The streaking New Orleans Saints, winners of eight in a row, take on the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles at home this Sunday. The Eagles are 4-5, and have lost two of three and four of their last six games. Philadelphia has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball, in part due to some key injuries. Defensively, they have allowed the 6th least points in the league, a little over 20 points per game, but are prone to giving up alot of yardage. The Eagles rank 16th in yards surrendered, at nearly 360 yards per game, and have struggled to create turnovers. The Saints will attack the Philly defense with an offense that leads the league in points (36.7/game) and time of possession. New Orleans has scored at least 30 points in seven of their nine games, and have scored over 40 points five times, including each of the last two games. The Saints are averaging around 414 total yards per game, ranking 5th in the league, and have dominated some of the NFL's best defenses. Let's have a closer look at how well Sean Payton's offense matches up against the defense of the defending champs.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE
Quarterback Drew Brees is completing an eye-popping 77.3% of his passes, on pace to shatter his own single season record for completion percentage set last year. Perhaps even more impressive than that, he has thrown 21 touchdown passes against only 1 interception. Brees has thrown for 2,601 yards for the league's 7th ranked passing attack. His favorite receiver is Michael Thomas, a third year wideout who has caught 78 of his 87 targets for 950 yards and 7 touchdowns. Thomas is tied with Minnesota's Adam Thielen for the NFL reception lead, and is second in yardage. Thomas has proven productive against any defensive back, and any type of coverage, that opponent's use to stop him. Second year running back Alvin Kamara is second on the team with 55 receptions for 473 yards and three receiving touchdowns. Kamara is not just a feared weapon out of the backfield, but draws defensive attention when he lines up wide or out of the slot. The dropoff in receiving production after Kamara and Thomas remains huge. Tight end Benjamin Watson is third on the team in targets (34), receptions (27), and receiving yards (293). Rookie Tre'quan Smith (12 catches, 214 yards, 3 scores) has shown the potential to be a playmaking threat, but not yet the consistency. Undrafted rookie Keith Kirkwood saw his first game action against Cincinnati, and responded with two catches for 48 yards. Kirkwood is a physical receiver with good potential, but inexperience and inconsistency at the position forced the team to sign former Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall early this week. The 34-yr. old Marshall is in his 13th year, and has 970 catches for 12,351 yards and 83 career touchdowns, including six seasons of over 100 receptions and 1,000 yards to his credit. While it remains unclear how much the veteran will be able to contribute to the Saints offense, it's hoped that he can add some experience and production that the team expected to get from Dez Bryant before an Achilles injury suffered in practice last week. Brees has been sacked only 9 times in 313 pass attempts, and none in the last three games. The Saints line shuts down opponent's interior rush, giving their quarterback a clean pocket to step up and clear passing lanes to survey the field. Offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead are the best tandem in the game, and have made opposing edge rushers almost nonexistent. Armstead left last week's win over Cincinnati with a shoulder injury, and for now it's unclear what his status is for Sunday's game. Veteran Jermon Bushrod stepped in for Armstead and played well, but New Orleans will certainly need the talents of Armstead to contend with the Eagles pass rush.
Philadelphia's pass defense is ranked 23rd in the league, and surrenders around 266 yards per contest. The Eagles have 26 sacks though, and do apply good pressure on the quarterback despite losing edge rusher Derek Barnett and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to injury. Veteran ends Michael Bennett (5.5 sacks), Brandon Graham (3 sacks), Chris Long (3.5 sacks) and tackle Fletcher Cox (4 sacks) provide a devastating inside-outside combination that most offensive lines cannot contain. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is extremely aggressive with his front seven against opposing passers, often bringing linebackers Jordan Hicks (3 sacks) or Nigel Bradham (2 sacks) on blitzes to compliment the rush up front. Philadelphia has only four interceptions, and their secondary has been depleted by injury, often struggling if their pass rush is not effective. Arguably their best defensive back, cornerback Ronald Darby, went on injured reserve after tearing his ACL last week, joining another one of last year's starters, safety Rodney McLeod. Two more cornerbacks, Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills, are questionable after missing last week's loss to Dallas, leaving Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox as potentially the only two healthy corners with experience. Former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins is one of Philadelphia's defensive leaders, and is coming off of the second pro bowl campaign of his career. He is joined by Corey Graham and Tre Sullivan on the back end, attempting to make up for the team's struggles against the pass.
~ Matchup to Watch: Saints WR's vs. Eagles CB's ~
Expect the Eagles to try and keep their best and healthiest defensive backs on Michael Thomas, who has consistently beaten every coverage scheme he's faced over the last two seasons. If the Eagles are somehow able to minimize the damage that Thomas has been able to do, then the onus will fall on the other Saints receivers to produce, an area that where the offense has been somewhat inconsistent.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
The Saints lead the league in rushing touchdowns with 17. Their 126 yards rushing per game is 8th best in the NFL, and they're coming off a game against Cincinnati where they rolled up 244 yards rushing. The New Orleans offensive line has bullied opponents, and taking control of games from the opening drive. Armstead, Ramczyk and tight ends Watson and Josh Hill have controlled the edge, allowing the team's backs room on pitch plays or to bounce runs outside. The Saints pick up the majority of their rushing yardage inside though, where guards Larry Warford, Andrus Peat, and center Max Unger have dominated interior defenses. Mark Ingram had his best statistical output of the year against the Bengals, finishing with 104 yards on just 13 carries, and adding another 58 yards as a receiver. Ingram has 285 yards rushing in the five games since returning from suspension, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The Saints leading rusher is still Alvin Kamara, who has 546 yards on the ground and 11 rushing touchdowns. New Orleans' versatile and devastating 1-2 punch at running back is complimented by Taysom Hill, who has been a key part of the team's short yardage and goal line packages.
Philadelphia's run defense ranks 7th, allowing just six scores and an average of only 93 yards per game this season after leading the league in run defense last year. That number could be a bit misleading however, because the Eagle defense has faced the least amount of rush attempts in the league. They have given up 4.7 yards per carry, and opponents have rushed for at least 120 yards in two of the last three games, including a 151-yd. game from the Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott a week ago. The Eagles are at their best when their disruptive tackles, Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata, get penetration into the backfield at the snap. Their defensive ends are athletic, and shut down outside runs well, while Malcolm Jenkins, Nigel Bradham, and Jordan Hicks can be playmakers against opposing backs for a Philadelphia defense with underrated speed.
~ Matchup to Watch: Peat/Warford/Unger vs. Cox/Ngata ~
Armstead and Ramczyk have gotten the majority of the publicity for the performance of the New Orleans offensive line, now that the Saints have finally started to get some recognition. Their play has certainly deserved the recognition, but the interior of this line has been every bit as great. The Saints have flattened some of the best defensive lines in the league through their eight game winning streak, and will now be facing another challenge in Philadelphia. The Eagles defense is most effective when Cox is able to penetrate the backfield and Ngata is able to tie up blockers, enabling their edge players and linebackers to come crashing into the backfield.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Eagles coordinator Jim Schwartz is one of the most respected defensive coaches in the league. His schemes are often predicated on heavy pressure on the offensive backfield, with exotic coverages on the back end. He is countered by Saints coach Sean Payton, considered one of the best offensive minds in the game. New Orleans success will start with it's offensive line; their ability to protect Brees and open up holes for the running game. The game plan will likely focus on Brees getting the ball into the hands of his stars: Thomas, Kamara, and Ingram. Although the Saints look like they can put up passing yards against a banged up Eagles secondary, New Orleans should be able to have success on the ground also, as the Cowboys did a week ago. Philadelphia is desperate for a win to stay in the playoff chase, and will certainly have an aggressive defensive approach. As long as the Saints can keep Brees upright though, they will continue with their balanced approach to spread the field, a game plan that has worked against a number of top ranked defenses so far this season.
Which offensive matchup is most important for New Orleans success against the Eagles defense?
This poll is closed
Saints WR's vs. Eagles CB's
Armstead/Ramczyk vs. Bennett/Graham/Long
Ingram/Kamara vs. Bradham/Hicks
Peat/Warford/Unger vs. Cox/Ngata
Drew Brees vs. Malcolm Jenkins
Sean Payton vs. Jim Schwartz