Eagles had right formula for success vs Falcons last season

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Atlanta’s high-flying offense had its way with every defense it faced in 2016 on the way to the Super Bowl except Jim Schwartz’s unit.

The Philadelphia Eagles shut down the Falcons in a 24-15 victory in Week 10 last season, holding them to a season low in points, first downs (11) and yards (303).

They’ll try to do it again with a berth in the NFC championship game at stake.

When the Falcons (11-6) visit the Eagles (13-3) in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Schwartz will turn to the blueprint he used last season. But he knows that doesn’t guarantee success again.

“They are a little bit different than last year,” Schwartz said. “It’s a new season. Playoff games stand on their own.”

Julio Jones had 10 catches for 135 yards, but didn’t score a touchdown against the Eagles in that game. Matt Ryan completed only eight passes to other receivers for 132 yards, including a 76-yard TD to Taylor Gabriel.

Schwartz doesn’t care about allowing Jones to rack up fantasy points. Keeping him out of the end zone is more important.

“If Julio Jones has 350 yards receiving and we win the game, that’s what it took to win the game,” Schwartz said.

“If he has 10 yards receiving for the game-winning touchdown, then that wasn’t enough.

“So I think you have to look at it that way. How do you stop their offense, how do you minimize their scoring and not just concentrate on one player because they do have other players that are threats. It’s not just a one-man team.”

The Eagles blitzed Ryan more than usual and the 2016 NFL MVP had his worst game of the season. He was sacked twice, threw one interception, completed only 55 percent of his passes and had a 78.7 passer rating.

Schwartz has more talent on his defense now, including more depth on the defensive line and a revamped secondary.

The Eagles often generate a strong rush without relying on the blitz and they have cornerbacks who can handle receivers one-on-one if Schwartz wants to be aggressive.

“They are a very good offensive protection team as far as picking up blitzes,” Schwartz said.

“Blitz is not a whole lot different than pass rush. You can’t expect to have guys free. If you’re expecting to get guys free, you’re in the wrong business because the only way you can really get a guy free is to bring more than they can block and there’s some risk inherent to that.

“But blitz is really all about guys winning one-on-ones, and when you do that, then your blitz game is going to be effective and I’m not just talking about one-on-ones in pass rush, but I’m talking about one-on-ones in coverage, too. Both of those go hand in hand.”

Under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan after he left to coach San Francisco, the Falcons had a big drop-off in production. They went from No. 1 in scoring at 33.8 points per game to 15th at 22.1. They fell from second in yards to eighth.

But they still have Ryan, Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper.

“They look sharp and they’re playing at a high level,” defensive end Chris Long said. “We’ll have to bring our `A’ game.”

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Freeman runs for 126 yards, Falcons hold off Bucs 24-21

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Devonta Freeman rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown to help the Atlanta Falcons stay close in the tight NFC South race with a 24-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

Freeman scored on a 32-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, restoring a 10-point lead for the Falcons (9-5), who then barely hung on to win for the fifth time in six games and remain one game behind New Orleans and Carolina in the division standings.

Freeman also caught five passes for a team-high 68 yards and had a first-half fumble recovered in the end zone by teammate Levine Toilolo for a touchdown. Matt Ryan threw an early TD pass to Justin Hardy and finished 17 of 31 passing for 212 yards and no interceptions.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Jameis Winston threw for 299 yards and three TDs for the Bucs (4-10), including a 16-yarder to Adam Humphries that trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 24-21 with 3:51 remaining.

Winston, who also threw TD passes of 30 yards to O.J. Howard and 42 yards to Mike Evans, got the ball back with a minute left and nearly sent the game into overtime.

The third-year pro completed three straight passes to move the ball from his 29 to the Atlanta 36. Patrick Murray came on to try a 54-yard field goal to tie it, but the kick sailed wide right as time expired.

The Falcons play at New Orleans next Sunday, then close the regular season at home against Carolina – the two teams they’re chasing in the division race.

The Bucs have lost nine of 11 following a 2-1 start, taking a step back after finishing 9-7 a year ago in their first season under coach Dirk Koetter.

RING OF HONOR

Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who’s spent the past nine seasons as ESPN’s game analyst on Monday Night Football, was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium during a halftime ceremony.

Gruden was acquired from the Oakland Raiders in exchange for two first-round draft picks, two second-round draft pick and $8 million before leading the 2002 Bucs to the club’s only Super Bowl championship in his first season in Tampa Bay.

Gruden was fired after the 2008 season and moved into the broadcast booth the following season. The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and don’t have a postseason win since their Super Bowl run 15 years ago.

The coach’s sons – Deuce, Mike and Jayson – led the Bucs out of the tunnel before the game as the team’s honorary flag runners.

Gruden is the 11th member of the Ring of Honor, joining Hall of Famers Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, as well as Doug Williams, John Lynch, John McKay, Mike Alstott, Jimmie Giles, Paul Gruber and Malcom Glazer.

INJURIES

Falcons: RB Tevin Coleman (concussion) and G Andy Levire (triceps) did not play.

Buccaneers: Played without their top two players, DT Gerald McCoy (biceps) and LB Lavonte David (hamstring), who were inactive. … Howard (ankle) limped off the field after being hit near the goal line on his TD and did not return. … G J.R. Sweezy suffered what was described as a lower body injury in the second quarter and did not return. The second half took a heavy toll, too, with LB Adarius Glanton being carted off with a leg injury, S T.J. Ward evaluated for a concussion, and S Justin Evans and WR DeSean Jackson lost to ankle injuries.

UP NEXT

Falcons: Travel to New Orleans to face division-leading Saints on Sunday.

Buccaneers: Play final road game of season at Carolina.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL.

Saints move to road favorite against Falcons for Thursday Night

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A matchup of NFC South rivals that each possess extreme betting trends has seen the line shift toward the red-hot New Orleans Saints, but the Atlanta Falcons could illustrate that what goes up always comes down in the NFL, eventually.

The New Orleans Saints and veteran quarterback Drew Brees are listed as a 1.5-point road favorite against the Atlanta Falcons with a 51.5-point total for the NFL Week 14 Thursday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The NFC South-leading Saints are 7-1 straight-up in the last eight conference games and 3-1 against the spread in their last four games with the Falcons, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Atlanta, which is certainly in more of a must-win situation as far as playoff hopes are concerned, is 9-2 ATS in its last 11 games at night. The Falcons, who are coming off of a loss against the Minnesota Vikings, are also 6-2 straight-up in their last eight games after a loss.

Atlanta, which opened as a two-point favorite before the line shifted to the Saints, is 5-1 SU in its last six games as a home underdog, and 7-1 ATS in its last eight when it laid points at home.

The Saints, who are 9-3 SU and 7-5 ATS, have surrounded future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees with a much more complete team this season. The Saints were a solid road cover – 13-3 ATS in their last 16 road games – even when they were somewhat one-dimensional. If leading rusher Mark Ingram (toe) is good to go, then he and Alvin Kamara, who have helped the Saints lead the NFL at 5.0 yards per carry, should pose a threat to Atlanta’s rushing defense.

Brees had one interception in each of the Saints’ 2016 games against Atlanta. The Falcons have limited opponents to 6.5 yards per pass and their best cover CB Desmond Trufant (concussion protocol) is expected to play, so nothing will come easily for Brees’ targets such as WR Michael Thomas.

The Falcons, who are 7-5 SU and 5-7 ATS, could have a favorable matchup in the passing phase since Saints rookie CB Marshon Lattimore (ankle), in his first game back from injury, could draw most of the coverage against WR Julio Jones.

Jones was shut down last week against Minnesota, but is rarely quiet two games in a row and has 361 yards in his last three home games against the Saints. New Orleans’ pass defense is mid-pack at 7.1 yards per pass allowed, but DE Cameron Jordan is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

Ryan has had a quarterback rating north of 100 in each of his last six starts against the Saints, and has only one interception in that span. Atlanta is facing a vastly improved Saints defense, though. The absence of G Andy Levitre could also limit Atlanta with opening holes for RB Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

The total has gone under in four of the Saints’ last five games on a Thursday for bettors. The total has gone over in six of the Falcons’ last eight divisional games, with one push.