3 things to watch for when Eagles face Falcons in season opener

Nick Foles Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles will begin their quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions Thursday night at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC against the Atlanta Falcons. The last time these two teams met was in the playoffs on a cold January afternoon. It was a struggle for both teams in the first half as neither could get anything going on offense.

Nevertheless, the Eagles were able to weather through the early storm and made key plays on both sides of the ball in the waning moments of the game to secure a 15-10 victory.

What will happen this time around? No one knows for sure but here at Metro, we will give you three things to watch out for in this Week 1 matchup.

1. Nick Foles

Which Foles will show up? That is the question on the minds of many Eagles fans heading into the season opener. As we all know, the veteran quarterback had a disappointing showing in the preseason.

In both preseason games, Foles looked like the quarterback we saw against the Falcons in the first half of last season’s NFC divisional playoff game, rather than the quarterback we saw torch the Vikings and Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

Last season against Atlanta, Foles completed 77 percent of his passes for 246 yards but did not have any touchdowns or interceptions. While those are not bad numbers, that will not cut it on Thursday night.

The Eagles need Foles to find his mojo quickly and play like a confident quarterback.

If he can complete some quick passes and get into a rhythm, then they stand a chance. But if he plays like he did against the Cleveland Browns a couple of weeks ago, then the Eagles are in trouble.

2. Who steps up at WR?

Heading into this Week 1 matchup, the Eagles will be without Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins. Jeffery is the team’s number one wideout and demands a ton of attention when he is on the field.

Hollins was supposed to take Jeffery’s spot in the offense until he is ready to come back from his shoulder injury. Therefore, who steps up in place of those guys?

One option is Nelson Agholor, who did not play a single snap in preseason. The former first-round pick had a breakout 2017 season with 62 receptions (95 targets) for 768 yards and eight touchdowns.

Foles should be looking for the young wide receiver early and often. Another option is Shelton Gibson. Even though Mike Wallace will likely get the start on the outside and the Eagles will probably use a lot of two-tight end sets, Gibson will be featured a lot in three wide receiver sets.

The second-year wideout had an impressive training camp and preseason, making the case that he deserves to play some meaningful snaps. Gibson showed against both the Steelers and Patriots what happens when he gets behind a defense, he will make them pay.

3. Linebacker play

Along with not having Jeffery, Hollins and Carson Wentz for the home opener, the Eagles will also be without starting strongside linebacker Nigel Bradham. Bradham is serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Not having Bradham is a huge loss to the Eagles’ defense as he is not only good in stopping the run but is solid in pass coverage.

This means that there will be a lot of pressure on linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill, Jordan Hicks, and Nate Gerry to slow down the Falcons’ tight ends and their tough running back combo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.

In last year’s game, Philly’s defense did a good job of containing Freeman, holding him to only seven yards on 10 carries. However, Coleman had some minor success on the ground, racking up 79 yards on 10 carries. 

Both running backs will give the Eagles some issues on Thursday night, but if they can stop them from getting into the second level, then that should make Atlanta’s play-action passing game less effective.

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