The first Monday night game of the 2015 NFL season pits the exciting Eagles offensive attack against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the explosive Falcons offense in what should be a high-scoring affair in Atlanta.
"Deflategate" aside, the Eagles have been one of the most talked-about teams this offseason for the myriad of personnel moves the organization made. Coming off a 10-6 season where the team competed for a division title, head coach Chip Kelly stunningly chose to clean house with his offensive skill players.
Gone are leading rusher LeSean McCoy, leading pass catcher Jeremy Maclin, and quarterback Nick Foles. They have been replaced by ex-Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and two outstanding running backs – DeMarco Murray, formerly of the Cowboys, and former San Diego Charger Ryan Matthews.
Coach Kelly’s offense has been a treat for NFL fans to watch over the past two seasons. Kelly uses an up-tempo game plan and mixes in a creative playbook to unlock opposing defenses. Although the team ranked in the middle of the pack when it came to offensive efficiency in the running and passing game, according to Football Outsiders.com, the tempo made the team very effective. Kelly’s Eagles ran 70.7 plays per game on average, 2.3 more than the second place Saints and 7 more than the median team.
This season, the Eagles project to run the ball more than any other team. Last year, the Eagles runners combined for 474 rushes, good for 7th in the league. With Murray, Matthews, and Darren Sproles splitting carries, expect that number to go above 500 and beyond this season.
Meanwhile, the Falcons have been disappointing their fans now for two consecutive seasons, despite keeping their offensive core together. Injuries have plagued the offensive line, and a lack of skill and depth on defense has been the team’s undoing.
Last year, the Falcons were the NFL’s worst defense in terms of efficiency, 31st against the pass and 30th against the run. The defense gave up 540 more passing yards than any other team, more than a game’s worth of passing.
Running the ball was also difficult for the Falcons last season, who relied on veteran Stephen Jackson too heavily. Jackson ran for only 707 yards in 2014 and the offensive imbalance made the team often too predictable. The Falcons will start rookie Tevin Coleman in Week 1, whom the team drafted with their third pick, and will hope he can be more productive.
The driving force behind the Falcons’ offensive attack will remain quarterback Matt Ryan who, even in losing seasons, has been effective. The quarterback has thrown for at least 4,500 yards and 26 touchdowns every season for the past three years and has remain efficient, having no less than an 89.6 quarterback rating in that time.
Chip Kelly was quick to compliment Ryan when talking to 247 Sports in Philadelphia this week, saying “Big fan of Matt. I think he’s one of the top quarterbacks in this league.”
Ryan’s biggest weapon is only now starting to get into his prime years, which is terrifying. Wide receiver Julio Jones has been sensational ever since he was drafted in 2011. The fifth-year pro had his best season last year, catching 104 passes for 1,593 yards. Jones will be a force to be reckoned with again this season, but he and Ryan will hope to improve on his 6 touchdowns from last season.
The Falcons are hopeful that additions to their defense, including their first two draft picks and veteran linebacker Justin Durant, will make the defense competitive. While they are bound to improve from last season, it likely will not be enough to slow down Chip Kelly and his offense. Expect a high scoring affair that the Eagles inevitably walk away from with a victory.
You can watch the Eagles and Falcons on ESPN Monday night, beginning at 7:10 p.m. Eastern. That game will be followed by the 49ers and Vikings in California at approximately 10:20 p.m.