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.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”