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So What Was and Was Not a Big Deal in Eagles’ Sunday Night Loss to Falcons?

Sep 19, 2011, 2:14 PM EDT

A lot of things had to go wrong for the Eagles to fall 35-31 against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night. We look at which mistakes are indicative on long term issues, and which ones weren't a big deal.

Not all losses are created equal. There are losses in which one team gets plain outplayed in practically every aspect of the game, and never really has a chance at winning. Then there are losses in which two teams match up fairly close with one another, and the final score comes down to the bounce of a ball, or a timely big play. Sunday night was the latter.

The Eagles lost. Even though they did a ton of things extremely well, they also executed poorly on enough plays that it wound up costing them the game. Their uneven performance isn’t even that shocking given the sloppy outing they had a week ago, only last night, they were facing an opponent who was poised to take advantage of the many mistakes.

As is usually the case in any hard-fought battle that was given away, some of what happened on the field was a disturbing trend. Then again, some of it was a temporary lapse in concentration, or plain misfortune. After the jump, we’ll explain which matters are likely to rear their ugly heads in the future, and which ones we need to forget about as quickly as possible.

Michael Vick’s Concussion
On a positive note, Vick was much more efficient throwing the football on Sunday compared to a week ago. On the down side, he got injured. Who had Week 2 in the pool?

It’s difficult to make the point this is not a big deal. Concussions are serious business, and there is a good chance Vick will miss a minimum of one game. At best, he’s probably a coin flip for the Giants.

Having said that, he was hurt on a freak play. Of all the hits he’s taken and will take in the future, shots from his own teammates are the kind I am least worried about. The other tiny bit of good news is Mike Kafka was actually impressive, and Vince Young could be available as well. Their depth lessens the loss of a Vick in the short term.

Of course, we also have no idea as to the severity of Vick’s concussion at this point. Maybe he plays Sunday, maybe he misses one game. Maybe he misses a bunch. Until we find out exactly to what extent Vick is injured, it’s not wise to conclude one way or another about its gravity. INCOMPLETE DATA

Turnovers
Much of Vick’s success last season was predicated on his going the first half of the season without committing a single turnover. Not coincidentally, when he gave it away seven times in the final six games, suddenly they were a .500 team getting bounced out of a post-season bye, needing a miracle to defeat a division rival, and ultimately seeing their season end much too early.

The issue does not look like it’s going away any time soon. Vick turned it over three times, and even if you erase the first fumble which wasn’t his fault, the other two were bad. The fumble while scrambling toward the end of the first half cost them an opportunity to at least attempt a reasonable field goal, maybe even sneak six, while the interception in the third quarter was simply a terrible decision, whether the defender actually picked it off or not. (More on that a little further down.)

Add in a lost fumble against the Rams last week, and the giveaways are really starting to pile up. In the NFL, you have to win the turnover battle, period. Vick needs to be better at protecting the ball, period. VERY BIG DEAL

Dropped Passes
Jeremy Maclin’s drop to kill the Eagles’ best shot at retaking the lead late in the fourth quarter was certainly the most memorable, but far from the only one. DeSean Jackson dropped a touchdown. Jason Avant and Brent Celek dropped first down passes. It was an epidemic on Sunday night, and almost every one of them hurt.

Jackson and Celek letting a few get away is nothing new. Maclin and Avant, on the other hand, is slightly more out of the ordinary. Even though Maclin torched the Atlanta secondary for 173 yards, when every one of the primary receivers has a key drop, it’s a concern. Unfortunately, you just have to take the good with the bad to a certain extent. SORT OF A BIG DEAL

Offensive Line
I was surprised to see anybody thought they were the issue on Sunday night. Peria Jerry was allowed to walk into the backfield to force Vick’s first fumble, but other than that one play, they were solid. They opened holes, and gave quarterbacks time to operate. Don’t believe me? McCoy averaged 5.2 yards per carry, and the Falcons recorded zero sacks.

I suppose if this group isn’t perfect, somebody is going to assume it’s a problem area. They still have to eliminate those awful negative plays, but for the majority of the night, this group got the job done. NOT A BIG DEAL

Defense
The next two sections will detail specific areas of the defense, but first let’s look at the group as a whole. Specifically, the Falcons first three touchdown drives all began in Eagles territory–two following turnovers, another after a short punt.

That doesn’t mean the defense should give up a touchdown every time either. The Falcons reached paydirt all five times they took the ball inside the red zone, and both of their scoring drives in the fourth quarter went 80 yards.

However, it wasn’t an all-around terrible effort. The Eagles caused tons of negative plays, harassing Matt Ryan in the pocket, keeping Turner in the backfield most of the night, and conceding nothing to their wide receivers.

If the crazy offensive numbers around the league are any indication, conditioning appears it may be an issue after the lockout, which favors the offense. The Birds may have run out of juice at the end, contributing to the big plays that led to Atlanta’s fourth quarter comeback. The defense doesn’t deserve a pass, as we’ll reveal in a moment, but there were enough positives to take away that it wasn’t completely horrendous either. NOT TOO BIG OF A DEAL… YET

Run Defense
Remove Michael Turner’s game-busting 61-yard run from the equation, and the Pro Bowl runner carried 20 times for 54 yards, good for merely 2.7 yards a pop. Even a large portion of those yards (40) came on a handful of nice runs in the first quarter. The rest of the night, Turner was frequently bottled up in his own backfield or for no gain.

Overall, it was not a bad night defending one of the league’s most powerful ball carriers. Unfortunately, once he gets going, he can be a load, and that huge gainer changed the complexion of the game. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen, but we also should not discount how well they defended him the other three quarters. Still, they need to have a complete game against the run before we deflect blame too much, so for now… SORT OF A BIG DEAL

Covering The Tight End
The linebacker everybody seemed to be least concerned about entering this season was Jamar Chaney, but he got schooled in this one. It wasn’t just him. The safeties were of no use as well against future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, but when Chaney was moved from his natural position in the middle to strongside linebacker, the thinking was he had the athleticism to keep up with tight ends. Well, Gonzalez is pushing 40 years old, and it just wasn’t happening here.

Frankly, this is scary, mostly because there are no obvious solutions. Worse, teams will more readily expose this flaw than ever with the inability of wide receivers to consistently find openings against the Eagles’ all-world corners. The biggest takeaway from this game should be they still have major issues in this aspect, and Juan Castillo desperately needs to find a way or the play
er to lock it up. BIG, BIG DEAL

Challenges/Clock Management
First, the challenge that wasn’t. In hindsight, it’s easy to say the Eagles should have challenged Vick’s interception, because it did in fact hit the turf. However, it did not appear any of the players on the field were emphatically indicating the ball was trapped, and none of the initial replays provided an angle that would merit a challenge. Indeed, Andy Reid said after the game they did not have a look.

With that in mind, I’m not sure how angry anybody should be. It’s a situation where the head coach is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. If Reid challenges on a gamble and it turns out to be a clean play, you are complaining about how he blew it again.

As for the usage of timeouts when the offense had the ball late in the game, my guess is that was so Reid could talk to his quarterback in crucial 3rd and 8 and 4th and 4 situations. Let’s not forget, this was Kafka’s first meaningful game experience ever in the NFL. It’s not necessarily a bad idea to take some time and make sure everybody is on the same page.

It is what it is. Reid has made enough truly disastrous errors in the past, his infamy has taken on a life of its own, to the point where the man can’t call a timeout in any situation without at least one person questioning its use. In this case, it’s awfully easy to be an armchair QB, but you also have to consider the realities of the position. NOT A BIG DEAL

Overall
Let’s look at the big picture. The Eagles were on the road, against a team that won 13 games last season, who are now 21-5 in the Georgia Dome since 2008. The Falcons were embarrassed last week, and desperate not to fall in an 0-2 hole.

The Eagles scored 31 points on offense, and that was without Vick for over a quarter of action. The defense, except for one lapse, showed marked improvement against the run, and successfully blanketed one of the best wide receivers in the game.

There were a lot of positives here, marred by a few huge negatives. Nobody is happy after a loss, but they dominated in several phases. The Falcons just needed it more on Sunday night, and were able to take advantage of the plays Philly left on the field. It happens, and as long as some of these mistakes can be corrected, the Eagles should continue looking like a serious contender, even when they wind up holding the short end of the stick. Losing in Week 2: NOT A BIG DEAL.