The Atlanta Falcons booked their trip to Lincoln Financial Field to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday, January 13 with their win over the Los Angeles Rams this past Saturday. The Eagles are the first team in NFL history to be a one seed underdog to a six seed, with Atlanta being favored by two and a half points. How do the Eagles stack up versus the Falcons? I take a look position by position throughout the week in a five-part series leading up to Saturday’s game. Today’s focus: Running Backs
The Eagles feature a plethora of running backs in their game plan. At the beginning of the season, the trio of LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood were the backfield mates of quarterback Carson Wentz. However, in week 3 against the Giants, Sproles tore his ACL and broke his arm on the same play, a devastating blow to the Eagles’ offense. Smallwood was expected to see the bulk of the carries Sproles had vacated, but the emergence of undrafted rookie Corey Clement and the re-signing of Kenjon Barner blocked that from happening. As the next few weeks went by, Smallwood saw his playing time diminish and, in a surprise move at the trade deadline, the Eagles dealt for Miami running back Jay Ajayi, essentially ending any playing time for Smallwood.
The “four-headed monster” of the Eagles helped the team secure the third most rush yards per game at 132.2 yards per game. Blount led the team with 766 yards at 4.4 yards per carry, Ajayi followed with 408 yards (in only seven games with the team) at 5.8 yards per carry, Clement was third with 321 yards at 4.2 yards per carry and Barner had 57 yards rushing at 3.7 yards per carry – used primarily as a returner on special teams.
Although this is the first matchup between the Eagles and Falcons in the 2017-18 season, it is actually Ajayi’s second game versus Atlanta, he faced them while with the Dolphins on October 25. Ajayi did extremely well in the Dolphins’ 20 to 17 win over the Falcons, carrying the ball 26 times for 130 yards at a 5.0 yards per carry clip. The Eagles’ and their fans definitely hope his prior success carries over to the divisional round game as Doug Pederson looks to lean on Ajayi a bit more than he did in the regular season, saying in a press conference “I think he’s one of the guys that we can rely on. I don’t want to get away from the things that got us to this point, too. That’s the other thing is you don’t want to just abandon ship on everybody else. I do think there could be a little more role for him down the stretch.” If Ajayi is fed the ball more, Ajayi is ready for it, stating after last Thursday’s practice “I’m getting ready for war. This is a three-game season. Leaving it all out on the line. That’s my main focus, and that’s the focus of my teammates and coaches.”
The Falcons go into Saturday’s game featuring the league’s 13th best rushing attack with 115.4 yards per game, relying heavily on Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Freeman ended the regular season with 865 yards at 4.4 yards per carry, a down year coming off of two consecutive 1,000 plus yards seasons. In the Falcons’ win over the Rams on Saturday, Freeman was decent, carrying the ball 18 times for 66 yards at 3.7 yards per carry. Coleman ended the regular season with 628 yards at 4.0 yards per carry, a better year than he had in 2016. In the Falcons’ win against the Rams on Saturday, Coleman was ineffective, carrying the ball 14 times for 40 yards at 2.9 yards per carry.
The Falcons faced the league’s 28th ranked rush defense in the Rams on Saturday and were only able to muster 3.2 yards per carry for 124 yards. They will now face the league’s best rush defense this coming Saturday against the Eagles. With the weather forecast favoring a run dominant game plan, they will have to hope they can somehow find success in the ground game and put faith in their ninth-ranked rush defense to hold the league’s third-best rush offense to limited yards.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s breakdown of the wide receivers and tight ends!
If you missed yesterday’s breakdown of the quarterbacks, click here