Eagles can count on defense until offense finds rhythm
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — While the offense finds it rhythm, the Philadelphia Eagles know they can count on a smothering defense.
The group shut down Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons again in their season opener and now have a few extra days rest before hitting the road next week. Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox dominated while playing 93 percent of the snaps in the 18-12 victory.
"It's a credit to him and how well he's worked in the offseason and obviously in training camp," coach Doug Pederson said Friday. "Fletcher is a tremendous, tremendous player. He's a strong, powerful guy, very disruptive in the pocket. Those are things that you like to see from your top players."
The Falcons were held to 299 total yards, including 74 rushing. Ryan struggled most of the night, going 21 of 43 for 251 yards and one interception.
Philadelphia's defense did its best work inside the red zone. Kamu Grugier-Hill stopped Devonta Freeman on fourth down from the 1 on the opening series and need a stand to seal the win. The defense forced Ryan to throw four straight incomplete passes from the 10 on the final possession only to have a penalty give the Falcons one more chance from the 5. Ronald Darby prevented Julio Jones from making a catch in the left corner of the end zone on the last play .
"We put a big emphasis on red zone," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Our scheme is pretty simple, we're really good at what we do, we detail every small thing, and we trust our players. When we get down to it, it's nothing complex or anything. We just do our jobs and we trust our matchups. Obviously guys show up, and it's been crucial for our team."
The offense took a while to get going after a shaky preseason in which most starters didn't play much. With Carson Wentz still recovering from knee surgery and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery also sidelined, the unit was out of sync.
Nick Foles wasn't sharp but played mistake-free until a pass bounced out of rookie Dallas Goedert's hands and went right to Atlanta's Deion Jones. But Pederson turned to his trick plays and called Foles' number in the third quarter to invigorate the offense and the crowd. Nelson Agholor's 15-yard pass to Foles extended a drive that ended with Jay Ajayi's first of two TD runs.
"I knew the play was going to be effective based on what the Falcons had been showing up in that situation, and I needed it to work and be a spark for the offense," Pederson said. "I try not to do things as conventional at times, but at the same time, I want to make sure that I'm doing the best for the football team and giving us a chance to succeed."
The Eagles will play at Tampa Bay on Sept. 16. They came out of the opener without any significant injuries and will get linebacker Nigel Bradham back against the Buccaneers. He served a one-game suspension Thursday night.
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