Doug Pederson not fooled by Falcons’ opener: ‘This is a playoff-caliber team’

The Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles are no strangers. Falcons coach Dan Quinn began his career in Atlanta with a 26-24 victory against the Eagles in the 2015 season opener, and the two teams have played each other every season since.

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That streak will continue on Sunday when the Eagles (1-0) come to Atlanta for a prime-time matchup on “Sunday Night Football,” and the Falcons (0-1) are looking for their first win against Philadelphia since that start to the 2015 season. Atlanta is also looking to rebound from a poor start to the 2019 season after losing to the Vikings 28-12.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson isn’t buying into the Falcons’ lackluster performance against the Vikings, however. The past two games between these two teams have been decided by a combined 11 points, and Pederson still views Atlanta as a team capable of beating anyone.

“I still think this is a very good football team,” Pederson said. “No indication this past weekend, that’s not who they are at all. This is a good, explosive offense as we know. Defensively, they can be very disruptive. They’ve got speed on defense; Grady Jarrett is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. This is a playoff-caliber team.”

Turnovers crippled the Falcons offensively against the Vikings. Matt Ryan tossed two interceptions, including one at the goal line, and Devonta Freeman fumbled the ball deep in Minnesota territory. Those giveaways cost Atlanta precious opportunities to score points and quiet a ravenous Vikings crowd.

With better execution at home, the Falcons can rebound and show the full potential of their offense. But the Eagles have had a good read on Atlanta’s offense since Pederson’s arrival in 2016. Philadelphia held Atlanta to just 12 points last season, 10 points in the 2017 playoffs and 15 points during the Falcons’ explosive 2016 season.

“With the firepower they have on offense, it has always come down to understanding who is where. Whether [Mohamed] Sanu is lining up at quarterback or where Julio Jones is, things like that,” Pederson said. “We know Matt Ryan is a great quarterback and can really pick a defense apart if you let him.”

The key commonality in those three previous games was the location, as each was played in Philadelphia. Now, the Falcons have them in the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Quinn said he “definitely” believes there will be a home-field advantage on Sunday.

Winning on the road is never easy in the NFL. Just ask the Washington Redskins, who jumped out to an early 17-0 lead against the Eagles in Philadelphia last week but wound up on the wrong end of a 32-27 outcome. The Eagles will now face that challenge for themselves, and Pederson also expects an electric atmosphere on Sunday night.

“We’ve had them here at our place the last couple of years, so this is a different challenge for us,” Pederson said. “Going on the road, early in the season against a really good football team in a dome environment, it’s going to be loud.”

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