Falcons likely game plan: Run at Eagles linebackers

Rams running back Cadillac Williams eludes Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney during Sunday's game. Early in the game, the Eagles linebackers had trouble keeping Rams rushers in check.
Rams running back Cadillac Williams eludes Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney during Sunday's game. Early in the game, the Eagles linebackers had trouble keeping Rams rushers in check. (JEFF CURRY / Getty Images)
Posted: September 15, 2011

As the Falcons prepare for Sunday's game against the Eagles, their offensive coaches will scour the Birds defense, looking for weak spots.

They will look at two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel, who helped force Rams quarterbacks into an 18-of-35 performance on Sunday, and at a pass defense that held St. Louis without a touchdown through the air, and they will shake their heads and move on.

They will look at a defensive front that got to Rams quarterbacks for five sacks, a forced fumble, and 11 hits, and they will continue their search.

And then, finally, they will look at the Eagles' run defense - specifically the linebackers - and they will stop and lick their chops.

"I would probably run at our linebackers if I was them," Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney said Wednesday.

Taking shots at the Eagles linebackers has become a popular sport of late. And while it is not completely fair - the line and the safeties were also culpable for St. Louis' 154 yards on the ground - it has some merit. Young and without a high draft pick among them, the Eagles linebackers got off to a woeful start on Sunday against the Rams.

Running back Steven Jackson opened the game with a 47-yard touchdown run up the gut, and the rest of the first quarter, while not as devastating, was more of the same as Eagles linebackers had trouble fending off blocks from untouched interior linemen.

St. Louis gained 104 yards on the ground in the first 15 minutes, and that alone should be enough for the Falcons to devise a game plan that runs repeatedly at middle linebacker Casey Matthews and outside linebackers Moise Fokou, Brian Rolle, and Chaney.

Atlanta has the horse to do so.

Michael Turner, all 5-foot-10, 237 pounds of him, has become one of the toughest running backs in the league to bring down. He has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in two of the previous three years and opened this season with a 10-carry, 100-yard rushing performance against the Bears, although more than half came from a 53-yard run in an otherwise dreadful 30-12 loss.

"We know he's going to be tough to bring down," Matthews said. "He's got thick legs, and he knows how to use them. We just need to gang-tackle and everyone rally to the ball."

Turner has not fared well against the Eagles in previous appearances. Last season, he was held to 45 yards on 15 totes, and in 2008 he gained 58 yards on 17 carries. Both games were at Lincoln Financial Field, however, and the Eagles scheme and defensive personnel are much different now than they were then.

The team's wide-nine technique and a philosophy that focuses on rushing the quarterback have hurt the line's ability to stop the run. So blockers are getting free shots at the linebackers.

"Even though we're aggressive off the ball, we still have run responsibilities up front," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said.

Despite a rough opener and the drumbeat for Matthews to be benched, Eagles coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that the rookie would remain his starter. On Sunday, the Rams ran up the middle nine times - more than in any direction - and gained 12.1 yards a carry.

But Reid said that Matthews improved as the game went on. In the final three quarter quarters, Rams running backs ran 15 times for 65 yards, a 4.3-yard clip. Matthews played more snaps in the Eagles' base defense than many expected because the Rams often employed two-tight end sets.

That meant less time for Rolle, who plays primarily in the nickel alongside Chaney. Rolle's role could expand. He said Wednesday that he was expecting to split more repetitions with Fokou in the first-team base defense during practice.

"I'll probably get worked in the rotation a little more this week with the base," Rolle said. "Atlanta's going to run the ball. But they have a great quarterback in Matt Ryan, so they're probably looking to throw the ball 40-45 times a game."

Given the state of the Eagles' run defense, that is unlikely, unless the Falcons get behind and are forced to the air.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com, or @Jeff_McLane on Twitter.


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