgh in the Eagles first exhibition game.

“They haven’t shown some things either,” Sirianni said. “We just have to go back and look at tape of any of their time in the past. Again, not a lot of film on either of us, but (Falcons defensive coordinator) Dean (Pees) has called some plays and he’s a really good defensive coordinator and he’s been a good defensive coordinator for a lot of years.”

The Falcons did show that they can blitz during the exhibition season. They had four sacks in the opener against Tennessee, one coming on a safety blitz.

“When you’ve got guys like we have with (center) Jason Kelce and Jalen Hurts, being able to talk through those things on the sideline when there’s a new wrinkle is key,” Sirianni said. “It’s really good to have the veteran leadership that we have on this team, to be able go through that. Then Jalen is just really smart, too, so we look forward to seeing how he handles that, those adjustments that we’ll have to make on Sunday.”

The Eagles also retained tight end Zach Ertz, the three-time Pro Bowl selection, who reportedly was on the trading block. With Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have two quality tight ends.

“There are different things that we can do personnel-wise because we have good players on this roster,” Sirianni said. “Really excited to continue to game-planning for a guy like Zach Ertz.”

The Eagles also have wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns last season at Alabama. The Heisman Trophy winner is expected to be a major contributor to the offense after being selected 10th overall in the 2021 NFL draft.

Sirianni was the Colts’ offensive coordinator from 2018-20 and played the Titans twice a year when Smith was the offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020 and when Pees was the defensive coordinator in 2019.

Credit: HEATHER KHALIFA

Credit: HEATHER KHALIFA

Smith has battled with Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who was the Colts’ defensive backs/cornerbacks coach from 2018-20.

“He’s going to have his own stamp on that defense,” Smith said. “They’ll play sound. They’ll be attacking that football. They’ll be really sound in the secondary.”

The Eagles are stout up front on defense, where they are anchored by six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

“That’s a really good front that we have to play,” Smith said. “I think both of their fronts are about as good as there are in the league.”

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The Falcons also will have to feel out the Eagles early in the game.

“It’s tough because at the end of the day, you don’t really know what they are going to do,” Falcons safety Duron Harmon said. “You might have a hunch of what you think they are going to do, but you won’t actually know what they are trying to do until they get out there and run through their (list of opening plays).”

The Falcons’ defense will be ready to adjust on the fly.

“It’s going to be a game where are we are going to have feel it out,” Harmon said. “See what they are trying to do. How they are trying to attack us. Then throughout the game, we’ll know what they are trying to do and we’ll adjust from the sideline.”

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