The Falcons will always gladly take every advantage they can get.
Right now, they know playing the second game of the season at home is a big advantage for them. A loud Georgia Dome gives the home team a significant leg up on the opposition. The fans are expected to do their part to aid the Falcons in victory.
"The crowd is huge for any home game," cornerback Brent Grimes said Thursday. "It disrupts their offense and it gives us energy. Our crowd does a good job of that."
The players don't *need *a reason to be excited for Sunday's game, but there's some added elements that can raise their focus. A nationally televised game is a great opportunity to show any doubters of this year's Falcons that there's still reason to believe. National television has a way of making players rise to the occasion.
"Everyone's going to be watching," middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "We want to put out a good image out there and get this home opener."
But Atlanta is quick to remind themselves and everyone else that this is still just one of 16 games they play. Even though every one will be watching, that can't be the reason they come to play. If it is, there's sure to be a let down around the corner. Regardless of the start time on Sunday, the game must be treated as important as every other game.
"We definitely want to come out here and play our best and win this football game," cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "We can't get too wrapped up with everything that is coming with this. We've got to treat it like any other game and go out there and play ball."
That doesn't mean the fans in the Dome can't put extra emphasis on the game. A primetime matchup is a point of pride and every fan in the stadium wanting to have his or her voice heard on national television isn't a bad thing. Head coach Mike Smith is glad he's got that home crowd on his side this week and every week.
"The fans are going to be very important," he said. "I've said this many times, they're the best fans in the National Football League. They know when to cheer, when to be quiet and it's going to be very important for us this week. We want to make sure it's to our advantage, especially when the Eagles are on offense. We need to try to be as disruptive as we can in terms of creating those procedural penalties."
Defend D-Jax:Now that Michael Vick leads the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the most exciting players in the NFL is overshadowed, but he won't be overlooked by the Falcons.
Philly's other playmaker, wide receiver/returner DeSean Jackson, will draw great attention on Sunday, though the Falcons hope it's because they're shutting him down. Jackson can hurt a team as a receiver and as a return man. He earned Pro Bowl honors after the 2009 season for both positions, the first time a player earned a nod for two different positions.
Jackson's speed, especially as a wide receiver is what makes him so dangerous. He can stretch the field with or without the ball.
"DeSean Jackson is definitely one of the fastest guys in the NFL," Robinson said. "He can definitely take the top off the defense."
Obviously, slowing him down will be key. Safety Thomas DeCoud said Wednesday that disrupting his timing on his routes can interfere with his ability to get the defined spots on the field to receive passes. Even though he's not the biggest guy on the field, DeCoud also said tackling the receiver is a challenge.
"He's deceptively hard to tackle for a guy who is 170 pounds," DeCoud, who was a teammate of Jackson's at California, said. "Being able to keep up with him and get him on the ground once you get close to him."
Cornered Market:One of the things that makes the Eagles so dangerous is their ability to defend the pass. They've got a tough front four, but they feature three former Pro Bowlers at cornerback, two of which are new additions to the team. The Eagles boast a new defensive coordinator and numerous new pieces on defense, but most notably were the additions of the two corners, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Atlanta has faced the Eagles three consecutive seasons, but this year's matchup, with all their changes, means a little less familiarity with the NFC foe.
"Their defense looks good," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Watching them on tape, I think some of the additions they've made have helped. Obviously the front four, with the two key additions, look solid and they're physical. Then you look at Nnamdi on the outside, talented corner, played against him a couple of years out in Oakland and we've played against Asante (Samuels) a couple of times up there. It's a talented bunch of guys, that's for sure. They're in a new scheme this year and doing some things differently than we've seen in the past."
Ryan has also faced Rodgers-Cromartie, when both were rookies in the 2008 playoffs. That same season was when Ryan faced Asomugha. In a 24-0 victory, Ryan threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Both TD passes came against the Raiders' other two cornerbacks, Ryan choosing not to test Asomugha, arguably, even at that time, the best cornerback in the league. Although Ryan didn't throw at Asomugha much, the film study and familiarity is there.
Facing the three-headed corner monster is a nice test for Atlanta's talented group of wide receivers as well. They're excited about the opportunity to go against the best.
"You relish opportunities like that," wide receiver Roddy White said. "This is probably the best secondary we'll face all year. Those guys can play on that side of the ball. We're going to be jacked up. Me, Harry (Douglas) and Julio (Jones) will be really jacked up to go out and go against those guys. You really turn it up when you go against the best in the league."
Although the pass catchers are ready, Ryan must ensure he's ready. Protecting the football will be of the highest importance against a dangerous pass defense with an explosive offense on the opposing sidelines waiting to take the field and the momentum. The Falcons believe they can move the ball against Philadelphia, but they need to hold onto it as well.
"We just can't turn it over," White said. "That's probably the biggest part of our game, we've just go to hold onto the ball."
Roster Update:The Falcons announced Thursday they have given the denotation of practice-squad injured to practice squad tight end Marquez Branson and signed tight end Tommy Gallarda to the practice squad.
"We had the injury yesterday to Marquez Branson," Smith said Thursday. "He had a dislocated knee cap so he's going to be moved off of the roster and we're ready to get (Gallarda) in. He's from Boise State; a big, blocking tight end. Someone that was with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier in the season."
Fullback Ovie Mughelli was limited in practice, but said it would be hard for him to miss Sunday's game.
"I wouldn't miss this game, I wouldn't miss any game, for anything," he said. "Football is a game of inches and if I can help provide some of those inches for our offense, I will try to do so."
Joining Mughelli as a limited participant was wide receiver Harry Douglas, who is still working his way through the league's concussion protocol.
Cornerback Chris Owens did not practice Thursday, joined by center Todd McClure and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Babineaux has already been ruled out for Sunday.
For the Eagles, defensive end Darryl Tapp and quarterback Vince Young did not practice. Linebacker Akeem Jordan and cornerback Rodgers-Cromartie were limited in practice. Safety Nate Allen, tackle Winston Justice, defensive end Juqua Parker and wide receiver Steve Smith fully participated.