The NFC is wide open this season, with no truly dominant teams. The Atlanta Falcons may be as close as it gets, currently perched second in the NFL in point differential.
The Falcons, winners of four in a row since opening the season with a loss, look for their longest winning streak in 12 years. The Eagles hope to keep the Falcons from winning their first game in Philadelphia since 1988.
Meanwhile, the winner will surely be considered to be among the top contenders in the NFC through six games. Philadelphia isn’t looking at it as a chance to make a statement though, according to head coach Andy Reid.
“I haven’t thought about that. As a coach and I think as players, you’re so focused in on learning that team that you really don’t get caught up in the other things,” Reid said. “I’ve mentioned this before, you focus in on the things you can control, and then you try to not let your mind go to the other places. And make sure you get one more rep, one more shot of film as a coach or a player, and go through the game plan one more time.”
The Eagles will have Kevin Kolb starting under center for the second game in a row, with Michael Vick still recovering from a rib injury. The former Falcon may dress as Kolb’s backup, but will not start according to Reid. Last week Kolb threw for 253 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco, earning a passer rating of 103.3.
Kolb gets a tough test, facing an Atlanta defense that leads the league with 10 turnovers and has held opponents to a 72.5 passer rating. The signal caller faces another challenge as well: getting star wide receiver DeSean Jackson the ball.
With Vick at quarterback, Jackson has caught 14 passes for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Kolb in the lineup, Jackson has just 4 receptions for 38 yards. Further, Vick targets Jackson on just under 24 percent of his passes. Kolb throws Jackson’s way on only 17 percent of his attempts.
Jackson says teams have bee switching up their defensive coverages on him, making it tougher to prepare. “Just because you see it on film that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to do the same thing versus us,” he said. “So, as you can tell the past couple of weeks in the game, what we watch on film, we definitely don’t get the same coverage when we play the team. So we’ll see how it goes.”
Kolb downplayed the issue of getting the ball to Jackson more. “DeSean’s going to get his touches and he’s going to make spectacular plays, so that’s not an issue on our part whatsoever,” Kolb said. “And again, as long as we get the victory that’s the most important thing.”
It won’t be an easy matchup for the Birds, but it’s a crucial game that launches them into as tough of a stretch as you can find on an NFL schedule. Starting with Atlanta, the next seven opponents on Philadelphia’s schedule are a combined 23-12 so far this year, and none are below .500.
If the Eagles can start with a win over the 4-1 Falcons, it will keep them in at least a tie atop the NFC East.
For Eagles news and insight, follow Ryan Messick on Twitter.