AtlantaFalcons.com contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a listen to Wednesday's conference calls with the Atlanta media from Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid and wide receiver DeSean Jackson to break down what the opposing team is saying and thinking as it heads into a Week 6 meeting with the Falcons.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —It seems every week in every NFL game, the play of a team's offensive line versus an opponent's defensive line — the battle in the trenches — is one of the key components.
This week, it's exceptionally significant for the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Both teams feature strong front lines that rush the passer well and create problems for opposing teams' quarterbacks. Atlanta enters Week 6 with 11 sacks, tied with two other teams for eighth in the NFL. Philadelphia's 15 ranks them fifth.
On Wednesday, Eagles head coach Andy Reid spoke glowingly about Atlanta's front four and the rotation of players head coach Mike Smith introduces in-game on an almost play-by-play basis.
"I think you've got eight guys there that you better come in and say you better strap it on against," Reid said. "I don't see any weaknesses. They're flying around, they're stunting, they're playing good aggressive football."
While Atlanta's offensive line will have its hands full protecting quarterback Matt Ryan from rush ends like Juqua Parker and Trent Cole, they've played well this season, allowing only 10 sacks through five games.
The real edge in the battle of the big bodies up front could come for Atlanta.
Reid had good reason to speak highly of Atlanta's defensive line. He's likely been studying them closely and knows with the health and play of his team's offensive line, the Falcons will look to exploit matchups up front.
The Eagles have allowed 19 sacks of their quarterback, tied for second-worst in the NFL, and injuries continue to mount.
It was announced Wednesday that starting left tackle Jason Peters will have knee surgery and will miss at least Sunday's game against the Falcons.
Additionally, earlier this season they lost starting fullback Leonard Weaver and starting center Jamaal Jackson. Mike McGlynn, Jackson's replacement, is a first-time starter and full back Owen Schmitt is a second-year player signed in September.
Reid wouldn't single out his O-line as the sole cause for the high number of sacks allowed, nor would he use injuries as an excuse. The head coach knows the Falcons squad coming in on Sunday will test his patchwork line.
"We've had a few injuries. That happens, and you move on and just keep rolling," the head coach said. "We've given up a few sacks and we've got to take care of that. I don't always attribute the sacks to the offensive line. I think everybody has a piece of that pie. We can do a better job there and we should have a big challenge on Sunday. This is a great test for us with this group coming in, they're as good of a defensive line as there is."
The biggest test may come for King Dunlap, the tackle expected to start for Peters. The 2008 seventh-round pick is credited from various media outlets for allowing as many as three sacks last week when he subbed for the injured Peters against San Francisco.
Dunlap will need to contain John Abraham, the defensive end who is on pace to have a career year. So far this season he has four sacks, including three in the past three games.
Reid is very familiar with the 11-year veteran, although he's never recorded a sack in three games against the Eagles as a Falcons player. But the Eagles head coach knows what the end is capable of and what kind of season he's having.
"Abraham has been in this league a long time and I think he's playing at a very high level," Reid said.
New addition:Wednesday afternoon, Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported on his Twitter account that the Eagles have agreed with the Cleveland Browns on a trade that would send running back Jerome Harrison to Philadelphia in exchange for running back Mike Bell.
Dual threat:When a team has a two-headed quarterback situation either by choice or due to injury, the onus often seems to be on the opposing team to deal with the stress of preparing for two quarterbacks.
Atlanta has a particularly tough task this week preparing for the Eagles' amazingly mobile Michael Vick and the more traditional drop-back passer in Kevin Kolb.
The Falcons, however, are well-versed in multiple-quarterback preparation. They prepared to face a similar situation last week against Cleveland.
Vick missed last week's win over the 49ers after injuring his ribs in Week 4. Reid said the quarterback just started lifting weights and would not practice Wednesday.
The Eagles are taking a day-by-day approach to bringing Vick back, and while Reid wouldn't rule out the chances of Vick playing if he didn't practice, he made it sound unlikely.
"I told our guys if he doesn't practice this week, I'm probably not going to start him," Reid said. "That's the reality of it. I'm not going to put him out there if he's sore and all that. I wouldn't do that with any player, let alone Michael."
Even with such dramatically different quarterback styles under center, the head coach said his offensive playbook doesn't change, which in theory should help the Falcons prepare for either quarterback.
"They're basically the same plays," Reid said. "We don't switch up a lot. Micheal's going to create stuff with his speed and his ability to run on his own. We don't add a bunch of new things just because he's in there, that's not what we do. Not when he's a starter. We did when he was part of the Wildcat."
Young guns:The Eagles feature two young and talented receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, both first-round draft picks in recent years.
Jackson leads Philadelphia in receiving yards with 361, but much of that came in Weeks 2 and 3 when he had 135 and 153 yards, respectively. His two receiving touchdowns ties him for second on the team.
Maclin leads the team with four receiving touchdowns, although he hasn't scored in the past two games.
Jackson thinks that even though his yards per catch average is down, it's just a matter of time before he has even bigger games. So far this season, the big chances deep down the field haven't come.
"Just really not having the opportunity to go out there and make the huge plays like I've been doing as far as getting the ball down the field and getting the ball in my hands," he said. "... I'm just patiently waiting and just go out there and do whatever I can and contribute to the team winning and having success."
Even though both players have been quiet in recent games, cornerbacks Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens will have their hands full with the receivers.
Jackson said he's not worried about what Atlanta's defense will try to do to slow him and his teammates down. Their approach is to make things happen within their playbook and make opposing defenses respond accordingly.
"We don't really get caught up in what other teams are able to do on defense because we're confident in ourselves in what we do as a unit," he said.