Staff writer Steve Fini looks back at five players who stood out during the Falcons 35-31 win on Sunday night.
Jason Peters (LT/Eagles)-– All I’ve heard since he’s been here is that he makes the Pro-Bowl based on reputation alone, that he takes plays off and that he’s vastly overrated. I think people here things on WIP and run with it. Peters, who was listed as questionable earlier this week, dominated Sunday night. Well tonight he was. He was dominant no matter who he came up against. He was solid, containing the Falcons’ fierce edge pass rush, and was relentless in his downfield blocking. With Todd Herremans settling in at right tackle, teams are going to have a Hell of a time coming from the edge as the season wears on.
Tony Gonzalez (TE/Falcons)-– I said in my five players to watch column last week that Gonzalez was going to be a big factor. Well, he was. The Eagles continue to have problems covering upper tier tight ends. I honestly thought that this might change, especially with Jim Johnson’s blitz heady defense a thing of the past. Those defenses left lapses in coverage and was understandable. But when a defense rushes only with the front four, it’s unacceptable to allow tight ends to roam free.
Juan Castillo continued to only rush four against Atlanta. The outside was basically shut down all game by the Eagles’ secondary. Because Michael Turner is not a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield, Gonzalez was the main guy on third downs. Despite knowing the Matt Ryan would key in on Gonzalez the Eagles still whiffed in coverage. I don’t know what it’s going to take. Jamar Chaney looked solid in cogverage during the preseason, but struggled mightily against Gonzalez. Gonzalez was able to beat both man and zone coverages, and was the key player in Atlanta’s win.
Jeremy Maclin (WR/Eagles)-– Yes, it was his drop that essentially ended the game. Yes, that was the biggest play of the game and he came up small…very small. But where would the Eagles have been without him?
The Falcons made a conscious effort to not allow Desean Jackson to beat them deep. They kept him underneath for smaller gains. Brent Celek dropped an easy touchdown pass and continues to block in max protect formations. The Eagles’ passing game was all Maclin. He was lost in the offense last week and it was nice to see him step up this week. If nothing else, as an Eagles fan, you have to be excited to see that Maclin is at full strength after missing the entire preseason.
The Eagles, through two games, have shown the ability to be diverse in their ball distribution. That’s important moving forward because team’s can’t key in on one or two weapons, making it much more difficult to gameplan and predict tendencies. I can’t pin this loss on one play because without him tonight there is no way the Eagles get to the 31 points.
Matt Ryan (QB/Falcons)-– My hat goes off to him. I thought he was a fluke to be honest–the product of a good run game, but he proved me wrong on Sunday night. He took hit after hit, but hung in there and made clutch plays late in the game. For much of the game, I felt solid about my prediction that he wasn’t ready for prime time. So much for that. He didn’t make the big plays or the great ones, but he converted critical third and long plays and made smart throws to move the chains. Ryan showed great decision making in the red zone.
Trent Cole (DE/Eagles)-– Former first-round pick Sam Baker is a solid left tackle. He’s a big body and strong run blocke, yet Cole made him look a practice squad player. Cole was able to consistently pressure Ryan and got into the backfield on several plays to trip up Michael Turner at the line of scrimmage. He played angry on Sunday night–with a high motor, to be cliche. He was simply un-blockable throughout the game.
On a night when the Eagles’ defensive line showed they are one of the top units in the league, it was Cole whose star shined the brightest. That’s saying something. The key for Cole is remain consistent throughout they year. A much deeper line should allow Cole to stay fresh and earn the accolades he rightfully deserves.