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
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
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.