Les Bowen: Eagles to attack Falcons' system first, then fill-ins

Falcons backup quarterback Chris Redman will fill in for injured Matt Ryan vs. Eagles.
Falcons backup quarterback Chris Redman will fill in for injured Matt Ryan vs. Eagles.
Posted: December 04, 2009

THE EAGLES are playing a team whose quarterback and running back are the focal points of its offense. The quarterback, Penn Charter's Matt Ryan, definitely isn't playing, and the running back, Michael Turner, very well might not be out there either, when the opening kickoff arcs toward the synthetic sky of the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon.

In such circumstances, defensive preparation requires a little imagination. It isn't quite as simple as popping in the tapes of some recent games.

Several Eagles and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said they will focus first on the Falcons' system, feeling their basic personality won't change, and then look at any differences between the starters and the replacements, quarterback Chris Redman and running backs Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood.

"I think the system will remain mostly intact," McDermott said. "Not having him on film from a starting standpoint, you don't have a complete feel as to what they are going to do offensively with Redman at quarterback from the start, vs. Matt Ryan. So there is going to be a little bit of a feeling out process there, but we're going to prepare as best we can for the system and go from there.

"There is so much of Turner on tape and Matt Ryan on tape that every time we try and show a play, whether it's a specific run or pass, sometimes it's not Snelling and sometimes it's obviously not Matt Ryan, so you have to say, 'Hey, this is a different quarterback that you're going to see.' Then the position coaches have to do a great job of watching tape of Redman the same way, and all the indicators that are there in his game."

Redman, 32, rallied the Falcons past the Tampa Bay Bucs last week, completing 23 of 41 passes for 243 yards and two TDs after Ryan went down with a toe injury. But he also did not play in the NFL between 2003 and 2007, selling insurance for a living after the QB-starved Baltimore Ravens cut him loose following the '03 season; they had drafted Redman in the third round out of Louisville in 2000.

Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, then with the 49ers, recalled working out Redman before he was drafted.

"He had one of the very best workouts," Mornhinweg said. "He can really throw the football, and it looks good, too. He can drop back to throw with the best of them. I thought highly of him coming out."

McDermott said the Eagles have looked at film of when Redman started four games for Atlanta in 2007, trying to pick up tendencies.

"Obviously [he's] playing in a different system, but you just try and simplify [the analysis] and just look at the player," McDermott said.

Safety Quintin Mikell said he felt it was important to "focus more on who he's throwing the ball to" - the Falcons' excellent receiving corps, led by tight end Tony Gonzalez (61 catches, 666 yards) and speedy wideout Roddy White (56 catches, 770 yards). Mikell also said the Eagles will be worrying more about what they're trying to execute than what Redman is doing.

"Now more than ever, it's more about the things we do on defense and how we can get ourselves better," he said. "The [Atlanta] system is the system. They do a lot of shifting. I don't want to say 'trick stuff,' but they do a lot of different looks. It's more about us playing our keys, being in the right spots and making plays on the ball when we're able to do that. I think right now, this week, we need to focus on what we do."

Defensive end Darren Howard said that as far as his job is concerned, there seems to be little difference between Ryan and Redman.

"The only thing that you really are concerned about as a d-lineman is, is the guy a runner? When he gets outside the pocket, is he trying to run the ball, or is he just getting outside the pocket to buy time to throw the ball? Does he like to step up? If he rolls out, which way does he like to roll out?" Howard said.

The running-back situation might be trickier, Howard said, in that Norwood is "a fast guy, a jitterbug, likes to hit the edge a lot. He can catch the ball out of the backfield really well. Likes to run the wheel route up the sideline, when he gets matched up against linebackers."

Snelling is more like Turner, Howard said. "Powerful guy, downhill kind of guy. Both very capable guys."

Turner reinjured an ankle last week. He has 864 rushing yards on 177 carries this season, nearly 5 yards a carry, and he has scored 10 touchdowns.

The Eagles' defense has been going through a rough stretch, with weakside linebacker Akeem Jordan out with a knee hyperextension, corner Sheldon Brown hobbled by a hamstring injury, and nickel corner Joselio Hanson suspended for taking a banned diuretic. The Birds gave up an average of 19 points per game through their first eight games. The last three, they've allowed an average of 25.

With the offense probably missing concussed star wideout DeSean Jackson, playing in a loud Georgia Dome enviornment that accentuates the Falcons' defensive quickness, the Eagles will need a solid effort from their defense. Earlier this week, it sounded as if Jordan might be able to play, but he was listed as a limited practice participant yesterday, and again he worked only with the scout team.

The dome definitely is a concern for the Eagles' offense.

"It's going to be electric, man," said safety Sean Jones, an Atlanta native who played at Georgia.

"It's going to be crazy," said another ex-Bulldog, guard Max Jean-Gilles. (The Eagles have four Georgia alums altogether, including wideout Reggie Brown and defensive end Chris Clemons.) "We're going to have to work on [the silent count] this week - it's going to be a key factor in our offense. That turf is something different. It's really fast. They're going to get some good get-offs, they're going to be able to use that to their advantage." *

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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