With the blockbuster trade of Julio Jones heading to the Tennessee Titans, the landscape of the Eagles season has already changed. Yes, the season is 18 weeks and one week doesn’t define it all, but a week 1 game can give fans an inside look of what can be for the remainder of the season. Especially a team in which had a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and a new QB1, who will have had a full offseason in his new role going up against an old veteran and coaching staff who saw eight of their 12 losses last season come within one possession. This matchup has a lot of exciting headlines, which will be heavily covered in the coming three months, but I wanted to look at which position groups have the upper hand before the Week 1, September 12th showdown.
(Eric Hartline – USA TODAY Sports)
Quarterbacks – Falcons
Sorry fellow Eagles fans, but from where we sit today, Matt Ryan is significantly ahead of Jalen Hurts. All choking jokes aside, Matty Ice has had a great 13-year career thus far, and showed no signs of slowing down last season, regardless of the Falcons’ record. Finishing with 4,581 yards, good for fourth in the NFL, and 26 passing touchdowns, which was tied for ninth in the NFL, Ryan was eight possessions away from being 12-4 instead of 4-12. Although his record against the Eagles is 4-5, he should not be underestimated coming into this matchup as he averages 259 yards and two touchdowns. The positive for Eagles fans is he averages over an interception a game, so this bodes well for a defense that only got eight picks last season.
Running Backs – Eagles
Like quarterbacks, this position group is not even close, but in the Eagles favor. No offense to Mike Davis, but Miles Sanders has proven his worth and is capable of homerun touchdowns on any carry, so he has the advantage. I would also put Boston Scott and Kerryon Johnson, ahead of an aged Cordelle Patterson, the second RB on the Falcons depth chart, making this a runaway comparison.
(David Maialetti – The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Wide Receivers – Falcons
This one wouldn’t have been close, if it weren’t for Julio leaving town, but I still give the Falcons the edge. Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are no slumps, especially when compared to a lot of unproven young wideouts the Eagles will be fielding. A lot is expected of DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor this year but is all wishful thinking until they produce. Eagles have been burnt by expectations of young receivers to give them any kind of advantage.
Tight Ends – Eagles
Another instance of high expectations for an early draft pick in Kyle Pitts, but when you match him and Hayden Hurst up against Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, it simply is not a competition. Although the future of Ertz is still to be decided, I would even give Goedert the edge as this will be Pitts’ first NFL game and will be a focus for the Eagles defense to not get exposed by a rookie, especially with Julio out of the picture.
Offensive Line – Eagles
Although Eagles quarterbacks were the most sacked backfield in 2020, the offensive line saw a different starting lineup in almost every game. This inconsistency and injuries led to the offensive line struggles in which I expect to do a 180 this upcoming season. A healthy Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson should be enough to convince anyone, then sprinkle in some Jason Kelce. These three guys alone are better than what the Falcons are putting on the field, not to mention Isaac Seumalo, who saw valuable playing time last year. Jake Matthews has been good year-in, year-out and Chris Lindstrom had a strong 2020, but the other pieces along the offensive line are not good. Kaleb McGary has shown bright spots, but has matching down times in his short time in the NFL.
Defensive Line – Eagles
Fletcher Cox and Grady Jarrett are among the best defensive tackles in the league and are going to have an impact on any game they play. I would even go as far to say that Jarrett has played better than Cox the last two seasons. If the matchup was 1v1, I would take Jarrett, but the Eagles defensive front as a unit is by far and away better than what the Falcons bring to the table. Derek Barnett, Javon Hargrave, and Brandon Graham are all strong players in their position, although I would like to see Barnett cut back on the silly penalties. Big named Dante Fowler was almost non-existent for the Falcons last year, which came as a shock as he contributed with the Rams the previous two seasons.
Linebackers – Falcons
A position that has been much a problem for the Eagles lately, saw a complete makeover from last year’s week 1 starters. Alex Singleton came into his own as the season went on, and they did manage to pick up a valuable player in Eric Wilson. With that said, Deion Jones is still lurking in the backfield. Not to mention the stellar season had by Foyesade Oluokun last year, who had comparable statistics to that of Jones. I am excited to see what Wilson can do within the Eagles defensive scheme, but Falcons have a much more favorable situation with the linebacking corp.
(Mitchell Leff – Getty Images)
Secondary – Eagles
Another position which has been a rocky roller coaster for the Eagles, but I think they are significantly stronger than the Falcons. Outside of A.J. Terrell, the dirty birds lost their only other valuable player in Keanu Neal, who now plays for that team in Dallas. This unit got absolutely torched on a regular basis last year, so the fact they only lost parts of that unit should be of grave concern for Falcons fans. Not to mention Darius Slay, although only had one interception, still had a good season last year. The vocal leader Rodney McLeod is coming off a late season ACL tear, but is confident he will be back to his old ways by week 1. While the timing of his return remains to be seen, when he is on the field, he contributes. Lastly, the addition of Anthony Harris fills the void Jalen Mills struggled to consistently play in. Although Eagles fans are still hungry for another big name in the secondary, the Eagles are in much better shape than the Falcons.
Special Teams – Falcons
This one is also not particularly close, as Younghoe Koo hit fields goals at a 94.9% rate, going 8 for 8 on field goals over 50 yards. Jake Elliott hits field goals at a 73.7% rate, while attempting TWENTY less field goals. The return units are a wash, as both are underwhelming. Outside of Reagor’s punt return in Green Bay, there was nothing to brag about, so hopefully the new coaching staff can utilize newly acquired Michael Walker or get Gainwell involved in a productive capacity.
Featured image: philadelphiaeagles.com