In less than 24 hours, the Eagles will host the Atlanta Falcons in the team’s first playoff game since January of 2014. The team has changed a lot since then: new coaches, new players, new schemes. But, after a roller coaster ride of different cities, coaches, and teams, Nick Foles lands in the driver’s seat for the Eagles once again.
Fortunately for Foles, he has a much more talented roster around him this time around. Overcoming injuries at nearly every key position, this Eagles team has proven to be as resilient as it gets.
With two weeks of preparation, and a packed stadium of rabid fans, the Eagles will look to topple the road favorite Falcons. Here are the X-Factors for each phase of the game.
Offense – Corey Clement, RB
The national discussion about the Eagles rushing attack surrounds Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. But, despite being mostly overlooked by pundits, the undrafted rookie has been a dynamic part of the team’s offense.
Clement is a well-rounded back, pairing a slashing running style with great hands out of the backfield. This season he posted 321 yards rushing on top of 123 receiving yards. He scored 6 total touchdowns, most among the Eagles’ talented backfield.
When involved in Coach Staley’s rotation, Clement has proven to be more than just a change-of-pace back. Against a stout Denver defense in Week 9, Clement scored 3 touchdowns on just 13 touches. If given the opportunity, Clement can be a game-changer for the offense.
Defense – Mychal Kendricks, OLB
With much of the Eagles defense focused on limiting superstar receiver Julio Jones, Jim Schwartz’s linebackers will need to take on more responsibility. The Falcons have a lot of weapons at their disposal, notably their duo of running backs.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both very solid receivers out of the backfield. They combined for a total of 616 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. On top of that, tight end Austin Hooper was quietly third on the team in receiving yards this season.
After nearly being shipped away in the offseason, Mychal Kendricks has had a bit of a renaissance for the Eagles this year. He’s always had speed, but this season Kendricks has been flying all over the field. Whether it’s breaking up passes or blowing up screen plays, Mychal Kendricks could be a major factor in stopping Atlanta’s offense on Saturday afternoon.
Special Teams – Kenjon Barner, PR/KR
Rookie Jake Elliott will be counted on to make every kick, but he is an obvious contributor to the special teams unit. A true X-factor on special teams, however, is return man Kenjon Barner.
Despite being signed at the end of September, Barner has been a solid contributor as the Eagles’ punt/kick returner. Although he hasn’t taken taken one to the house (yet), Barner has come close to breaking a few.
In Week 5 against Arizona, the shifty Barner shaked-and-baked his way down the field for 76 yards before being brought down inside the red zone. Even if he doesn’t bring one all the way back, Barner can help set the Eagles up with great field position, which is vital in a playoff showdown like this one.
The day of reckoning has come, Eagles fans. It’s time for this team to once again prove the doubters wrong.