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.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).