It’s been a tough couple of week for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. After Carson Wentz went down for the season, he came out against the New York Giants and turned the clock back with 237 yards and four touchdowns. The next two weeks were filled with mediocre performances all around the board from Philly, especially Foles, and led the team into their first-round playoff bye with extreme caution and trepidation.
Foles isn’t Wentz and there’s a fat chance he never will be. That’s not up for debate. Fans and viewers who are expecting Foles to replace the production of Wentz should give up that dream. And that’s OK. Foles doesn’t have to be Wentz to win in the playoffs thanks to Howie Roseman and the rest of the Eagles staff building a championship caliber team around him.
Now, Foles does need to be better than he had been the past two weeks, averaging just 101 yards through the air and more interceptions than touchdowns. The Foles performance against the Giants is the best-case scenario but it’s doubtful that head coach Doug Pederson will try to force Foles to replicate that. Again, that’s OK. Foles doesn’t even have to be that good for the Eagles to win. If he does his job and the rest of the team steps up, Philadelphia should be fine against the Atlanta Falcons.
Why Nick Foles Doesn’t Need To Be Great To Beat the Atlanta Falcons
Establishing the Run
The Eagles got Jay Ajayi for a reason at the trade deadline this season and this weekend should be his real coming out party this season. All signs point toward all the running backs (Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner) playing this week but Ajayi will be key especially. It’s been a running back by committee all season long, with Blount, Ajayi and Clement splitting carries mostly evenly each week. It’s been a great strategy to keep each back fresh and healthy all season, but this week against the Falcons Pederson should make it an effort to get Ajayi the bulk.
Ajayi has shown in his career that he gets better as the game goes on and the more carries he gets. His best performances have come when he gets upwards of 15 or more carries. With a struggling quarterback, their best friend often is a solid run game. If Pederson wants to take the most weight off the shoulders of Foles to make the game easier for him, getting the best running back on the roster more touches than usual would be a good game plan.
Getting the running game going only opens better things for the offense. The better the running game is, the more men the opposing defense commits to stopping the run. This will allow Foles to occasionally set up a play action or deep passing option with the defense expecting run. It’s the oldest and most simple strategy in the book, but it works extremely effectively.
The Defense Will Keep the Score Close and in Control
The Eagles staff will watch tons of film from the Falcons 26-13 victory over the Los Angeles Rams last week in the Wild Card round and they can learn a lot from it. Just from watching the game as a casual viewer on TV, you saw the Rams defensive line feast on the Falcons offensive line. Over half of the time, the Rams had one or more guys blowing up the backfield of Atlanta and causing havoc on their running backs and more specifically Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan was sacked three times and hit seven times and Ryan has shown over the years he doesn’t play well under duress. He only threw for 218 yards and a touchdown in the Rams game and was very close on multiple occasions to turning the ball over.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald should be more closely analyzed, as he was living all game in the Falcons backfield and went off on Falcons center Alex Mack. The Eagles have some pretty good defensive linemen themselves, especially in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Brandon Graham. With those two and company, expect the Falcons offensive line in the frigid temperatures of Philly to falter like they did against L.A. The Eagles should have no problem putting the heat on Ryan and their running game, where the Eagles ranked first in the NFL in run defense.
Another way the Eagles defense will keep the game comfortable for Foles is that this is a different Falcons offense from last year. The Falcons ranked first in points per game last year at 33.8 and second in yardage. Not this year. They have taken significant steps back after the loss of former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. This year, they ranked just eighth in total yardage and fell all the way to 15th in points per game.
This Falcons offense is weak, a shell of their former selves from last year. If the Eagles do their job, shut down the Atlanta run game as they have done all year and cause havoc for Ryan, they give Foles and the offense less pressure to carry the team.