In a battle of undefeated teams, something has got to give. Andy Reid’s Eagles have never lost a game following a bye week, and the Atlanta Falcons have opened the season 6-0 thanks to Matt Ryan’s maturation into a complete quarterback.
Without those added storylines, this game would still have all the makings of a dandy. On paper, the Falcons seem better in most areas, but since the game is in Philadelphia, it evens the playing field.
The Falcons biggest strength is their passing game; a matured and more complete “Matty Ice” under center and two of the best weapons in the game at WR in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Tony Gonzalez is no slouch either, and for him to still be producing at the level he is at this point in his career, is nothing short of exceptional.
Enter the Eagles biggest strength; their pass defense. Embattled Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo was let go by Andy Reid during the bye week so we could see some new defensive schemes from the Eagles this week. Re-visiting the Juan Castillo hire from last season, you would wonder why the Eagles would put an offensive line coach at defensive coordinator to begin with. That’s like promoting a truck driver to Head Logistics Coordinator; it just doesn’t make sense.
Without CB Asante Samuel, (ironically now with the Falcons) this Eagles pass defense just hasn’t been the same as it was last season. Or has it? Yes, it’s a tired storyline, but believe it or not the Eagles pass defense has gone up from last year in DVOA. (Defense-Adjusted Value over Average) The Eagles come into this game ranked 8th in DVOA compared to being 10th all of last season.
What has changed, however, is the pass rush. Tied for the league lead with 50 sacks in 2011, the Eagles come into Week 8 with 7 sacks. In fact, the Eagles are the only team with as many INT as sacks. So if the Eagles aren’t creating pressure, how do they have the 8th best pass defense unit in the NFL? They lead the league in completion percentage against with 52.7%, 0.01% better than Houston.
Key Matchup: Eagles Pass Rush vs. Falcons O-Line
Last year Matt Ryan led all QBs in times being hit with 68. Through 6 games this season he’s been hit 35 times. Once again, one of the higher rates in the league, and on pace to break last season’s mark.
Here are the numbers for Matt Ryan this season on a week-to-week breakdown basis:
Week 1 vs. Kansas City: 23/31 – 299 yards, 3 TD, 9.6 yards per attempt, 0 INT, 1 sack, 3 QB Hits
Week2 vs. Denver: 24/36- 241 yards, 2 TD, 6.1 yards per attempt, 0 INT, 1 sack, 6 QB Hits
Week 3 vs. San Diego: 30/40 – 275 yards 3 TD, 6.9 yards per attempt, 1 INT, 2 sacks, 2 QB Hits
Week 5 vs. Washington: 34/52 – 345 yards, 2 TD, 6.6 yards per attempt, 1 INT, 1 sack, 3 QB Hits
Week 4 vs. Carolina: 25/40 – 369 yards, 3 TD, 9.2 yards per attempt, 1 INT, 7 sacks, 12 QB Hits
Week 6 vs. Oakland: 24/37 – 249, 1 TD, 6.7 yards per attempt, 3 INT, 1 sack, 9 QB Hits
What those numbers show, is an improved Matt Ryan against pressure. The Oakland game notwithstanding, Ryan has been gotten better, (shown specifically in the Carolina game) against the blitz. Last season, Ryan ranked 24th in DVOA difference when faced with pressure, and when he wasn’t. Spelling that out a bit more, Ryan averaged 2.6 yards per play against pressure, and 8.1 yards per play without pressure. He’s improved so far in 2012.
So that brings us back to the Eagles pass rush. What can account for the problems the Eagles have had rushing the passer? Well, in 2011 the Eagles rushed 4 d-lineman 81% of the time, which was the 2nd highest mark in the NFL. With the aforementioned 50 sacks to tie for the league lead, it wasn’t done with the blitz. That then begs the obvious question in 2012; are Trent Cole and Jason Babin to blame?
Key Matchup: Eagles FS Nate Allen vs. Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez
Last season Nate Allen ranked first amongst all safeties in pass defense Success Rate with 77.8%. That same year, the Eagles were 3rd in DVOA against the tight-end. This year, the Eagles are only 13th vs. the tight-end. Is Nate Allen having a worse season? Or is scheming to blame? With the former most likely being the case, Allen vs. Gonzalez will be a very intriguing matchup to watch on game-day.
Is Nnamdi Asomugha overrated? Since 2009 Nnamdi’s target%, stop rate vs. the run, yards per play against the pass, and penalties committed have all trended in the wrong direction each of the past 3 seasons.
Given that the Eagles ranked 3rd in the league in CB by Sides last season, it will be difficult to predict which Falcons WR will draw Nnamdi on the majority of plays.
Key Matchup: Eagles DB Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Falcons WR Roddy White or Julio Jones
Personally, if Julio is matched up with Nnamdi most of the day, I expect some modest success from Jones, as Nnamdi has begun to struggle against faster WR.
On the other side of the ball, there will be a lot of interesting things to watch. I will be most interested in two of my favorite linebackers and how they handle Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy
Key Matchup: Falcons LB’s Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon vs Eagles QB Mike Vick and RB LeSean McCoy.
WR Harry Douglas- Out
Predictably, with a bye week for each team, both teams will be at nearly 100%. However, the Falcons loss of Harry Douglas has some significance as he’s the teams slot receiver. With no real depth here, I expect the Falcons to run the ball more than we might normally expect.
Start all skill position players from both teams
Start LB Sean Weatherspoon
Start Safeties William Moore and if you’re league is INT heavy, Thomas DeCoud.
Start DE John Abraham
Eagles win 27-24
(I think Andy Reid has some surprises for the Falcons, and I’m concerned about the Falcons ability to attack the middle of the field without depth at WR3)
Saints @ Broncos
Given the Saints new strategy of pushing wide receivers out of bounds when the quarterback leaves the pocket, (yes I’m an extremely bitter Bucs fan) the Saints will have much difficulty in Mile High this weekend. Since Peyton Manning doesn’t really leave the pocket, that takes away the Saints best defensive weapon.
Okay, sarcastic analysis aside, this is going to be another dandy. Both the Saints and Broncos match-up fairly similar, though not as much as the Falcons and Eagles do.
Both of these defenses have trouble defending the pass, that much is clear, but the weaknesses for the Broncos are not the same as the Saints. The Broncos defense is much better outside the numbers than the Saints are - as you might expect for a team with Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter at CB. However, they are absolutely brutal up the middle.
With D.J. Williams out at LB, Von Miller pass rushing, Wesley Woodyard stopping the run, and 22-year-old safety Rahim Moore searching for flowers sticking out of the grass instead of covering their spots, this team can be assaulted through the middle all day long.
Enter TE Jimmy Graham and WR Lance Moore, two of the best weapons the Saints explosive offense has. Graham is banged up, but if he plays, the Broncos could give up 1,000 passing yards in this game.
Interestingly enough however, the Broncos cover the RB very well out of the backfield, yielding the 4th best DVOA against opposing RB in coverage. Enter Darren Sproles.
Key Matchup: Saints RB Darren Sproles vs. Denver Defense
It’s possible, however, to throw some of this analysis out the window given the Saints are facing…
Key Matchup: Thin air of Mile High Stadium vs. Saints players used to a domed stadium
On the Denver side of the ball, Manning should throw for over 400 yards and 4 TD. The Saints secondary is abysmal, and their pass rush isn’t good either. Denver WR Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas should have field days.
Key Matchup: Brandon Stokely vs. Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins
With Tracy Porter gone to Denver, (yes that’s two CB now facing former teams in these feature games), the Saints are much thinner at corner. With Saints CB Patrick Robinson busy pushing Thomas or Decker out of bounds, it will be up to Stokely to stretch the middle of the field along with tight ends Joel “Salad” Dreesen and Jacob Tamme.
Unfortunately, play call analysis from both sides are tough to come by, due to irrelevancy of last year’s statistics thanks to scheme changes from both teams.
TE Jimmy Graham is Questionable with an ankle injury
LB David Hawthorne is Questionable with a hamstring injury
CB Tracy Porter is Questionable with an undisclosed illness
Start Lance Moore in absolutely every format.
Start WR Devery Henderson if CB Tracy Porter can’t go, and consider him in deeper leagues even if Porter does suit up
Start WR Brandon Stokely in deeper leagues
Start Safeties Rahim Moore, Mike Adams, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins
Sit all Saints and Broncos Linebackers
Saints win 38-34 if Tracy Porter is out,
Broncos win 38-34 if Tracy Porter starts and plays the entire game at close to 100%
Written exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com by Josh Kay. Send all your PPR questions to Josh on Twitter @JoshKay_Fantasy.