Falcons vs. Eagles
When: 7:10 p.m. Monday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
On TV: ESPN
ATLANTA — Dan Quinn is looking to put his mark on the Atlanta Falcons.
He might want to get some tips from Chip Kelly.
Handed the keys of the Philadelphia Eagles after just two years as their head coach, Kelly used his new personnel powers to give the team a radical makeover despite a pair of 10-win seasons. He’ll get his first chance to see how all the changes worked out when the Eagles open the season Monday night in Atlanta.
“The greatest thing about coach Kelly is just his confidence,” said Sam Bradford, the new starting quarterback. “He believes in himself. He believes in the system. When he first got into the league, people were skeptical that he was going to do things that hadn’t been done in the NFL. A lot of people doubted him, but he never doubted his system. He never doubted himself. I think that confidence just really overflows to everyone else in the locker room. We feed off that.”
Quinn, making his coaching debut for the Falcons, is impressed by the job Kelly has done turning the Eagles into his own.
“They are totally committed to the style they want to play,” Quinn said. “That’s what I respect so much about him and his program.”
Kelly traded starting quarterback Nick Foles and star running back LeSean McCoy, allowed top receiver Jeremy Maclin to walk in free agency, and dumped all but one starter in a shaky secondary. Philadelphia has 10 new starters, five on each side of the line.
Kelly allegedly tried to trade up in the draft for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, but that didn’t work out. So the Eagles traded for Bradford, who hasn’t played a regular-season game since October 2013.
Bradford has plenty of weapons to work with, especially in the backfield. Newcomer DeMarco Murray rushed for an NFL-best 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys and was the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Ryan Mathews could also be in line for a 1,000-yard season in Kelly’s run-oriented, up-tempo offense. Darren Sproles is another dangerous weapon, capable of breaking off big gains either as a runner or receiver out of the backfield.
Quinn faces a major rebuilding job in Atlanta as he replaces Mike Smith, the winningest coach in franchise history but fired after going 10-22 the last two seasons. There are big question marks regarding the offensive line, the running game (where rookie Tevin Coleman gets the start), and the revamped defense.
For now, Quinn seems to have won over his players with his frenetic enthusiasm.
“You can just feel when he comes into the room, his excitement for the game,” linebacker Justin Durant said. “Everyone was on board from the beginning.”
Here are some things to watch when the Falcons host the Eagles:
LEAKY LINE: The Falcons will be going with an offensive line that hasn’t played a game together. Andy Levitre immediately became a starter at left guard after being acquired from Tennessee at the end of the preseason — a sign of just how desperate Atlanta is to shore up this unit. All eyes will be on QB Matt Ryan, who took quite a beating the two seasons.
The Falcons must do a better job protecting the face of the franchise.
BRADFORD’S DEBUT: With the St. Louis Rams, he missed part of 2013 and all of last season with knee injuries. But the former No. 1 overall pick looked a like a perfect fit for Kelly’s offense during an extremely impressive preseason, guiding the first-team offense to touchdowns on all four of its drives together.
PRESSURING THE QB: The Falcons must get more pressure on the quarterback after only 22 sacks a year ago, the next-to-lowest total in the league. First-round pick Vic Beasley and newcomer Adrian Clayborn are being counted on to improve those numbers.
Also keep an eye on OLB O’Brien Schofield, getting a start while Brooks Reed recovers from a groin injury. “That’s a big emphasis here,” defensive coordinator Richard Smith said.
REALLY SPECIAL TEAMS: No one is more special on special teams than the Eagles. A year ago, they set an NFL record with seven touchdowns: two punt returns, two kickoff returns, and three blocked punts. Philadelphia might be even better this season, scoring two TDs in the preseason on punt returns by Kenjon Barner.
BOLSTERING THE SECONDARY: Philadelphia’s biggest weakness in 2014 was the pass defense. Enter former Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell, the most notable of three new starters in the secondary.
He’ll be joined by Nolan Carroll, a backup now getting a chance to start, and Walter Thurmond, who moved from cornerback to start opposite Malcolm Jenkins at safety.