Saints vs. Eagles NFC Wild Card Playoff: Scouting the Enemy

Wesley Hitt

The Saints begin their 2014 NFL playoff run this Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. To get the Eagles fan perspective and learn a little more about the their team and this matchup, Wallace Delery caught up with Brandon Lee Gowton from SB Nation's Bleeding Green Nation and asked him some important questions about this crucial playoff game.

Wallace Delery: We are all aware of Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson, and LeSean McCoy, but who is an underrated player that can be key for the Eagles in this matchup with the Saints?

Brandon Lee Gowton: Brent Celek isn't nearly as flashy or dynamic as Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, but he is more than a solid starter for the Eagles. With all of the other Eagles offensive weapons, as you mentioned, he almost seems like a forgotten option. Such is obvious when opposing defenses fail to account for him as they have in red zone in recent weeks. Three of Celek's six touchdowns this year have come in the last five games. Celek's contributions as a blocker also bode well for the Eagles rushing game. He is the number two ranked run blocking TE according to Pro Football Focus.

WD: The Eagles had been quite underwhelming in their first four home losses in 2013, what turned their home fortunes around in the last four wins at the Linc?

BLG: Simply put, the team just started playing better. Part of the turnaround is due to Nick Foles taking over at quarterback. As you can see with his 27 TD to 2 INT ratio, he's throwing touchdowns and not turning the ball over. The crowd has taken notice of the Eagles' success and really bought into this team. During the 54-11 Eagles win over the Bears, the crowd was the loudest they've been all year... and oddly enough it was a game that didn't matter much other than potential playoff seeding purposes. Playoff atmosphere is back at The Linc.

WD: Much has been made of the Saints woes on the road this season and in their playoff history, do you feel the Eagles have a distinct homefield advantage that will continue this trend for New Orleans?

BLG: I definitely think there's an homefield advantage, but it's just that: an advantage. It's not a free win, as there are no free wins in the NFL. The Saints road record factoid is probably a little overstated, since they're still a good team. It is clear they aren't as good on the road though. The average Saints home game is a 34-16 victory, and the average road game is a 22-18 defeat. Philadelphia hasn't been in the playoffs since 2010, so I imagine fans will be rowdy and ready for this one. The crowd should definitely be into this game and that's surely an advantage for the Eagles.

WD: The Eagles offense is where their bread is buttered under Chip Kelly, what have you seen from their defense though, that gives you confidence going into this matchup?

BLG: Confidence in the Eagles defense is all about keeping expectations reasonable. It's clear the Eagles defense isn't a top defense in the league. This also figures to be a tough matchup for the Eagles as they give up a league leading 289.8 pass yards per game and New Orleans puts up a second best 307.4 per game. As some would say, however, it's not about the "yard board", it's about the score board. The Saints rank 10th in points scored and the Eagles rank 17th in points allowed. That's not so bad after looking at the difference in yards. The Eagles have tout a "bend-but-dont-break" defense that will allow yards but capitalize on turnovers. Philadelphia is third in the league with takeaways with 31 on the year and have at least one takeaway in their last 12 games.

WD: What is the most important factor that will lead to an Eagles victory on Saturday night?

BLG: The Saints are among the top in the league at defending the pass, so I'm going to have to say the Eagles will need a big game on the ground. LeSean McCoy's rushing efforts will be critical in this matchup. It's up to the Eagles to lean heavily on their most talented offensive option. Backups Bryce Brown and Chris Polk will also have to do their best as they have in recent weeks if their number is called to briefly spell McCoy.

***

Many thanks to Brandon for taking the time to answer our questions. Check out Bleeding Green Nation for up-to-date Eagles coverage all week.

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