Philadelphia Eagles say they knew what Falcons play was coming on final 4th-down stop
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons in NFC Divisional Round
Gallery: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons in NFC Divisional Round
PHILADELPHIA — Seconds before Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills made the most crucial play of his career Saturday, he heard two teammates shouting at him.
And the message they passed along, Mills said, helped clinch a 15-10 win over the Falcons that sends the Eagles to next week’s NFC Championship Game and onto the doorstep of a Super Bowl appearance.
At the time of the pivotal play, Atlanta faced a fourth-and-goal from Philly’s 2-yard line with about one minute left in the divisional round contest. Clinging to a five-point lead, Mills crouched down as he prepared to cover Falcons all-pro wide receiver Julio Jones, when he heard safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod barking orders to every player on the defense.
Mills said the two team leaders figured out what type of play the Falcons were going to run.
“Both my safeties ID’d formation,” Mills said. “Malcolm and Rod kind of called out the play.”
As Jenkins and McLeod predicted, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took a shotgun snap and ran to his right, toward Jones and Mills. The Eagles snuffed it out. The front seven pushed the pocket to make Ryan uncomfortable, and Mills played physical coverage on Jones, leaving Atlanta’s MVP signal-caller with nowhere to throw.
Ryan ended up lofting the ball toward Jones, but Mills was there to defend the 6-foot-3 wideout. The pass sailed out of reach. And that was the game-winning stop — the incompletion sealed Philly’s first playoff victory in four seasons and sent the team to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2009.
“We made that play, boy,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “I was so happy.”
Mills wasn’t the only player who benefited from the team’s ability to pick up on Atlanta’s play call for the game’s defining snap.
Watch it unfold below. Notice how Graham (55) and linebacker Nigel Bradham (53), push offensive linemen back and rush to Ryan’s right to stop him from rolling out as far as he wanted. They said they were able to react quickly and beat Ryan to the spot because they knew what was coming.
It all came down to one play, and the #Eagles defense answered the call.#FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/lfLTDyahyg
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) January 14, 2018
“We had good preparation, and everybody knew he was going to [Jones],” Graham said. “And, me, I knew [Ryan] was coming my way, so I had to pull him up. I think Nigel pulled him up, and he was just back there and he just kind of flicked it.”
Jenkins said the Eagles recognized the play the Falcons were going to run in part because they brought a tight end, Levine Toilolo (No. 80 in the video), to the right side of the line. His job was to block for Ryan to seal the edge, but Bradham said he realized Toilolo wasn’t running a route, which allowed him to rush aggressively and pressure the quarterback.
Afterward, Jenkins explained that the Falcons’ personnel package — they used two runnings backs on that fourth-down snap — also hinted at the play call.
“We were pretty confident that they’d probably move the pocket on that type of play and we recognized the formation as soon as they lined up in it,” Jenkins said.
The Eagles’ defensive players studied that play throughout the past week and Philly’s scout-team offense ran similar plays to that one in practice because coaches had a hunch Atlanta would run something like it in the game, Mills said. It all paid off.
The defensive anticipated the Falcons’ movements, and that left Ryan and Jones without much of a chance.
“It was a play that we just knew,” Bradham said. “We was prepared for this game, man. Our preparation was there. We brought the energy all week in practice and we studied like no other. So we were ready. We were, man. That’s all it was.”
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