#1 More Gain than Pain with Jalen Hurts
It was nearly impossible to get a good evaluation on Hurts in his four starts last season.
The offensive line was in complete shambles. Jalen Hurts had 2.3 seconds before the pocket collapsed. There were 24 starting QBs who had more time in the pocket than Hurts did. His receivers made mistakes while Dougie Pederson was complete garbage as a play caller last season. In 2021, injuries across the offensive line have been few (knock on a giant piece of wood). DeVonta Smith is huge addition. It finally gives the Eagles a receiver that can beat defenders off the line and create separation, something they struggled with significantly in 2020.
And then you have that cloud of mystery that is Nick Sirianni. The Eagles head coach has purposefully hidden his offense from the majority of the NFL. Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins have shown positive signs in camp of a potential one or two steps forward in their development. There is also buzz surrounding Jalen Hurts and his potential of cementing himself as a franchise quarterback moving forward. Jalen Hurts has everything in front of him to make a huge impression vs the Atlanta Falcons.
Hurts struggled against pressure last season. We all know that he needs to read the field better and grow more disciplined inside the pocket. There were too many times where he passed up an easy throw and instead chose to escape the pocket. Another area Jalen Hurts struggled with was utilizing the middle of the field. The good news is Hurts has been working heavily with Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz during training camp.
- The bad news: It’s incredibly important to point out Dean Pees, who has has been in charge of some of the best defenses in the NFL such as the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, is now the new defensive coordinator for Atlanta. Pees’ defense is one that is highly aggressive at attacking the quarterback. Expect to see a crowded line of scrimmage with a ton of twists and stunts featuring Deion Jones (excellent in coverage), Foye Oluokun, and Dante Fowler Jr..
- The good news: The Atlanta Falcons don’t bring much of a pass rush in week one. The Falcons struggles at getting to the quarterback have been well documented. They were 26th in sack percentage in 2020 and 30th in 2019. On defense, Grady Jarrett is a beast in the middle for Atlanta. Outside of Jackson, there isn’t much there. Dean Pees’ defense has been exposed by quick plays and RPOs, which (we think?) will compose the bulk of Nick Sirianni’s playbook. Expect to see Sirianni keeping the Falcons athletic linebackers off balance with a heavy dose of screens, quick pass plays and misdirection plays in order to get Jalen Hurts comfortable and in rhythm during the season opener.
#2 Make Matt Ryan Sweat
According to PFF, the Falcons’ offensive line ranks among the bottom of the NFL this year. The unit has ranked just 21st in pass-blocking over the last two years. While mediocre against the run, left tackle Jake Matthews is a very good in pass protection. At right tackle, there is 2019 first rounder Kaleb McGary. In contrast to Matthews, McGary took a step forward last season but shows signs of struggling in pass protection.
A large question for the Falcons involves replacing Alex Mack. Mack has been one of the best in the NFL and has now moved on to San Francisco.
Matt Hennessy will likely get the nod at center in week one. The Falcons will surely have their hands full, especially considering the the biggest advantage for the Eagles comes from their strongest unit: the defensive line. Things get even more interesting considering we’ve yet to see Jonathan Gannon’s full defensive scheme on the field.
On the EDGE for the Birds, Josh Sweat is ready for a breakout season.
- Here is a guy that has dominated during training camp every step of the way. Josh Sweat has had 10 sacks the past two seasons despite never playing more than 40 percent of the snaps. All signs so far through training camp point to Josh Sweat under Jonathan Gannon’s system becoming a major impact player. Expect a large increase in production with more playing time under Gannon.
On the inside, Javon Hargrave has consistently turned heads throughout training camp.
- Hargrave has spent the bulk of training camp in backfields during joint practices against the Jets and Patriots. The depth of the Eagles defensive line has also stood out, most notably rookie Milton Williams and T.Y. McGill. If Jonathan Gannon’s defensive line can cause havoc in the backfield, this will bode well towards an Eagles victory on opening day.
#3 Make Life for Kyle the Pitts
The Eagles struggled against the big plays all season in 2020, giving up 27 passing touchdowns against eight interceptions with many of them going to tight ends. They allowed 835 yards and 9 touchdowns on 80 receptions to opposing tight ends in 2020. Out goes defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, in comes Jonathan Gannon. Can Gannon get this group to play more disciplined in 2021? We are all excited to see.
Eric Wilson is a much needed vet and leader for the Eagles linebacker group. Wilson started 15 of 16 games ending up with 122 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions and 8 pass breakups. Expect a major leap forward for Alex Singleton, who played in nearly every snap between Weeks 10 and 17 last season. In the last eight games of 2020, Singleton played 527 of a possible 530 defensive snaps. TJ Edwards has also continued to show flashes, not just in 2020 but throughout the 2021 training camp.
I don’t think I need to explain how big of a playmaker Kyle Pitts is for the Atlanta Falcons. The question is: can the Eagles contain him enough and limit the damage? In 2020, Pitts lined up at tight end 261 times compared to 40 at wide receiver. He had 16 explosive plays (15+ yards) while lined up as a tight end compared to 7 as a wide receiver. 39 of Kyle Pitts 43 receptions went for first downs and he had 5 touchdowns of 20 yards or more at Florida last year. This is a guy that can hurt you all over the field and will significantly test Jonathan Gannon’s new Eagles defense.
So far throughout the 2021 preseason, Pitts has yet to play a single snap. All reports indicate that he’ll be ready for week one. Considering how much they struggled in 2020, expect Matt Ryan to zero in on Kyle Pitts while exploiting those mismatches in week one.