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Outsider’s Perspective: Can the Saints win in Philadelphia this year and get back to winning ways?

The Saints once again travel on the road undermanned, but that will be no excuse in the middle of a playoff race.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints will travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in a matchup of teams looking to gain separation or ground in the NFC Wildcard race. The Saints come into Sundays matchup losers of back to back games, and need to get back on stride as their schedule has even tougher opponents upcoming.

Several starters will be missing once again and after coming up short in their last couple of games, they’ll need to find a way towards closing, and not having to face a large deficit. With that being said we welcome Brandon Gowton from SB Nation’s Bleeding Green Nation. Brandon answered several Eagles related questions to help give us perspective we’re always searching for. Hope you enjoy the latest extension of Outsider’s Perspective.

1. It feels like even where the Eagles record stands, they’ve been in close games all year. What’s been the determining factor in the games they’ve lost. Do you believe they can make a run at a wildcard berth?

(Worth noting: due to garbage time success, some of the Eagles’ losses look a little closer than they actually were.)

The biggest commonality in Eagles losses this season? The defense not having any answers against non-terrible quarterbacks. I mean, just look at these splits.

LESSER QUARTERBACKS: 12 opponent points per game

Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Darnold, Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater

BETTER QUARTERBACKS: 34.2 opponent points per game

Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Derek Carr, Justin Herbert

Each of the five QBs in that latter category completed at least 80% of their passes against the Eagles’ defense, which is just insane. In the 70 seasons combined before this year, the Eagles had only allowed SIX quarterbacks to ever go above 80% completion against them. And now they’ve done it FIVE TIMES IN ONE YEAR.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

To be clear, the defense hasn’t been the only issue this season. Jalen Hurts’ limitations as a passer were a much bigger problem earlier in the season and likely contributed to Philly shifting to such a run-heavy offense. Pounding the rock has been much more fruitful for the Birds; they actually lead the NFL in EPA per drive over the past three weeks.

Can the Eagles keep this formula going? Perhaps. They have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. The remaining quarterbacks they get to face: Trevor Siemian, Daniel Jones (twice), Taylor Heinicke (twice), whichever uninspiring option the Jets start at QB (Zach Wilson or Joe Flacco or Mike White), and Dak Prescott (or Cooper Rush if the Cowboys rest their starters in Week 18).

The feeling here is that the Eagles will make the playoffs as a wild card team if they beat the Saints on Sunday. They’ll have the tiebreaker over New Orleans and they might only need four wins from their last six games, which should be doable.

2. It feels like DeVonta Smith has been hit or miss all year, but as the season continues he’s becoming more of a point of emphasis for the Eagles offensively. In the games, Smith plays well in, what normally goes right? Are you confident that he can have some success against Marshon Lattimore?

Called me biased because I really wanted the Eagles to take Smith, who I think is going to be a star. But I truly believe he would be posting even better numbers with a better passer under center. Legitimately think he could be having a season akin to the one Justin Jefferson had last year. I’d mostly blame his lack of production on the Eagles underutilizing him.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There’s really no good reason why he shouldn’t be getting about 10 targets per game. He’s a really good route-runner; he’s always getting open. And even if he’s not creating space, he has the ability to win contested catches. Look no further than him Mossing promising rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain II for a touchdown in Denver last weekend.

Lattimore is obviously a pretty good cornerback, so I’m not expecting Smith to have his way with him all game long. But Smith should be able to win his fair share of battles. He’s been heating up recently; Pro Football Focus actually has him as their No. 1 overall graded wide receiver from the past four games. It would be pretty unwise to avoid targeting Smith just because Lattimore is on him. The Eagles should be looking to feed DeVonta.

3. Who’s the most underrated Eagle that could possibly change the course of this game?

Good question. I’m tempted to go with Josh Sweat. He had a big game against the Saints last year (two sacks and a forced fumble) and could be poised with another one with New Orleans’ starting offensive tackles both banged up. Of course, maybe he’s not underrated if you remember that performance. Getting a big contract extension earlier this year could also take away from his ability to be labeled as “underrated.”

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

So, how about I go with Avonte Maddox? He struggled starting on the outside last season but he’s been having more success in the slot this year. I’m going to call my shot and say Maddox has a pick-six that ends up being crucial in what could be a low-scoring game.

4. What’s the biggest misconception about the Eagles right now?

Hurts is coming off the best half of football he’s ever played in the NFL and that has some ready to declare him as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. The feeling here is he still has much to prove. Hurts needs to start stacking good games. He also needs to prove he can go up against a top quarterback and lead the Eagles to victory. The best opposing quarterback from a Hurts-led Eagles win was … Matt Ryan, who isn’t really that great anymore. After that, it might be … Teddy Bridgewater?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With all due respect to Siemian, Hurts obviously won’t get the chance to prove he can outperform an elite QB this week. But this does figure to be an interesting game for him. On paper, at least, the Saints’ top-ranked run defense figures to challenge Philly’s newfound offensive identity. If the Eagles can’t rely on running the ball, to what extent will they be able to count on Hurts’ arm to lead them to victory? It could be a big opportunity to prove himself in a crucial game.

5. What’s your Outsider’s Perspective on the Saints?

The Saints are arguably the hardest team to place in my weekly NFL power rankings that I do for BGN and The SB Nation NFL Show. You don’t always know what you’re going to get out of them. They’re a team with dominant wins over the Packers and Buccaneers and bad losses to the Giants and Falcons.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The word I used to describe the Saints in my post about the opening odds for this week’s game was “plucky.” Sean Payton seems to be doing a good job making the most out of what he’s working with. Dennis Allen is probably underrated as a head coaching candidate given the Saints’ defensive success for years now.

I expect the Saints to bring a good fight to the Linc. Especially after watching New Orleans almost upset the Titans despite having a red zone interception wiped off the board with a bad call. Payton and his players seem to dislike the Eagles. They don’t want to lose three straight games and fall out of the NFC playoff picture.

That being said, I’m leaning towards the Eagles in a very close game. I have this one finishing at 27 to 26.

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