By Al Thompson
There are no shortages of scenarios, strategies, advise or predictions out there when it comes to the Eagles and their quest to beat the odds and find a way to win two playoff games and get to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis three weeks from now.
The Eagles started the season as an eight-cylinder engine, flying their vehicle out to a commanding lead, but do to crippling injuries to future Hall of Fame tackle Jason Peters and league MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz, among others, the Birds still want to believe they can cross the finish line using just six cylinders in the same car. They will get out and push if it will help.
On Monday, after the Eagles leaned they will face the No. 6 seed Atlanta Falcons in the Division round on Saturday(January 13, 4:35 p.m. on NBC) Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz brought up a “Hoosiers” movie comparison when asked what it meant to him as a coach to coach in the playoffs, to get to the playoffs.
“I think we have to keep our eye on the fact that it’s the next game to play,” Schwartz said. “Rules aren’t going to change. The only thing that changes is it’s single-elimination, but it’s still going to be a 60-minute game. Still going to be 10 yards for a first down. I mean, we can get Gene Hackman to come in and measure and make sure it’s 10 feet. There’s a reason that that scene in ‘Hoosiers’ runs so true to people because the point was, hey, this is the same as the other games that we’ve played. You can’t play out of character. You can’t try to do too much both as a play caller and as a player. You have to trust what got you there.”
Schwartz went on to talk about the reality they all must all accept — players and coaches — that this is a one-and-done tournament.
“There is an urgency to playing and knowing that if you don’t win, you’re not going to be able to continue ahead,” Schwartz said. “And that dynamic isn’t there during the regular season.”
The Eagles had success last year against Atlanta at the Linc. The Eagles knocked off the high-flying Falcons 24–15, holding Atlanta to just 48 net yards rushing, sacking Pro Bowl quarterback and Philadelphia native Matt Ryan twice and intercepting him once. Ryan went on to be named league MVP and led his team to the Super Bowl.
Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen said that was nice, you can learn from that result, but it doesn’t mean much this Saturday.
“I don’t put a whole lot of stock into games we played last season, or even played earlier this season,” Allen said. “But obviously we’re somewhat familiar with them. We know what they bring to the table. We’d like to shut down their offensive line and rushing attack and obviously get to their quarterback.”
Allen acknowledged the defense will need to come up big with backup quarterback Nick Foles under center and the rest of the offense still finding its own groove.
“On the defensive line and the defense we just worry about what we can control,” Allen said. “We can control their run game and we can control our pass rush and get the quarterback off his spot and off of his rhythm. That’s our main focus this week.”
The Falcons lost left guard Andy Levitre for the season with a triceps injury a few weeks ago. Ben Garland is starting in his place again. Allen said every team gets hit with injuries.
“I have respect for every player who plays in the NFL,” Allen said. “I’m a backup defensive lineman, so to speak, so I don’t put too much stock on whether guys are backups or starters. But everybody deals with injuries. Usually it’s next man in, but it’s playoff football and you expect the best out of every single guy. It doesn’t matter if they are a rookie or a 10-year vet, a starter or a backup…you know you’re going to get your best football. That’s the way I prepare and the way I look at it. I’m not really too worried about who they are going to have in on the offensive line or things like that. I just know they’re going to be playing the best game of their career.”
The Falcons are 2.5 point favorites on the road against the Eagles. It is the first time a №1 seed was listed as an underdog in a Divisional playoff game.
“I don’t think guys on the team read into that,” Allen said. “We’re 13–3, the top seed in the NFC and that’s how we’re going to play.”
Eagles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said he is used to the slights.
“We’ve been disrespected all year,” Cox said. “Our record speaks for itself. We’re a team, and that’s been disrespected week in and week out. But we come out and ring the bell every week.”
Cox was asked if the Eagles have a chip on their shoulder.
“That’s the thing about this team, we’ve played with a chip all year,” Cox said. “That hasn’t changed and will never change. We know we’ve got to go out and compete and do our job as a group with all three phases and we’ll be fine.”
What does Cox think was most effective when the Birds defense held the Falcons to just 15 points last season?
“We made them one dimensional,” Cox said. “Obviously we stopped the run and that’s every week…we want to stop the run and get after the quarterback. I think we did that last year when we played them. We just have to go out and repeat that and do it better.”
Atlanta has a new offensive coordinator, former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Cox was asked if the Falcons are different on offense this year.
“They do a few things different; they try to get the ball in (No.) 24’s hands,” said Cox referring to running back DeVonta Freeman.’ Also (No.) 26 (Tevin Coleman) …they are two good running backs so they’re going to feed them the whole game. Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. They’ve got an elite group of receivers. As we do every week, it’s going to take us going out and doing our job, communicating and in a way, just having fun.”
Schwartz was asked how he felt about his team’s status as an underdog. He bristled when asked if he felt disrespected.
“Unless we start the game down, no,” Schwartz said. “I mean, the game’s going to start 0–0. I mean, that stuff makes for good talk and TV, and a lot of people have a lot of programming to fill, but all year, I have no idea if we’ve been favorites or underdogs the whole year. It’s not going to change now.
“It really doesn’t change the game,” he continued. “The game is going to be about preparing well. The game is going to be about executing on Saturday. I have to get used to saying Saturday. But executing on Saturday, and the teams that do that, the best are going to win. Not the team that got picked by the most number of analysts or experts or what the simulation games say or any of that stuff. That has zero bearing on the game for us.”
This Saturday it all starts for real for sure.