The Jim Schwartz-coached Birds defense came up big in the red zone. The Eagles defensive line led by Chris Long and Fletcher Cox were able to put pressure on Matt Ryan all night long. Schwartz mixed up the coverages by playing man-to-man at the start of the game in the red zone, then staying in a zone coverage for the final five play series of the game. They were only one for five in scoring touchdown in the red zone for the game. That was great defensive football by the Eagles.
Long had 1.5 sacks in the game and Cox had one sack in the game. He lost a sack in the game because second-year defensive end Derek Barnett was off sides on the play. Long and Cox were beating the Falcons offensive line and in the face of Ryan all night long.
The story of the game was the red zone stops by the Eagles defense. The first drive of the 2018 NFL season ended with the Falcons being stopped on fourth down by a great play by Birds backup linebacker Kamu Grucier-Hill on the one yard line.
The last play of the game featured Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby pushing Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones out of the end zone, so he couldn’t come down in bounds with the football. Jones caught the football this time, but wound up with the same result. The Eagles had secured a win over the Falcons. Time and time again the Eagles defense made plays when they needed to do so. Yes Jones had a very productive game with 169 yards on ten catches. The Eagles defense gave up 299 yards in the game, which was good, but the Birds defense only surrendered 12 points, two fields goals, one touchdown and a missed extra point.
On the fourth down play of first drive of the game, backup linebacker Grucier-Hill fought off of a block by the tight end, then he escaped a block by the fullback before cutting the legs out from under the ball carrier, Freeman.
On the third down play just before Grucier-Hill’s stop, Atlanta tried to get the ball to Freeman on a out route against Nate Gerry, who was starting in the first game of his career. They walked Freeman out into the slot and he was got open on the route and Ryan’s throw hit Freeman in the hands, but he couldn’t hold onto it.
Backup cornerback Rasul Douglas made an incredible interception in the fourth quarter, when he came in the game for Darby who had been nicked up for a play. Astonishingly, Ryan floated a pass outside to Jones, but Douglas stepped in front of him and picked it off.
Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian still hasn’t figured out what to do in the red zone. You are supposed to overload an area versus zone or run pick plays or get open routes versus man to man.