Football is back as the Falcons open the first chapter of this new regime against the Eagles, who are even less talented than Atlanta. Philly’s defensive front is surely the strength of their team, but there are plenty of individual matchups that will be pivotal in the Falcons success or demise. Arthur Smith and Matt Ryan will have to figure out the logistics of running this new-look offense as the former MVP sat out the entire preseason. Without live reps, there’s no way to know whether or not the communication will be smooth. Still, Ryan is a veteran, so that is something I am less concerned about. Here are a few of the most important matchups between the Falcons and Eagles.
Dean Pees vs. Jalen Hurts
Entering his second year, Hurts isn’t in a favorable situation. He was drafted into a dysfunctional situation with Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz, and now will have poor weapons around him in a first-year regime that many believe won’t last longer than a few seasons. Hurts is a much different quarterback than Matt Ryan. He won’t need to be overly impressive throwing the football to win this game because he can threaten defenses with his feet. Dean Pees will surely disguise coverages to confuse Hurts, but pass rushers will have to keep their lane integrity to best keep him inside the pocket.
Jalen Mayfield vs. Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave
With Josh Andrews on the IR after suffering a broken hand, the rookie third-round pick is expected to get the nod at left guard. Andrews being eligible to return after Week 3 forces the young Jalen Mayfield into the first game, and there isn’t a better test than two of the best interior defenders in the league — Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Both will be a great opportunity for the rookie, but it can’t be understated how important scheme and play calling will help hide some of Mayfield’s deficiencies — i.e., Arthur Smith, Dwayne Ledford, Matt Hennessy, and Jake Matthews.
Kyle Pitts vs. Zone or Combo Coverage
The Eagles linebackers have been one of the worst groups in the league at defending the middle of the field the past couple of seasons. Pitts will have a field day against the porous Eagles secondary if Jonathan Gannon chooses to go the man-coverage route, so I would expect him to throw zone, bracket, and combo coverage at Pitts, hoping Darius Slay can handle Calvin Ridley. I fully expect the rookie phenom to garner double teams all Sunday long. It’ll be up to Arthur Smith to move Pitts around the boundary, slot, motion, etc., to get him easier looks.