The Philadelphia Eagles begin defense of their Super Bowl title Thursday night at home against the Atlanta Falcons. Here’s a brief look at the looming battle.
Three key matchups
1. Eagles LT Jason Peters vs. Falcons edge rush
Atlanta doesn't get too fancy with blitzes but will do stunts or overload a side in an attempt to confuse or create a numbers mismatch. Peters hasn't played in a game since wrecking a knee midway through last season. To say the Falcons will test him is an understatement.
2. Eagles CB Sidney Jones vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones
The Falcons do things formationally that sometimes pushes Julio Jones, a classic "X" split end, inside to the slot. Sidney Jones is the main player taking over for departed slot CB Patrick Robinson in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's team approach. Will be fascinating.
3. Eagles LBs vs. Falcons RBs
Without Nigel Bradham (1-game suspension), the Eagles are going to feature an awfully inexperienced (and small) base defense that includes recently bulked up Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry, a converted safety. Are they sturdy enough? We'll have our answer pretty early in this contest.
Three storylines to watch
1. Wentz in waiting
Heartbroken that his goal of making it back in time for opening night has not been met, starting quarterback Carson Wentz must resume his role of supporting close friend Nick Foles, who will start in his place. Foles led the Eagles to a 15-10 victory when these teams last met -- in an NFC divisional playoff game last January.
2. New faces
Not only did the Eagles keep many of their key veterans completely out of harm's way in the preseason, but many newcomers are expected to debut on this night. That list could include but may not be limited to WRs Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton and DeAndre Carter, TEs Dallas Goedert and Josh Perkins, DT Haloti Ngata, DE Michael Bennett, LB LaRoy Reynolds and CB Avonte Maddox.
3. Personnel shortages
For the Eagles, starting OLB Nigel Bradham and backup safety Deiondre' Hall will be serving one-game suspensions while WRs Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins have already been scratched with injuries. For the Falcons, long snapper Josh Harris is trying to play through a hip injury. G Ben Garland and CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson did not practice Monday or Tuesday.
Lots of factors are working against the Eagles in this game. Many of their key offensive regulars didn't play in the preseason. They're still without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, out indefinitely as he recovers from a December knee surgery. The Falcons have a heavy revenge motive. Finally, the pros in Las Vegas have adjusted the spread — making the Eagles two-point favorites, down from the opening line of four points. What does this all mean? I'll tell ya' what it means. It means the defending Super Bowl champs only win by one touchdown instead of two. That's what.