Home-field, run game keys ver­sus Fal­cons

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

Lost in the re­cent tor­rent of turnovers, coach­ing gaffes and last­minute melt­downs is the dom­i­nance the Eagles es­tabished ear­lier this sea­son at Lin­coln Fi­nan­cial Field, where they op­pose the At­lanta Fal­cons on Sun­day (1 p.m., Chan­nel 29, WIP 94.1FM).

Home is where the Eagles have played their best foot­ball. They lead the league in fewest points al­lowed (7.7 per game), point dif­fer­en­tial (plus-20.3), sacks (4.3) and forced fum­bles (2.0) in home games.

Head coach Doug Ped­er­son’s in-game de­ci­sions have been above re­proach at the Linc. Even the run game has worked, the Eagles go­ing over the 100-yard mark in con­vinc­ing wins over the Browns, Steel­ers and Vik­ings.

At the same time, the Eagles have found it next to im­pos­si­ble to com­pletely move on from what they’ve be­come. That would be a road team that plays just well enough to lose on the last posses­sion. The Eagles have been beaten by seven or fewer points in four of the last five games, cast­ing doubt on the skills of rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz.

The Eagles (4-4) credit their fans for bring­ing im­mense en­ergy. They’re glad to be back in their own build­ing. But it’s been a while since they’ve felt in­vin­ci­ble.

“The at­mos­phere at the Linc is sec­ond to none,” wide re­ceiver Jor­dan Matthews said. “But we just have to go out and win. It can’t be a home-away thing. At the end of the day, there’s maybe one game where I felt like OK, when I look back at it, we got out­played. The other games, we gave them away. We have to de­tail our work and say we’re not go­ing to give up these games any­more, es­pe­cially late in games. “We have to fo­cus in.” The Fal­cons (6-3) are the kind of team that com­mands at­ten­tion. From quar­ter­back Matt Ryan, the MVP can­di­date who leads the league in al­most ev­ery ma­jor pass­ing cat­e­gory, in­clud­ing touch­down passes to all-world re­ceiver Julio Jones and un­der­rated pass rusher Vic Beasley, the Fal­cons have the tal­ent to not only play but win ver­i­ta­ble track meets each week.

The Fal­cons av­er­age a league-lead­ing 33.8 points largely be­cause of Ryan, the na­tive of Ex­ton who has 23 touch­down passes, five to Jones. Ryan has been ef­fec­tive be­cause im­ported cen­ter Alex Mack has made the play­ers around him bet­ter, which has trans­lated into a run game fu­eled by Devonta Free­man (five TDs).

Ryan can ex­pect the Sam Brad­ford treat­ment. That is to say, a ded­i­cated pass rush in­clud­ing ex­otic blitzes.

“We know those guys can take it to the house,” de­fen­sive tackle Ben­nie Lo­gan said. “But at the same time we have to bring the en­ergy. We have to be the ones to step up to the chal­lenge and just em­brace it, just run with it. Matt Ryan is a guy that’s go­ing to stay in the pocket. We’ve got to col­lapse the pocket. We can’t let him step up in it. We’ve got to do a good job of con­tain­ing him and hav­ing our sec­ondary get pres­sure on him all night.”

The Eagles’ sec­ondary, on the other hand, is a con­cern as Nolan Car­roll is the only healthy start­ing cor­ner­back. Leodis McKelvin (ham­string) has been gut­ting it out. Rookie Jalen Mills has hung in. The Eagles hope newly-signed cor­ner­back Aaron Grymes, who has CFL ex­pe­ri­ence, can put his 40-inch ver­ti­cal jump to use.

Ex­plo­sive as the Fal­cons are, the Eagles can pre­vent them from get­ting into an of­fen­sive rhythm by reestab­lish­ing their iden­tity as a run team.

The Eagles are 4-1 when they rush for 100 or more yards, which they’ve done in each of their home games. They’re 0-3 when they don’t.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Frank Re­ich, while con­ced­ing it’s been tough mov­ing on from the loss of right tackle Lane John­son, in­di­cated there’s a magic num­ber coaches dwell on.

“If you can get 125 yards rush­ing, usu­ally good things are go­ing to hap­pen in a game,” Re­ich said. “We don’t live and die by that num­ber but it’s a gen­eral barom­e­ter of where you’re at.”

The Eagles rushed for 133 yards against the Browns and dropped 125 on the Steel­ers.

“We want to be phys­i­cal and dom­i­nate the game,” run­ning back Wen­dell Small­wood said. “And that starts with be­ing phys­i­cal and run­ning it down their throat and get­ting push off the line and the line be­ing ag­gres­sive and us be­ing ag­gres­sive and just chew­ing at the de­fense. I think it just kind of kills de­fenses. And the games we have done that it kind of has worked, and we’ve won.”

The Fal­cons have solid team speed on de­fense, mean­ing the Eagles want to run right at, not away from, them.

Then there’s Wentz. The rookie quar­ter­back has thrown 40-plus passes in each of the last two games, both losses. He’s thrown four in­ter­cep­tions in the last three games after be­ing picked off just once in his first five starts.

The next time Wentz leads the Eagles to vic­tory with a fourth-quar­ter come­back will be, let’s see, the first time he does so.

“With­out a doubt, ev­ery­one around here is sick to their stom­ach with where we’re at right now with all these close games,” Wentz said. “It’s frus­trat­ing to not fin­ish. We’ve had chances as an of­fense to go down there and win a ball game or tie it up. It’s frus­trat­ing. We all have to do a bet­ter job and that starts with me in those key sit­u­a­tions.”

It starts with Wentz. But it doesn’t end there.

De­fen­sive tackle Beau Allen echoes team­mates when he says “I wouldn’t say Car­son Wentz needs to win it.

“I’d say the Philadel­phia Eagles need to win it,” Allen said. “It’s never one player. I know that sounds like such a cliché of foot­ball but it’s not on one guy. It’s really on ev­ery­body. As a team we need to fig­ure out how to close out the close games… es­pe­cially on the road.”

The Eagles are a good team at the Linc. They can­not af­ford to for­get that when they take on the Fal­cons.

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