Falcons' inside slant 01 20 2005

Atlanta Falcons' Inside slant for Jan. 20, 2005

The Falcons might pull out a few trick plays Sunday at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, as they did Saturday in a second-round walkover against the Rams.

But the bottom line is the Falcons are going to try to run the ball, and that's not going to surprise anyone.

Atlanta led the NFL in rushing with a 167-yard average per game and rushed for an amazing 327 yards in a 47-17 win over the Rams.

The Eagles were No. 16 against the run.

"I mean, everyone in the whole country knows what you're doing and the thing is: Can you go out and produce?" said RB Warrick Dunn, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of Atlanta's last five games.

Falcons rookie head coach Jim Mora doesn't deny it, as he shouldn't.

"We're going to try to run the football and keep them out of the strength of their game, which is rushing the passer," he said.

Yet, despite Eagles defensive coordinator Jimmie Johnson's reputation for exotic blitzes, he has a variety of fronts that he uses against the run and pass.

"I believe that they will absolutely be aggressive with their blitz package," Mora said. "It's what they do. They are very creative, they are very aggressive, they get up on their toes and go after you. I can't think of anyone that gives you more exotic looks than they do. That's just a testament to Jim Johnson's creativity. He's not unwilling to take chances to give you different, unscouted looks."

Atlanta may have a player many NFL observers consider the ultimate "X factor" in QB Michael Vick, but the Eagles have the experience of playing in three straight previous title games, losing all three.

The Falcons (12-5) have been in the NFC Championship Game just one other time, beating the Vikings 30-27 in overtime before losing Super Bowl XXXIII to the Broncos six years ago.

Atlanta lost at home to the Eagles last season and fell at Philadelphia 20-6 in the playoffs after the 2002 season. That was in Veterans Stadium.

In one regard, players expect no change in Lincoln Financial Field.

"I would say (it's) one of the most hostile environments I think a player can play in because the fans are rude as hell, the crowd is definitely behind their Eagles and it's just a situation to where it's you against them -- everyone else in that stadium," Dunn said. "It's the Falcons against 75,000 people in that stadium. You have compassion for that because those guys are rooting for their team, but it's not going to be easy by any means and what we have to try to do is take the crowd out of it."

SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. Eagles lead 11-9-1. Each team has beaten the other once in the playoffs, the Falcons winning in 1978 at home, and Philadelphia after the 2002 season at home. Last season, Philadelphia overcame a halftime deficit to beat Atlanta 23-16 in the Georgia Dome in a November game.

NOTES, QUOTES

--DT Ed Jasper was drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round in 1996 and spent two seasons with Philadelphia before being cut. Atlanta signed him in 1998. His first day in Philly was impossible to forget. "I was standing out on a corner, talking to this shopkeeper, and these two dudes robbed a McDonald's and they come out the door, and everybody is screaming," he said. "I looked and it was like a cartoon, cops were just falling out. The police station was like right next door to the McDonald's. And the cops were chasing these two dudes with guns down Market Street. The shopkeeper I was talking to locked the door, locked me out on the street. I'm like, man, I hope that dude don't run next to me and hold that gun next to my head."

--The Falcons got 500 tickets to split up among their families and friends and did not, president/general manager Rich McKay said, buy a suite for the families of front office personnel. They'll sit in the stands, with a security staff bolstered by the NFL.

--QB Ty Detmer will likely be inactive for the NFC Championship, but his younger brother Koy is one play away from getting into the game. He's the Eagles' No. 2 quarterback. "I talked to him on Monday about tickets for the family and how we were going to do that," said Ty Detmer, a former Eagle. "I will probably talk to him on Friday and meet maybe for dinner on Saturday before meetings and things. We're both professionals, we've been at it a long time now and know how to handle the 'what to' and 'what not to' talk about. It will be good. I'm looking forward to it and I know he is, too."

--As a member of a division champion team, each Falcons player -- and many employees -- will receive an $18,000 playoff share (before taxes) and another $36,500 for advancing to the NFC Championship Game. Players on the Super Bowl championship team get $68,000 more each, and players on the losing team another $36,500 each.

--The Falcons are the only team undefeated in NFC Championship Games, beating the Vikings 30-27 in overtime in their other appearance, on Jan. 17, 1999. This is the fourth straight season, eighth in the last nine, and 14th in the past 17 that at least one team from Atlanta's division has appeared in the NFC title game.

The Eagles have lost three straight title games to teams from the Falcons' division -- Carolina, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis. The Falcons were in the NFC West with the Rams (and 49ers) before realignment in 2002 put them in the NFC South.

--Falcons coach Jim Mora said early in the week that his team was playing with "house money" in Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia, implying that his team is such a surprise to each this point that it has little to lose. But for all the fuss about how the Eagles will be under pressure because they've lost the last three NFC title games, he hasn't beaten that drum too much. "What we've learned through these first 17 weeks is that we focus on us," Mora said. "We don't necessarily worry about our opponent's psyche. We don't worry about the fact that they've lost the last three NFC Championship games, that they're feeling the pressure. None of that should matter to us."

--Falcons coach Jim Mora on Wednesday gave credit to his predecessor, Dan Reeves, who was fired in December 2003. "I think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit," said Mora, who has spoken to Reeves on occasion this season. "He set the table for us. He ingrained a work ethic in these guys. I don't think the 5-11 (in 2003) was an indictment on Dan at any level. For me to stand here and not say anything positive about Dan Reeves would be ludicrous and very arrogant. He's a guy that my whole life I've looked up to."

BY THE NUMBERS: 35.4% -- The percentage of the Falcons' NFL-leading sacks that came on the road. Atlanta had 31 sacks at home, 17 in road games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know who the pressure's on, but I know the pressure's not on us." -- Falcons QB Michael Vick.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Falcons used two screen passes against the Rams in an attempt to slow down the rush. RB Warrick Dunn and CB DeAngelo Hall picked up minimal gains.

For a team whose offense is base in West Coast principles, the Falcons don't screen much.

On another play, Dunn threw a pass to QB Michael Vick. Mora, who admitted that he had a hand in some of those calls and trick plays, says he's going to stick to working with the defense.

"I saw what happened," Mora said. "Believe me. I know what happened. When they were driving Mike's head into the turf, I was going, 'Hey, stick to defense.' "

--CB Kevin Mathis did not practice with the Falcons on Wednesday, but his badly sprained right ankle has improved. He was no longer wearing the walking cast that he donned after sustaining the injury Saturday night and through Monday at least. He was listed as questionable on the injury report for Sunday's game against the Eagles. Regardless of whether he plays, Jason Webster is likely to return to the starting lineup.

--CB Allen Rossum most likely would replace CB Kevin Mathis in nickel and dime situations in the slot if Mathis' sprained right ankle does not heal in time for Sunday's game at Philadelphia.

--RT Todd Weiner (sprained left ankle) did not practice Wednesday but seems to have a decent shot at playing Sunday at Philadelphia.

--OL Steve Herndon is most likely to play in place of RT Todd Weiner (sprained ankle) if Weiner can't go Sunday at Philadelphia. Herndon started the second game of the season at LT, when Kevin Shaffer had a knee injury. The other candidate is Austin King. Weiner is questionable on the injury report.

--DL Travis Hall (chest injury) did not practice Wednesday for the Falcons and is listed as questionable (50-50) for Sunday's game at Philadelphia.

--WR Brian Finneran practiced with a sprained right wrist/thumb and is probable for Sunday's NFC Championship Game. There's little reason to believe Finneran won't continue as Atlanta's No. 3 WR.

GAME PLAN: The Falcons are going to run, period. But they're preparing to pass, too. Their matchup edge with TE Alge Crumpler might not be as great as usual thanks to the quality of Philadelphia safeties Michael Lewis and Brian Dawkins, a Pro Bowler.

Getting QB Michael Vick on the edge is critical, posing him as a dual run/pass threat.

Defensively, the Falcons will have to pay special attention to Eagles RB Brian Westbrook, whose 73 receptions led the league. Philadelphia was 31st in run attempts in the NF, although for some purposes the Eagles consider their many screen passes an extension of the run game.

SS Bryan Scott might match up against Westbrook in the passing game, but LBs Keith Brooking, Matt Stewart and even MLB Chris Draft will be important as well.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Eagles LDE Jevon Kearse vs. Falcons RT Todd Weiner or Steve Herndon -- Kearse didn't put up huge numbers in his first season with Philadelphia, but he's still very capable of a big game. Weiner had a pretty darned good season for Atlanta, and if his sprained ankle keeps him out of Sunday's game, the Falcons will face a significant disadvantage with Herndon working against Kearse.

Falcons TE Alge Crumpler vs. Eagles Ss Michael Lewis and Brian Dawkins -- Although Dawkins works mostly at FS, he's expected to match up plenty with Crumpler in a duel of Pro Bowlers. That' a tough deal for Crumpler, who might not be as mobile as usual while continuing his comeback from a December sprained knee.

Falcons C Todd McClure vs. Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter -- In many situations, McClure will be responsible for getting a helmet on Trotter, who has been playing out of his mind lately. McClure's crafty but not exactly a physical specimen.

INJURY IMPACT: The Falcons can ill-afford to lose LT Kevin Shaffer; his primary replacement, Steve Herndon, is chiefly a G/C. Until Herndon replaced LT Kevin Shaffer in the second game of the season when Shaffer had a sprained knee, all of his pro experience was in the middle of the line. ... If CB Kevin Mathis is unable to play, he will likely be missed much more at nickel back than RCB, where Jason Webster is rounding back into shape after a lengthy battle with a groin pull. At nickel, the backup is Allen Rossum, who's undersized at 5-foot-8.

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