Third Downs May Be Deciding Factor Between The Birds Of Prey
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By Matthew Asher
With both Atlanta and Philadelphia coming off their bye weeks to face one another, this Week 8 matchup will show which team took better advantage of the time off.
The two teams couldn’t have had more different off weeks. While the Falcons spent the week getting some much needed R&R, the Eagles fired their defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and replaced him with Todd Bowles.
The big question for this week will be if Bowles’ new defensive schemes will be the tipping point in ending the Falcons’ undefeated season. While Asante Samuel did play for the Eagles for four seasons, his knowledge of the defensive schemes may now be considered a moot point.
“I think he can give us some insight on the players, not necessarily the scheme. He was in that scheme for one season defensively,” Smith said. “He can tell you about the receivers. He’s gone up against them all the time in one-on-ones. He can probably tell us about the DB’s and he has. We’re going to try and get as much information as we can. We try and be as collaborative as we can be. We’ll take all the information in that we can.”
Ryan, who is a native of Exton, Pennsylvania, agrees with Smith about Samuel’s knowledge, but doesn’t think Asante’s experiences will make or break the game. “Obviously, he’s played with a lot of those guys and knows their tendencies…Strengths and weaknesses,” Ryan said.” At the end of the day it comes down to execution and how we play on the field. I think it’ll help a bit, but we still have to go out there and play.”
The big key for the game will probably come down to third downs. The late Gorilla Monsoon would definitely describe the third down battle as “the irresistible force meets the immovable object.” Atlanta’s irresistible force has converted 45 percent of their third downs (4th best in the league). Philly’s immovable object allows just 29 percent of third downs to be converted (3rd best in the league).
Smith knows the best way to counter Philly’s stingy third down defense is to avoid it if at all possible.
“We try to eliminate those opportunities by getting first downs on first down and getting first downs on second down,” Smith said. “Of course, you always want to try and get the yardage to be in your favor which means you’d like it be less than five on third down.”
But why are the Eagles so good on third down?
“Their front four is the reason for that,” Ryan said. “They do a great job with pass rush. I know their sack numbers probably aren’t where they’ve been in the past, but their pressures are right there. They force you to get the ball out of your hand probably before you’re prepared to do it.”
While Matt Ryan will go up against former Falcon Michael Vick, Ryan doesn’t consider that extra wrinkle to be anything special in the outcome of the game.
“I think having played against the Eagles so many times it’s not something guys in here talk about or think about all that much, especially offensively.”
Coach Smith agrees with Ryan, because while the players change from year to year, the coaching staff of Philly, specifically head coach Andy Reid, has remained constant.
“We’ve played each other the last five years. Schemes have changed a little bit, but a lot of the players are the same,” Smith said. “We know what they can do and they know what we can do. When you have games like this it comes down to execution.”
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.