Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Defense

Atlanta's defense is severely lacking in the playmaker department, particularly in the back seven. If the quarterback has time to operate in the pocket, it's simply a matter of the offense picking their spots.

As a result, even ordinary offenses can light up the scoreboard, not unlike the Bears in Week 1. Matt Forte compiled 158 total yards, 90 of them receiving, including a 56-yard touchdown. Chicago's receivers hauled in 13 passes for 189 yards. It's an encouraging sign for the Eagles high-powered offense, particularly on the fast track at the Georgia Dome.

RDE John Abraham
Abraham has had nothing short of an outstanding career. He became the 25th player in NFL history to reach 100 sacks last season, and at 33 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. Incredibly, Abraham went to just his fourth Pro Bowl in 2010, and he's already off to a feverish start this season, sacking Jay Cutler twice in the Falcons' Week 1 opener. Only Jason Taylor has more sacks among active players.

Last year, Jason Peters managed to hold Abraham without a sack when Kevin Kolb led the Eagles to a 31-17 win. Unfortunately, Peters reportedly is battling an Achilles/ankle injury, and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The big left tackle said he expects to play, but he could have trouble handling Abraham's speed off the edge as a result. If Peters uncharacteristically needs help in protection, that could create problems on Mike Vick's blindside.

LDE Ray Edwards
The prized free agent addition for the Falcons this season is Edwards, who had eight sacks in each of his past two seasons with the Vikings. However, that was while Jared Allen was receiving most of the attention on the right side, not to mention the disruptive Williams Wall in the middle. Consider us unimpressed.

Edwards possesses neither overwhelming strength or burst, and the fact that he accrued a pedestrian 13 sacks in the three seasons before Allen's arrival in Minnesota suggests he benefited tremendously from the help. Even then, his sack totals have been far from eye-opening. That's not to say he's inept either, and Todd Herremans will only make his second start at right tackle, so there's that to consider. Still, this a battle they should--and need--to win.

Edwards' backup Kroy Biermann will also jump in from time to time. While Edwards had a quiet first week, Biermann collected a sack and a 50-yard interception return for touchdown.

DT Peria Jerry
Jordan Babineaux, Atlanta's top producer against the run, is out for awhile, so the Falcons are hoping they will finally get something out of Jerry. The 24th overall pick in '09, Jerry missed all but two games with a knee injury in his rookie season. He played in all 16 games in 2010, but did not start and had limited impact. Now in his third year, it's sink or swim time, at least until Babineaux returns. The Eagles' ragtag interior held up quite well last week, so unless Jerry suddenly decides to fulfill his potential this week, or the O-line regresses, there shouldn't be anything they can't handle.

MLB Curtis Lofton and WLB Sean Weatherspoon
The Falcons have a pair of young, active linebackers in Lofton and Weatherspoon, who combined to fill out the stat sheet with 18 tackles last week.

Lofton is a steady middle linebacker who won't blow you away with numbers or big plays. The former second round pick entered his fourth season with three sacks and one interception, so he's not a game changer by any stretch of the imagination. He did manage to rack up a season-high 11 tackles against the Eagles last year, but that was with Kolb at the helm, and the pass-run ratio essentially 50-50. Lofton might be a little out of his element against Vick's quick strike offense.

The Falcons are hopeful Weatherspoon will eventually provide the big plays from the linebacker position. Chosen 19th overall last year, he battled a knee injury, and wound up making only five starts as a rookie. Weatherspoon is healthy now though, and brings an infusion of athleticism the unit has lacked in recent campaigns. We wouldn't be surprised if he was the guy you see chasing Shady McCoy around the field, or breaking through the line of scrimmage for a timely sack of Vick.

CBs Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes
Last year, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin absolutely torched Atlanta's corners. Jackson was en route to a huge day with a 34-yard touchdown reception before a vicious blow to the head knocked him out, but Maclin finished what his teammate started, catching seven passes for 159 yards.

The Falcons return the same duo that couldn't cover either receiver in 2010, so there is little reason to think they will have success in 2011. Robinson is a passable veteran who Atlanta picked off last off-season's free agent scrap heap after he fled Houston, his best years far behind him. He's managed just one interception over the last three seasons, so the only highlight reels you'll see of Dunta are the illegal hit he put on DeSean. Shippensburg's Grimes is actually the better of the two at this point, racking up 11 interceptions the past two season. He's held up quite well despite being one of the most targeted corners in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.

Regardless, the secondary is overmatched. The safeties are ordinary, Robinson is a shell of what he was, and unless the defense can get the job done in the trenches, there will be receivers running free all over the place. If the Falcons are going to have any hope of winning this game, they will have to force Vick to make negative plays, maybe pop a couple of balls loose, and hope their own offense can keep pace.

Mackanin benches Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders as Howie Kendrick ramps up rehab

Mackanin benches Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders as Howie Kendrick ramps up rehab

Having seen his team's offense produce just six hits and one run in the previous two games, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin benched Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders on Tuesday night.

The benchings could last more than one game.

"I'm not going to tip my hand because I don't know what my hand is yet," Mackanin said. "I feel like I have to do something to get some offense in the lineup and there comes a point in time where I’m trying different things.

“At this level you’ve got to produce. You want to play, you’ve got to hit and they have to understand that. Nobody is here on scholarship."

Franco and Saunders opened the season hitting fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Phillies' batting order.

Entering play Tuesday, Franco was hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage and a .377 slugging percentage.

Saunders was hitting .227 with a .273 on-base percentage and a .383 slugging percentage.

Franco was leading the team with 28 RBIs and tied for second with six homers, but his inconsistency and inability to harness his free-swinging approach was wearing on Mackanin. Franco swung wildly at breaking balls on Monday night and struck out twice. The 24-year-old third baseman has worked hard on developing a more disciplined approach with hitting coach Matt Stairs, but has been unable to consistently incorporate those adjustments into his game.

Mackanin said he was surprised by Franco's consistent struggles. He hoped the benching would take some pressure off the player.

"Befuddled is a good word," Mackanin said. "As much as he works in the cage and on the field in batting practice and does it right, when he gets in the game his head is still flying and his bat is coming out of the zone.

"You’ve heard me say this many times: Hitting is like riding a bike. I can’t teach you to keep your head in there. I can tell you to do it, but you have to do it on your own and he’s got to figure it out. Guys have to figure it out. They have to figure out how to get the job done. Whether it’s cut down on your swing, choke up, use a different bat, use a different stance, do something different. If you make outs the same way over and over, it’s not going to change."

Andres Blanco started at third base in place of Franco and Ty Kelly was in the lineup in left field with Aaron Altherr moving into Saunders' spot in right.

Quite notable was that on the same day that Franco and Saunders went to the bench, Howie Kendrick ramped up his rehab from an abdominal strain. He took batting practice outdoors for the first time since the April 15 injury. He could be ready for a minor-league rehab assignment later this week and be ready to play in the majors next week. Kendrick can play both corner outfield spots and both corner infield spots, so he could push Franco and Saunders for work if he hits and they continue to struggle.

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.