FLOWERY BRANCH — When breaking down the Falcons season’ opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, it becomes clear that the Falcons, with their reconfigured offensive line, must figure out a way to attack Philadelphia’s secondary.
The key will be the $134.25 million matchup of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones against Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell. Jones received a five-year $71.25 million extension this offseason and Maxwell, one of Falcons head coach Dan Quinn’s former pupils in Seattle, was the top cornerback in free agency and received a $63 million deal from the Eagles.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis has indicated that Maxwell follow the Falcons top receiver (Jones).
After that, things get murky because the Eagles made a controversial trade of former Georgia standout Brandon Boykin before the start of training camp. The Fayette County High product is considered one of the top nickel backs in the league, but is now with the Steelers.
Rookie sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd was slated to replace Boykin inside. But Shepherd suffered a knee injury as is out for the season.
Second-round pick Eric Rowe has struggled inside and outside. He’ll get targetted if he plays.
Former Tampa Bay Buc E.J. Biggers (2009-12) and Washington Redskin (2013-14) looks like the best bet to be the Eagles’ nickel corner against the Falcons. The Eagles could also slide Walt Thurmond, another former Seahawk, to nickel. He was switched from corner to safety this spring.
All of this has Falcons receiver Roddy White excited.
“We watch film,” White said. “This is live bullets. We’ve been watching film. We’ve been watching their guys.”
He knows that the Eagles gave up a NFL-high number (72) of pass plays of 20 yards or more last season. The Eagles also gave up 30 touchdown passes.
“They didn’t finished too high in pass (defense) categories last year,” White said. “They got a new player. Byron is going to help them out. They have a rookie out there that they have been working in and out of the slot.”
Jones and White, who is coming back from elbow surgery, combined for 184 receptions, 2,514 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Jones led the NFC with 104 receptions.
“We see some guys out there and some matchups that we’ll try to take advantage of. They are going to come out there and be fired up. We have to get ourselves ready to play. We can’t really be worried about them. We have to be worried about us and how fast we can play.”
While the marquee matchup will be Jones vs. Maxwell, who has just 17 NFL starts, White could have a field day against the No. 2 corner and the No. 3, when pops into the slot.