Sep 17, 2011, 1:59 PM EDT
Atlanta’s defense is severely lacking in the playmaker department, particularly in the back seven. If the quarterback has time to operate in the pocket, it’s simply a matter of the offense picking their spots.
As a result, even ordinary offenses can light up the scoreboard, not unlike the Bears in Week 1. Matt Forte compiled 158 total yards, 90 of them receiving, including a 56-yard touchdown. Chicago’s receivers hauled in 13 passes for 189 yards. It’s an encouraging sign for the Eagles high-powered offense, particularly on the fast track at the Georgia Dome.
RDE John Abraham
Abraham has had nothing short of an outstanding career. He became the 25th player in NFL history to reach 100 sacks last season, and at 33 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down. Incredibly, Abraham went to just his fourth Pro Bowl in 2010, and he’s already off to a feverish start this season, sacking Jay Cutler twice in the Falcons’ Week 1 opener. Only Jason Taylor has more sacks among active players.
Last year, Jason Peters managed to hold Abraham without a sack when Kevin Kolb led the Eagles to a 31-17 win. Unfortunately, Peters reportedly is battling an Achilles/ankle injury, and is currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. The big left tackle said he expects to play, but he could have trouble handling Abraham’s speed off the edge as a result. If Peters uncharacteristically needs help in protection, that could create problems on Mike Vick’s blindside.
LDE Ray Edwards
The prized free agent addition for the Falcons this season is Edwards, who had eight sacks in each of his past two seasons with the Vikings. However, that was while Jared Allen was receiving most of the attention on the right side, not to mention the disruptive Williams Wall in the middle. Consider us unimpressed.
Edwards possesses neither overwhelming strength or burst, and the fact that he accrued a pedestrian 13 sacks in the three seasons before Allen’s arrival in Minnesota suggests he benefited tremendously from the help. Even then, his sack totals have been far from eye-opening. That’s not to say he’s inept either, and Todd Herremans will only make his second start at right tackle, so there’s that to consider. Still, this a battle they should–and need–to win.
Edwards’ backup Kroy Biermann will also jump in from time to time. While Edwards had a quiet first week, Biermann collected a sack and a 50-yard interception return for touchdown.
DT Peria Jerry
Jordan Babineaux, Atlanta’s top producer against the run, is out for awhile, so the Falcons are hoping they will finally get something out of Jerry. The 24th overall pick in ’09, Jerry missed all but two games with a knee injury in his rookie season. He played in all 16 games in 2010, but did not start and had limited impact. Now in his third year, it’s sink or swim time, at least until Babineaux returns. The Eagles’ ragtag interior held up quite well last week, so unless Jerry suddenly decides to fulfill his potential this week, or the O-line regresses, there shouldn’t be anything they can’t handle.
MLB Curtis Lofton and WLB Sean Weatherspoon
The Falcons have a pair of young, active linebackers in Lofton and Weatherspoon, who combined to fill out the stat sheet with 18 tackles last week.
Lofton is a steady middle linebacker who won’t blow you away with numbers or big plays. The former second round pick entered his fourth season with three sacks and one interception, so he’s not a game changer by any stretch of the imagination. He did manage to rack up a season-high 11 tackles against the Eagles last year, but that was with Kolb at the helm, and the pass-run ratio essentially 50-50. Lofton might be a little out of his element against Vick’s quick strike offense.
The Falcons are hopeful Weatherspoon will eventually provide the big plays from the linebacker position. Chosen 19th overall last year, he battled a knee injury, and wound up making only five starts as a rookie. Weatherspoon is healthy now though, and brings an infusion of athleticism the unit has lacked in recent campaigns. We wouldn’t be surprised if he was the guy you see chasing Shady McCoy around the field, or breaking through the line of scrimmage for a timely sack of Vick.
CBs Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes
Last year, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin absolutely torched Atlanta’s corners. Jackson was en route to a huge day with a 34-yard touchdown reception before a vicious blow to the head knocked him out, but Maclin finished what his teammate started, catching seven passes for 159 yards.
The Falcons return the same duo that couldn’t cover either receiver in 2010, so there is little reason to think they will have success in 2011. Robinson is a passable veteran who Atlanta picked off last off-season’s free agent scrap heap after he fled Houston, his best years far behind him. He’s managed just one interception over the last three seasons, so the only highlight reels you’ll see of Dunta are the illegal hit he put on DeSean. Shippensburg’s Grimes is actually the better of the two at this point, racking up 11 interceptions the past two season. He’s held up quite well despite being one of the most targeted corners in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
Regardless, the secondary is overmatched. The safeties are ordinary, Robinson is a shell of what he was, and unless the defense can get the job done in the trenches, there will be receivers running free all over the place. If the Falcons are going to have any hope of winning this game, they will have to force Vick to make negative plays, maybe pop a couple of balls loose, and hope their own offense can keep pace.
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