The Atlanta Falcons literally limp into the Terror-Dome to play the biggest game of the year against the Philadelphia Eagles in basically a do or die game to get to the postseason for the second consecutive year. The Falcons difficulties have been well-documented throughout the season including everything from tons of injuries and a difficult schedule to inconsistent offensive play and underperforming defense, but the bottom line remains that the NFL shows no pity and excuses need not apply. Of course the big news is the return of Michael Vick to a place where he used to play every Sunday. The reaction will likely be boisterous in the beginning and when Vick enters the game, but based off the amount he’s played throughout the year, the actual impact on the game may be minimal. Based on their record, performance, and wins the Falcons are pretty much an average team defeating only teams with losing records and falling to the better teams they’ve played. They are a very young team and are only in year two of “the process”, but the expectations were set high and fans want to see the team play hard, tough, and show a sense of fight for four quarters, which is not something that has been seen in every game.
The Philadelphia Eagles bring in one of the most talented teams in the NFC as well with big victories and being able to control their own destiny. If they defeat the Birds in the Dome on Sunday, they put themselves squarely in the driver’s seat for a wild-card berth and possibly even a chance at the NFC East Title Crown. If the Falcons win, they put themselves in a great position to make the postseason with their relatively easier schedule in the remaining four games, save the Saints game of course. The Eagles aren’t necessarily eliminated with a loss, but the Falcons basically will be. A loss on Sunday will give the Falcons a defeat in the tie-breaker category to all three NFC East teams, of which one will win the division and the other two will be right in line for the wild card are squarely in the playoff hunt (Cowboys 8-3), (Eagles 7-4), and (Giants 6-5). That’s also including the fact that the Packers are 7-4 and have a pretty easy road left as well. In other words, barring a complete meltdown by the other teams, the Falcons will likely be done in terms of the postseason. Plain and simple, its put up or shut up time for the Birds.
The question may seem a little unsupportive, but the fact remains that every single quarterback that plays the Falcons secondary has a field day. Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and even Jake Delhomme had excellent days against the Birds, and fresh rookie Josh Freeman looked like a seasoned veteran throwing for over 250 yards and two touchdowns. Fans knew that the defense, and secondary in particular, would be a spot of concern, but the ease with which teams have passed up and down the field has produced some downright ire. Chris Owens and and Chevis Jackson had good games and the secondary didn’t have the worst day of the season (which isn’t saying much), but they haven’t ran up against the talent at wide receiver that the Eagles boast. Desean Jackson is one of the most dynamic players in all of football, Jeremy Maclin is having a fantastic rookie year, Jason Avant has averaged almost 100 yards a game over his past three, and tight end Brent Celek has emerged as a legitimate threat to stretch the middle of the field. And the best player on the team hasn’t even been mentioned yet in Donovan McNabb. The Eagles QB is having an excellent season in the process of getting comfortable with all his new weapons. The Falcons secondary better bring back the magic they wove against the Saints, because if they don’t it will be a blowout.
The Falcons have had a really hard time generating any pressure on a consistent basis this year. They have a knack of feasting on inferior teams with multiple sack days, but evaporate against solid offensive lines. After adding left tackle Jason Peters in the off-season, the Eagles boast one of the best offensive lines in football. Couple that with the fact that McNabb is one of the absolute best in the business at sliding in the pocket and the ingredients are there for a disaster if McNabb has all day. The players deserve much of the blame, but Defensive Coordinator shares a large portion of the responsibility as well in his play-calling. Van Gorder often only rushes four defensive linemen with little to no pressure, drops his defensive ends into coverage too much, and has become extremely predictable and uninspiring with his blitz packages. And why is Jamaal Anderson still moving often to defensive end? Take no further look than the Saints-Patriots game to realize that pressure on quarterbacks helps to equal success, and that’s an issue the Birds have had of late. Abraham, Babineaux, Anderson, Biermann, and most importantly Van Gorder need to step up their game big-time or McNabb will destroy the defense.
Much of the season’s inconsistency has been put on the players and their lack of performance, but the coaches certainly deserve their part of the responsibility, if not most of it. To his credit, Coach Smith led Falcons teams have played tough and showed a spirit of fight for four quarters, except for a handful. The Falcons have won all the games they were supposed to except for one (Panthers in Charlotte) and are undefeated at the Terror-Dome this year, but they are 1-5 on the road and by all accounts should have lost the game against the lowly Bucs. Four games on the year the Birds have failed to show up ready to play (Bucs, Panthers) or started well and collapsed in the second half (Patriots, Cowboys). That may be a cause for concern when the team goes missing for at least a half in almost half of the games played thus far. How will the coaches gameplan for the offense, defense, and injuries be structured? Coach Smith and Offensive Coordinator Mularkey will likely push for a heavy dose of Norwood and Snelling in an attempt to help Redman manage the game as well as keeping McNabb’s offense on the sidelines. Who knows with the defense, but if it’s the same vanilla approach fans have seen of late it may get ugly really quick.
The big news, however expected, was the release of likely future Hall of Fame kicker Jason Elam. After trying out kickers the week before, and Elam missing yet another easy field goal that could have been the difference in yet another game, the writing on the wall was pretty clear. It was an unfortunate end to a feel good story of a hometown player coming back home to finish his career with the Falcons, but something went awry this season. Elam missed 7 field goals that could have easily been made and possibly could have made a difference in at least a few (Panthers & Giants). After long snapper Mike Schneck went down with a rib injury, that seemed to exacerbate the process. Most all fans wish Elam the best and certainly appreciate everything he’s done for the Falcons in a short amount of time. The Birds brought in Matt Bryant who is a 82% career kicker and is 5 years the younger than Elam. The signing is a much safer one than trying to bring along a young kicker in the middle of a playoff run. Question is how will Bryant do in his debut and why did no other NFL team pick him up after he was released by the Bucs?
The story has been well-documented and when Vick signed with the Eagles in the preseason, the media blitz was sent into overdrive with the fact that Vick will return to the Georgia Dome in his first season back in the NFL since 2006. Many thought that Vick would surely be worked back in slowly, but things didn’t exactly work out as some believed with the quarterback rarely working his way into a serious rotation in the Wildcat formation. Barring a major change in the final five games, Vick looks to possibly move on to another team in the off-season and hopefully will get another opportunity to regain success in the NFL. The reaction has been intense in this city since the news broke on Vick and his legal troubles and the crowd will surely be raucous on Sunday one way or another. Michael Vick took this franchise to highs it rarely had seen and injected an enthusiasm never seen in the NFL in general. #7 was the franchise QB for the Atlanta Falcons and events well-known to all changed that landscape. Vick paid his debt to society and deserves every single chance at redemption in his life. Is it impossible for fans to pull for the Falcons and wish Vick the best in his career? Or are emotions still too raw from what transpired several years ago?
This is the biggest game of the season and the Falcons playoff hopes ride on this rumble in the Dome with one of the best teams in the NFC. Two teams fighting for their playoff lives with one of the most interesting side stories in the NFL equals a fantastic event in the Terror-Dome. Who will take a major step forward in the wild-card chase?
-How will the game play out?
-Can Falcons muster some post-injury magic?
-Are injuries too much for Falcons chances this year?
-Will Redman, Norwood, and Snelling pull it through?
-How bad will it get with McNabb under center?
-Any way Falcons DBs keep up with Eagles WRs?
-Can Coach Smith and Coach Van Gorder ramp up any pressure?
-How will Matt Bryant’s debut go?
-What’s your feelings on Vick’s return?
-Will Vick be much of a difference in the game?