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.

Best of MLB: Bryant homers twice, Cubs spoil Ruiz's Dodgers debut

Best of MLB: Bryant homers twice, Cubs spoil Ruiz's Dodgers debut

LOS ANGELES -- Kris Bryant hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the 10th inning to go with an earlier solo shot, lifting the Chicago Cubs over the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-4 on Friday night in the series opener between NL division leaders.

Bryant's 35th homer capped a comeback from an earlier two-run deficit and extended the Cubs' winning streak to four games. Chicago fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" as Bryant scored behind Dexter Fowler, who singled leading off.

Chicago improved to 19-4 in August while earning its major league-leading 82nd victory.

Travis Wood (4-0) got the victory with one inning of relief. Aroldis Chapman struck out two in the 10th to earn his 10th save.

Adam Liberatore (2-1) took the loss, allowing two runs and four hits in one inning (see full recap).

Mariners overcome Sale's 14 K's to beat White Sox
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale struck out 14 but got outpitched by Felix Hernandez and the Seattle bullpen, and the Mariners ended a three-game skid Friday night by beating the Chicago White Sox 3-1.

Hernandez (9-4) improved to 5-0 in eight starts since returning from the disabled list, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

Sale (15-7) gave up five hits and walked none in his fifth complete game of the season. He retired the final 16 batters, striking out 10 of them.

Sale struck out six straight in the sixth and seventh innings, one shy of Joe Cowley's team record.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a solo home run and Adam Lind added an RBI double off Sale.

Todd Frazier's 32nd home run in the seventh was one of eight hits off Hernandez until he left with the bases loaded (see full recap).

Gonzalez earns 100th win as Nationals top Rockies
WASHINGTON -- Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy hit solo homers and drove in two runs each, and Gio Gonzalez earned his 100th career victory as the Washington Nationals beat the Colorado Rockies 8-5 on Friday night.

Gonzalez (9-9) threw six innings and allowed two runs and four hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Mark Melancon retired Christhian Adames for the final out. Melancon entered the game shortly after Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer off Shawn Kelley to pull the Rockies within three.

While Gonzalez hit the century mark, Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-2), remains in search of his first major league win (see full recap).

Best of NFL: Tom Brady on target, leads Patriots to win in preseason debut

Best of NFL: Tom Brady on target, leads Patriots to win in preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Brady looked sharp in his preseason debut, throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan in helping the New England Patriots to a 19-17 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.

Brady relieved Jimmy Garoppolo late in the first quarter and completed a 37-yard pass to Aaron Dobson on his first play from scrimmage, leading to a field goal. On his second drive Brady heaved a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder pass to Hogan down the right sideline for a 9-0 lead. Brady's other two drives failed to produce points.

While Brady was on the mark, league MVP Cam Newton struggled mightily in his most extensive playing time of the preseason. Newton was intercepted twice and the Panthers failed to get any points on his eight first-half possessions. Overall, the Panthers scored just three points in 10 Newton-led drives.

The sixth-year quarterback was high on some passes and didn't get much help from his receivers, who had problems getting separation and dropped four passes, including one by Brenton Bersin on a fourth-and-2 at midfield.

New England's defense shut down the league's highest-scoring offense from a year ago. They also intercepted Derek Anderson and allowed only one passing play of more than 15 yards in the first half.

Garoppolo, expected to start the first four games for the Patriots while Brady serves a suspension for his role in "Deflategate," returned in the second quarter but couldn't get anything going.

In the third quarter he rolled out of the pocket while under pressure and missed an open receiver who'd gotten behind the defense. His six drives resulted in no points, although Stephen Gostkowski missed a 30-yard field goal on the New England's opening possession (see full recap).

Redskins overcome slow start to beat Bills
LANDOVER, Md. -- Kirk Cousins found a groove and undrafted rookie running back Robert Kelley made the most of his chance and the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills 21-16 Friday night in the third preseason game.

With the Bills (1-2) resting almost their entire starting defense, Cousins overcame a rough start to finish 12 of 23 for 188 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Despite coming mostly against Buffalo's second- and third-stringers, it was an important recovery for Cousins, who had thrown only five passes in the preseason and didn't play last week in an effort to test backup Colt McCoy.

Kelley ran for 51 yards on 12 carries in a personal showcase with Matt Jones and Chris Thompson out and after seventh-round pick Keith Marshall sprained his left elbow on his only carry of the game.

Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor played only two series, by coach Rex Ryan's design, going 2 of 5 for 11 yards before being replaced by E.J. Manuel.

Ryan also opted to rest running back LeSean McCoy and several key defenders, including defensive tackle Kyle Williams, linebacker Jerry Hughes and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore.

Coach Jay Gruden took a more conventional dress-rehearsal approach to the third preseason game for the Redskins (2-1) and got the kind of performances he'd like to see from top players such as tight end Jordan Reed, receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, left tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Josh Norman.

Reed, Garcon and receiver Ryan Grant each caught a touchdown pass from Cousins, and Norman looked sharp on defense along with second-year linebacker Preston Smith and lineman Ziggy Hood (see full recap).

Roethlisberger shreds defense in Steelers' win over Saints
NEW ORLEANS -- Ben Roethlisberger torched New Orleans' defense for 148 yards and two touchdown passes on his first two series of this preseason, then got the rest of the game off while the Steelers rolled to a 27-14 victory over the Saints on Friday night.

Roethlisberger, who sat out of the first two preseason games, opened by leading a 14-play, 76-yard drive on which he converted two third downs and found tight end Jesse James for a 5-yard score. His next series was highlighted by his 57-yard scoring pass down the left sideline to Antonio Brown, also playing for the first time this preseason. The Steelers star finished with 12 completions on 17 attempts.

Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell also made his preseason debut, gaining 21 yards on three carries, but his lost fumble in the second quarter -- forced by cornerback Delvin Breaux and recovered by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe -- led to Drew Brees' only TD pass. Brees' strike went to Willie Snead, who made a difficult juggling catch as he landed on his back following a collision near the back of the end zone.

Brees had a difficult night behind a struggling offensive line. It didn't help that starting left tackle Terron Armstead left the field unexpectedly in the first half for undisclosed reasons. Brees completed 9 of 12 passes, but for only 78 yards. One of his better throws connected with newly acquired tight end Coby Fleener for 26 yards, but it was called back for holding on Armstead.

The Saints have dropped all three preseason games.

Steelers backup Landry Jones went 19 of 22 for 206 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates. He also completed a 58-yard pass to Coates to set up Chris Boswell's 40-yard field goal (see full recap).

Adam Morgan, Phillies allow 4 homers in latest loss to Mets at Citi Field

Adam Morgan, Phillies allow 4 homers in latest loss to Mets at Citi Field

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — The New York Mets set the tone for this game early on Friday night. Their first two batters stroked Adam Morgan fastballs over the wall and they were off and slugging to a 9-4 win over the Phillies at Citi Field (see Instant Replay).
 
“There’s not much to say,” manager Pete Mackanin said afterward, “other than we have to pitch better.”
 
The Mets, very much in the thick of the NL wild-card race, played inspired ball in powering their way to their fifth win in the last six games. They hit four home runs on the night, including three against Morgan, and got a typically strong start from Bartolo Colon.
 
“It’s never good when you start a game by giving up two home runs,” Morgan said. “If I make better pitches, it’s a different outcome.”
 
The third home run that Morgan gave up was the killer. It was a grand slam by Wilmer Flores with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. That turned a 2-1 Mets’ lead into a 6-1 Mets’ lead.
 
Flores’ grand slam came on a first-pitch slider. Morgan threw nine pitches before walking Neil Walker, the previous batter, to extend the inning. One of those pitches was a foul pop down the right-field line that Ryan Howard could not chase down. Had he been able to make the tough play, Morgan would have gotten out of the inning unscathed.
 
Then again, the pitcher could have gotten out of the inning unscathed if he did not give up the two-out walk to Walker.
 
Or make a mistake with the first-pitch slider to Flores.
 
“It was a bad pitch,” Mackanin said. “He tried to backdoor a slider and it ended up in his wheelhouse.”
 
As for the pop-up down the right-field line …
 
“I was hoping somebody could run that down,” Mackanin said. “Nevertheless, you’ve got to pitch around those things and make good pitches. That mistake to Flores put it away for them. Morgan had command issues. Too many pitches out over the plate.”
 
In all, Morgan allowed eight hits, including five for extra bases, in his five innings of work. He dropped to 1-8 and his ERA rose to 6.50.
 
Reliever Frank Herrmann gave up the Mets’ fourth homer, a two-run shot to Asdrubal Cabrera in the sixth. Cabrera homered from both sides of the plate.
 
Meanwhile, Colon, the Mets’ 43-year-old control artist, did what he often does to the Phillies. He gave up just three hits and a run through seven innings before hitting the wall and giving up three runs without getting an out in the eighth. Colon had to settle for seven-plus innings of four-run ball. He is 12-7 with a 3.44 ERA. He is 9-3 with a 2.98 ERA against the Phillies as a member of the Mets.
 
“He seems to own us,” Mackanin said. “We can’t seem to square up the ball against him. He does a tremendous job with control and command.”
 
Peter Bourjos concurred.
 
“He’s different than any pitcher you see these days,” Bourjos said. “You don’t see many guys throwing mostly fastballs at 88 mph and sinking it. You see some guys throwing a majority of sinkers, but it’s 95. This guy changes speeds on his fastball and locates it so well.”
 
The game marked the Phillies’ first without Carlos Ruiz, who was traded to the Dodgers on Thursday. Jorge Alfaro came up from Double A and served as the backup catcher. He is expected to return to the Reading club on Saturday when A.J. Ellis arrives. The Phillies picked up the veteran backup catcher in the trade.
 
Alfaro did not play, but called the experience of coming to the majors “a dream.”
 
That was the only thing that resembled a dream for the Phillies on Friday night.
 
They have lost 20 of 29 games to the Mets over the last two seasons and 12 of their last 16 in Citi Field, hardly encouraging with two more games to play in the series.