What's different about the Falcons' offense compared to last season? "They're really trying to establish the run game with the wide zone. They have two very good running backs, powerful backs that can get downhill quick. I would say they're more predicated toward the run. Matt Ryan seemed to have a little more free range to get the passing going [last year]. Now with [Tevin] Coleman and [Devonta] Freeman, they're definitely trying to establish the run game a tad more than we've seen in years past."
How do you take Ryan out of his game? "He's not the type of guy that likes to get hit. If you can get after him early, that'll get him rattled. We know they like to run a lot of two-man routes, so there's going to be more protection. Wherever their singles are, those are the guys that have to win."
What's the best way to attack the Falcons' defense? "You have to get them off-balance. You've got to slow down those pass-rushers … with screens, with draws, with an established running game and then hit them with the play-action. If not, you're working right into what they're game planning for. It's the same thing throughout the whole league. Pass-rushers are highly paid for a reason: to sack the quarterback. If you don't stop what they do best, you're just playing right into their trap."
Prediction: The sixth-seeded Falcons understand their track back to the Super Bowl will be all on the road, and things got off to a good start with last week's 26-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams. The Falcons won that game, in large part, because they controlled the clock by sticking to the run game, which allowed them to possess the ball more than 15 minutes longer than the Rams. Maybe the same formula could work against top-seeded Philadelphia, but the Eagles led the league in run defense during the regular season, allowing just 79.2 yards per game. Run game aside, look for Matt Ryan to find some opportunities down the field with Julio Jones, speedster Taylor Gabriel, and perhaps tight end Austin Hooper. Jones' recovery from a right ankle injury shouldn't hold him back. He's averaging 104.7 receiving yards per game in seven career playoff games, the highest average of any player in NFL history
On how to blitz Nick Foles: "We felt like we wanted to get pressure in his face, so we'd get up in the A and B gaps against him. That was our plan of attack, and it got him off his spot. He's the kind of guy who likes to hit his back foot, and the ball is coming out most of the time. He's fairly athletic for being a quarterback, but not on par with a guy like Carson Wentz. He can be mobile, but he's still a guy that does his damage in the pocket and a guy you want to get off his spot."
On how to stop Nelson Agholor in the slot: "With him being in the slot a lot more this year, you have to be patient against him because he has so much more room and a lot of field to use. They did that well with him, too, using a lot of the field. And you have to be aware of his make-a-play ability. Once he gets his hands on the ball, he can take it the distance. He's explosive, and the way they use him, there are a lot of different route concepts he can do. The biggest thing is to limit his yards after the catch. If he does get you, you want to make the tackle. If you miss and he gets going, it's hard to catch him."
On how to combat the Eagles' front seven: "They tackle the running back on the way to the quarterback. So they have a defensive line that will really rush up the field. If you can protect and hold them off, it will negate some of what they want to be about. I think draws and screens can help because they are rushing so hard up the field that hopefully you can slow them down or get them to chase up the field and go over their head on a screen or a draw. Stay in manageable third downs where you can get the ball out quickly so you don't have long dropbacks to where they can pin their ears back and rush. You have to use a good snap count to keep them guessing so they can't tee off and come a million miles an hour, knowing when the ball is being snapped. If you can run the ball, that helps, but I don't know many teams who can do that. You want to run the ball, but you don't want to waste plays. You want to be selective with your runs because if you're getting to second-and-10 every time on the run, you might as well scrap it."
Prediction: The Falcons are 11-0 this season when they score 20 or more points, and 0-6 when they don't. The Eagles' defense, which finished fourth in points allowed (18.4) and first against the run, has to put the clamps on Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones and a the rest of the talented Atlanta attack. The Philly crowd noise should help in those efforts. The recipe on offense is to lean on a fresh Jay Ajayi and put backup quarterback Nick Foles in favorable situations. He will have to make a key play or two to win the game. You never know which version of Foles you'll get from week to week, but the bet here is he bounces back from a couple rough outings to close the regular season and performs well enough to push the Eagles into NFC Championship Game. They are the first No. 1 seed to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog and are hot about it. Philly is ready to let off some steam. Eagles 23, Falcons 17 -- Tim McManus, Eagles reporter