Posted on January 8, 2018, by Travis Pulver
For the Atlanta Falcons, the playoffs started a week early since they had to win in Week 17 in order to get in. But while the victory gave them the opportunity to play another game, it was widely expected to be their last. There was few outside of Atlanta that thought the Falcons would be able to slow down Todd Gurley enough to earn a spot in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But the playoffs tend to bring out the best in teams—which is what the Falcons needed from their defense to shut down the Rams offense. As luck would have it, that is precisely what they got.
A pair of turnovers on special teams by the Rams led to 10-points for the Falcons in the first half and helped them take a 13-10 lead at the break. The Atlanta defense held the Rams to just a field goal in the second half. But the real hero is the offense, and not just because they scored points. But because they were able to grind out some long drives and eat up a ton of time.
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The Falcons neutralized Todd Gurley in the best way possible—they kept him on the sideline. For the game, Atlanta held the ball for 37:35 and for nearly 20 minutes in the second half. Even the best offense can’t score if they don’t have the ball (Atlanta won, 26-13).
Such ball control will certainly help the Falcons beat the Eagles in Philadelphia. But with Nick Foles at quarterback for an injured Carson Wentz, there isn’t a whole lot faith in the Philly offense. It may not be necessary.
As a result, the Falcons are a 2.5-point favorite on the road against the No. 1 seed in the conference. It’s not a record the Eagles wanted to have, but it belongs to them.
However, it hasn’t been all bad for Foles. He did have a nice, four-touchdown game in his first start against the New York Giants. So— who’s going to win when these two face off Saturday (at 4:35 PM ET)?
Atlanta is going to want to make the Eagles rely on Nick Foles to win the game. Slowing down the third-ranked rushing attack in the NFL isn’t going to be easy. But since they know they don’t have much to worry about from Foles, they’ll just load the box to stop the run.
The Eagles will likely look to get Foles on track early with some easy passes. But with how well the Falcons tackled against the Rams, they’ll need to do a lot more than that. That is, assuming Foles can elude the pressure and even get a pass off.
The Falcons have the defense to get it done, but stopping the Eagles offense is only half the battle. They will have to put up some points against one of the better defenses in the league (fourth in points/game allowed; 18.4). Last season, the notion of the Falcons putting up points would not be questioned. But this season, they are barely average when it comes to scoring (15th; 22.1 points/game).
But part of the defense’s success has been the success of the offense. They were not asked to do as much when Wentz was running the offense. With Foles, they’ve been required to do more. Will they be able to hold off the onslaught Atlanta’s offense can bring?
That could be the key to the game.
In recent weeks, the Falcons have been able to move the ball well on offense running the ball and passing it. Philadelphia’s defense will provide a challenge, but Steve Sarkisian seems to be dialing up the right plays lately to beat any defense. Matt Ryan will be able to put some points on the board. The question is whether they’ll put up enough.
What ‘enough’ is will depend on how many points Foles is able to guide the Eagles to scoring.
Philadelphia fans shouldn’t expect too much from him this week. The Atlanta defense is playing well right now, and Foles is not. The spread may be starting out at 2.5 points, but expect it to grow. As it stands, the Falcons will not have any trouble covering the spread.