NFL Nation: Lincoln Financial Field

PHILADELPHIA -- The NFL is facing stiff competition -- from itself.

As television screens get larger and clearer and more lifelike, and as viewing options allow the home viewer to follow multiple games at once, the in-stadium experience has suffered a bit in comparison.

That's one reason the Eagles announced a partnership with Panasonic to replace the enormous video boards in Lincoln Financial Field with what the team says are the highest-resolution screens in the NFL. The deal, part of a stadium revitalization project that includes improved wireless capability, will include large monitors and LED ribbon boards throughout the stadium.

"Our fans deserve the ultimate experience every time they step foot into Lincoln Financial Field," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a prepared statement. "One of our top priorities during this revitalization project was to enhance that experience by providing them with the highest quality HD video boards and LED ribbon boards."

Lurie may have another goal in mind. He made some news last summer by saying he wanted to try to bring a Super Bowl to Philadelphia. At the time, the first cold-weather, open-air Super Bowl at the Meadowlands was six months away.

Now, it is a few days away. And while the whole New York/New Jersey Super Bowl idea has been controversial and endlessly debated, it is starting to look as if the NFL will get away with it.

Yes, it has been well below freezing in the Northeast this week. But there is snow and ice on the ground in such "warm-weather" former Super Bowl host cities such as Atlanta and Jacksonville. And from personal experience, let me just say that the absolute worst weather for the pregame activities has been in Dallas and Atlanta.

Lurie said last summer that his chances of making a serious bid depended on the Meadowlands Super Bowl going well. That hasn't happened yet, obviously, but it is getting closer. And if it does work out, the Linc will be in better shape than ever for the selection committee (of which Lurie is a member) to consider.

Wrap-up: Falcons 30, Eagles 17

October, 28, 2012

Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons’ 30-17 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

What it means: The Falcons remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team (7-0) and sit high atop the NFC South standings. But this was the most significant game the Falcons have played this season. Instead of playing just well enough to win, like they did the past three games, the Falcons dominated on the road on a day when the weather conditions were less than ideal. A lot of people -- myself included -- have been saying that the Falcons, despite their record, haven’t been playing like the best team in the NFL. I saw plenty of positives from the Falcons in their first six games and felt it was only a matter of time before they clicked and put together a complete game. That finally happened, and now it might not be such a stretch to call the Falcons the best team in the NFL.

Back in the MVP race: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan seemed to be the clear front-runner for MVP in the first few weeks of the season, but had slumped and fallen a bit in the conversation in recent weeks. But this was a big bounce-back game for Ryan, who grew up in suburban Philadelphia. He was nearly flawless and put the Falcons in control by throwing touchdowns on each of the first three possessions.

Cause for concern: Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon got carted off the field with an apparent leg injury in the fourth quarter. The extent of the injury wasn’t known immediately. But if Weatherspoon is going to miss any time, this will be significant. He’s been Atlanta’s best linebacker and perhaps the best defensive player on the team.

Changing of the guard? Michael Turner has been the starting running back for the Falcons since his arrival in 2008, and I don’t anticipate that changing this season. But I do anticipate we’re going to keep seeing more of second-year pro Jacquizz Rodgers as a complement to Turner. Rodgers brings an element of speed that Turner never really had and is versatile enough to also help as a pass receiver. Turner still got the bulk of the carries (23) against the Eagles, but finished with only 58 rushing yards. The Falcons continue to gradually give Rodgers, who had 60 yards on eight carries and caught five passes for 20 yards, more touches because he’s more dynamic. I’m pretty sure that trend will continue as the season goes on.

What’s next: The Falcons host Dallas next Sunday night.
I am the definition of an "outlier" in the latest Power Rankings entry. We were asked to rank the toughest places in the league to play. The venue I ranked first -- Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo -- wasn't even mentioned in the top 10 of any of our other seven NFL bloggers.

On the NFC East front, the only place I or anyone else ranked was Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, which came in 10th on my ballot and ninth overall. For me, it gets on the list because of the intensity of the Eagles' home fans, not because of anything inherently challenging about the building itself or its location. I didn't think any of the division's other three stadiums made a compelling case for the league's top 10. And I based none of the rankings on the quality of the buildings' home teams, because I consider that a variable.

This explains, I think, why I put Buffalo No. 1 and nobody else ranked it at all. The Bills have been so bad and so irrelevant for so long that people have forgotten about Ralph Wilson Stadium as a venue. The Bills don't even play all of their home games there every season, since they started the Toronto series. So Lambeau Field, home of the Super Bowl champs? Sure. Soldier Field? Heinz Field? Arrowhead? Yeah, these are places that remain in the consciousness of an analyst who might be asked to rank toughest venues. Buffalo? Sometimes it's easy to forget they still have a team there.

But it didn't occur to me that this question was or should be about the quality of the opponent a visiting team must face. If we're basing it on that, Gillette Stadium in Foxboro would be the toughest, because you have to play the Patriots when you go there. But if the Patriots stunk for the next five years, there's nothing inherently challenging about Gillette Stadium that would get it on the 2016 list? Buffalo's a miserable place to play no matter who's wearing the home team jerseys, and for that reason I thought it belonged at the top of the list.

Not that you asked, but thanks for listening anyway. I know you guys have my back ...

Atlanta Falcons cannot soar over NFC

October, 17, 2010
Matt RyanAP Photo/Mel EvansMatt Ryan completed barely half of his passes in a lopsided loss to Philadelphia.
PHILADELPHIA -- It all was set up so nicely. Go into Lincoln Financial Field, bury a ghost forever, beat the Philadelphia Eagles and walk away as the unquestioned best team in the NFC.

But the concept of winning an NFC championship in mid-October flew completely over the head of the Atlanta Falcons. In a game where injured Eagles quarterback Michael Vick didn’t even come out of the locker room to see his old team, the Falcons looked like a left fielder responding to a 600-foot shot in a stadium where the fence reads 330 feet.

“We were in a coverage that we should not have the ball thrown over our head,’’ Atlanta coach Mike Smith said about one particular play before going on to others. “The ball was thrown over our head and that happened twice today. You cannot have the ball thrown over your head in this coverage.’’

Kevin Kolb might have taken the starting job away from Vick on a day where he completed 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles defeated the Falcons 31-17. Two of those were the plays Smith was talking about -- a 34-yard strike to DeSean Jackson and an 83-yarder to Jeremy Maclin.

“We gave up way too many explosive plays,’’ Smith said. "You’re not going to put yourself in a chance to win ballgames when you give up the explosive plays that we gave up.’’

No, you’re not and the Falcons may have sore necks after watching the Eagles soar past them. But the amazing thing is, the Falcons still may end up being the best team in the NFC when all is said and done. Heck, at the moment, they still are in the argument. Look at the standings and you’ll see that nobody’s record is better than Atlanta’s 4-2 mark.

The Falcons went into New Orleans a few weeks ago and beat the Saints in a very big game. That elevated them in the eyes of many. What happened against the Eagles was the flip side and it’s proof that the Falcons still haven’t taken that next step that they think is so close.

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb
Al Bello/Getty ImagesKevin Kolb was able to throw all day on the Atlanta's secondary -- completing 23-of-29 with a 133.6 quarterback rating.
It might be close and it might all be part of “the process’’ Smith talks about so frequently. Like just about everyone else in the NFC, the Falcons are a hard team to read -- unless you are Kolb.

When they haven’t been raising expectations with a four-game winning streak, they’re playing games like they did against the Steelers in the season opener and like they did against the Eagles.

Kolb finished with a 133.6 passer rating and was sacked only once.

“We didn’t do anything to make him feel uneasy,’’ said defensive end John Abraham.

That’s disappointing because only last week, Abraham and Kroy Biermann were making it look like the Atlanta pass rush could be dominant. There is no doubt this was a step back for the defensive line and an entire defense that had shown so much promise in recent weeks.

“We let some balls get over our heads and they made some great plays,’’ safety Thomas DeCoud said.

No, the Falcons did not grab onto the early-season opportunity to take the unofficial title as the NFC’s best team. But perhaps what happened Sunday might help show them what they still need to do to get there at the end.

“It’s back to the drawing board,’’ DeCoud said. “We corrected mistakes once [after the Pittsburgh game] and, now, we have to correct them a second time.’’

We’ve touched on some of the things the Falcons need to work on defensively. They need the pass rush to be productive, they need better coverage and they need to get rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon back from a knee injury and hope the head injury cornerback Dunta Robinson suffered in a brutal collision with receiver Jackson isn’t too serious.

Smith said he talked with Robinson after the game and the cornerback seemed fine. It sure would help to have Robinson on the field when the Cincinnati Bengals, with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, come to Atlanta next week. Maybe Robinson and Weatherspoon will return in time for the Bengals, but you still have to worry about a defense that let the Eagles pile up 474 yards of total offense.

“It’s never as bad as it seems,’’ Smith said. “It’s never as good as it seems. We will make the corrections and then we will move forward.’’

It’s fair to assume Smith wasn’t just talking about his defense. His offense didn’t have much of a chance as the Eagles jumped out to a 21-0 lead. That helped neutralize Michael Turner, who was held to 45 rushing yards on 15 carries and the Falcons gained only 65 yards on the ground.

[+] EnlargeMike Smith
Howard Smith/US PresswireMike Smith's Falcons gave up almost 500 yards to a potent Eagles offense.
Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 250 yards, but completed barely more than half of his passes (23-of-42) and was sacked three times while being intercepted once. The worst offensive statistic of all might have been that the Falcons converted only four of 14 (29 percent) of their third downs into first downs.

It is kind of hard to fathom why the Falcons have been so inconsistent on offense when they have weapons like Ryan, Turner, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, and receiver Michael Jenkins returned to the lineup after missing the first five games with a shoulder injury.

“We didn’t do what we wanted offensively, whether it be run or pass on first or second down,’’ Ryan said. “I think the biggest thing going into next week is to try to improve that early on and trying to get into a better rhythm early on and that is something we’ll work on.’’

Maybe a little creativity on offense might be worth working on as well because the Falcons haven’t shown much of that even when they were winning.

The loss, combined with New Orleans’ win against Tampa Bay, leaves the Falcons and Saints sitting atop the NFC South at 4-2. At this time a year ago, it was becoming obvious the Saints were going to run away with the division.

This season, it’s becoming obvious the NFC South race probably will go down to the wire. Carolina can be scratched, and Tampa Bay is somewhat in it, but it probably will come down to the Saints and the Falcons.

“I know that our guys will bounce back,’’ Smith said. “It’s a long season. There are 16 games and this was one of them. We did not perform up to our capabilities today.’’

Smith is right. The Falcons are capable of so much more. If they can play to their capabilities, the Falcons finally might take that next step. The opportunity is certainly still there as much at the end of the day as it was at the beginning.

They just have to grab onto it in games like this. If they don’t, they’ll end up watching the Saints, and maybe the NFC, fly right over them.