that there's going to be some sort of football game tonight at the Georgia Dome. I was previously unaware of it, but at the gym this morning, one guy was motivating another during his sets with "Eagles! Tonight! It's all starting! C'mon! Get up!" (Only in Atlanta can you hear people talking up the visiting team at the gym at 6:45 in the morning. Actually, that's not entirely true. I watched some of the San Diego-Dallas game yesterday and the crowd was half Cowboys fans. I wonder if San Diego is going to be dubbed "worst sports town in America" for that. Naw, we wouldn't want to shatter sportswriters' pre-conceived views on the way the world works.) Anyway, here are my thoughts on the game tonight:
1. For all the criticism that I and others make of Michael Vick for being so-so as a passer, every time I think about the game tonight, I picture him getting loose on a run and the Dome going absolutely apeshit. Stats don't do justice to how exciting it is to root for a player like Vick. He's a reminder of why I started watching sports in the first place. The Falcons are going against their entire history, namely that the team has never had consecutive winning seasons and has an abysmal record on Monday nights, but we have Vick when we walk through the valley of death. (I'm going to hate myself for writing that tomorrow morning in the aftermath of a 23-10 loss.)
2. Tonight's game, like the other Falcons-Eagles games of the past several years, all of which have been one by Philly in relatively comfortable fashion, will come down to the Falcons' ability to handle Philly's pressure. The Eagles have a great defensive line and they blitz a lot, thus negating the Falcons' running game and putting pressure on their two weakest units: the offensive line, which doesn't pass protect very well, and the wide receivers, which need to get off of the bump, make good sight-adjustments, and then make plays down the field. The McKay/Mora regime has increased the talent base on the team and tonight will be a good test to see if the offensive line and wide receivers are ready to make this team a Super Bowl contender.
3. Speaking of the Eagles' defense, the Patriots slowed the Eagles' pass rush down last February with a diet of screen passes. Look for the Falcons to try those tonight. If the running game doesn't get going, then that would be the best way to get the ball into Dunn and Duckett's hands in position to make some plays. I'm tittilated by the thought of Duckett getting a head of steam and heading down the field on a screen pass.
4. Is there anything worse than imagining Terrell Owens celebrating in the end zone of the Georgia Dome? Yeah, that's what I thought. That said, Jason Webster and Kevin Mathis are going to be critical tonight because the coverage is going to be rolled towards Owens and they're going to have to win their individual match-ups with Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown for the Falcons' defense to be successful.
Overall, I view the Eagles in the same way that Colts fans probably view New England. Heck, Colts fans can at least point to their regular season match-ups with the Pats, which have been very competitive. The Falcons have been handled easily by the Eagles twice in the playoffs. The Falcons did play the Eagles surprisingly tough in 2003 during Vick's broken ankle sabbatical, losing only 23-16, but the stats from that game (the Eagles outgained the Falcons 430 to 278 and were +2 in turnovers) are indicative of a blowout. Although this is the first time that a Vick-led Falcons team has had a home game against Philly, I'm not going to believe that the Falcons can play with the Eagles until I see it on the field.
One other note: the Falcons stayed in the game with the Eagles in 2003 primarily because of Allen Rossum's work in the return game. If the Falcons are going to win tonight, then he needs to be a factor.