Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Offense

Eagles Opposition Report: Falcons Offense

Here's our weekly look at the key players facing the Eagles. First up, the Atlanta Falcons offense. Kulp will be along later with a look at the D.

QB Matt Ryan

Matty Ice came into the 2011 season with a lot of promise, manning the helm of a high-powered offense. That promise glanced against the rocks in Atlanta's opening weekend 30-12 loss to the Bears, but I doubt permanent damage was done. In fact, I'd rather the Falcons hadn't gotten smoked in week 1, because they'll be desperate to stay out of the 0-2 hole. Ryan in particular will be eager to put last week behind him, having been turfed five times by the Bears, in addition to being picked off and fumbling awkwardly, resulting in a Brian Urlacher touchdown. He did throw for more than 300 yards though, and he has weapons enough to have a huge day if he can keep the turnovers to a minimum. If his line can't keep him upright, that'll be a tall challenge against an Eagles pass rush that looked good in Week 1 and of course the cornerback tandem of Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel.

Ryan, a native of Exton, averaged 263.5 yards in his first two starts against the Eagles, with four touchdowns and three interceptions (250, 3 TD, 1 INT last meeting).

RB Michael Turner

Many of the preseason stories about Turner conclusively stated that he lost a step down the stretch last year, and that he was in danger of regression if not injury at some point in 2011. His YPC trended downward in 2010, as did the Falcons' overall ability to control the game by running the ball. Turner also suffered and played through a groin injury that required surgery in the off-season. Red flags? To be sure. But that's not to say he's done, and durability issues are unlikely to be a major factor in a Week 2 game. The reports of Turner's demise also overblown. He finished third in rushing yards and scored 12 TDs, four of which came in weeks 14 and 17. Turner also topped 100 yards rushing seven times last year, and he did it again in week 1 despite getting only 10 carries as the Falcons played from behind. Surprisingly, the 250-pounder picked up 40 yards on three receptions as well. His partners in the Atlanta backfield also did well in the receiving game, with Jason Snelling picking up 32 yards on five carries and rookie Jacquizz Rodgers adding three more for 33 yards. Neither were factors in the ground attack, which isn't surprising given the deficit the team faced for most of the game.

After Steven Jackson broke off a long TD run to open the Eagles-Rams game and Cadillac Williams picked up where he left off, bottling up Turner could be a tough task for the Birds. Regardless of whether you think he has enough in the tank for another productive season, it's unlikely his previous heavy workloads will catch up with him as early as Sunday. Of course, that was true of Steven Jackson in Week 1 too, and we know how that turned out. Castillo's defense isn't counting on an injury though, and if the offense doesn't get off to a great start, Turner will have an opportunity to bang away at the Eagles' linebackers.

In the Eagles' 31-17 win over the Falcons last year—Atlanta's only loss over a 13-game stretch, Turner was contained to the tune of 45 yards on 15 carries. So, we know it's certainly possible they do the same on Sunday night.

WR Roddy White

Beast. Led the league in receptions last year (115), second to only Brandon Lloyd in receiving yards (1389), plus double-digit TDs (10). Dayyyummmmn. I'm not entirely sure I need to say much about one of the best receivers in the game, a guy who has gained some help in the addition of Julio Jones. Fortunately, the Eagles are about as well built to stop a top receiver as any team in the league, especially if they can get to Ryan the way the Bears did. Even if they do, it's hard to imagine Roddy not being a factor. He was kept in check for the most part in Chicago, with his eight receptions going for only 61 yards and no paydirt.

WR Julio Jones

The Falcons moved up to the sixth pick in the first round to ensure getting Jones, the 6'3, 220-lb wonder out of Alabama. He's a stunning athlete, clocking a 4.39 40 and broad jumping 11 freaking feet, per Football Outsiders. He's still a rookie, and like the rest of the freshman class, hasn't had a whole lot of time to get acclimated to his new system. Still, he's a threat to rack up yards lining up opposite White, where he picked up 71 on five catches last week, and for most teams, a mismatch waiting to happen. Like Roddy, the Birds' best bet of neutralizing any deep threat from Jones is probably more a factor of hurrying Ryan to throw short passes than it is blanketing the streaking wideout.

WR Harry Douglas

Now a year removed from knee surgery that kept him off the field in 2009, Douglas is already battling the injury bug in 2011. He suffered a concussion against the Bears, and while Rotoworld informs us he has passed his mid-week concussion test, he was limited at practice on Thursday. We'll presumably know more about his availability sometime today. Douglas hasn't scored more than one TD in either of his two full NFL seasons, but if healthy, he could be a decent producer with defenses trying to figure out how to stop both Turner and the two receivers listed above, and the guy below.

TE Tony Gonzalez

Another Falcon widely seen as in decline is the 35-year-old Gonzalez, whose 2010 season featured six TDs, but 400 fewer yards than his final season in Kansas City (2008) and over 200 fewer than his debut in Atlanta. Gonzalez says he feels great though, and there was certainly nothing wrong with his five-catch, 72-yard performance against the bears. As we talked about in this section last week, the Eagles haven't exactly been stout against TE producers in recent seasons. They lucked out a bit last week with Lance Kendricks dropping the ball both literally and figuratively, but Gonzalez enjoyed a two-touchdown day against the Eagles in 2010, albeit on just three catches for 19 yards. 

As you can see, Juan Castillo will have his hands full. We're not expecting a repeat of last week's troubles from Atlanta, but at least there's some good tape for the Birds to analyze on how to make things go wrong for Ryan.

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego — 6.19 — and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games — five losses — and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings (see story). Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We're better than this. I know we're better than this. We've just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it's something we've got to do. Today wasn't too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice groundball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It's hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it's all because we're missing good pitches to hit. We're getting pitches to hit and we're not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We're trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it's tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We're just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."