Eagles

Your in-depth Eagles vs. Saints Divisional Round Playoff preview

It’s time for revenge and the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints are two completely teams since the 48-7 massacre in Week 11.

The Eagles are eight-point underdogs, they have the Saints exactly where they want them.

 

EAGLES PASSING GAME VS. SAINTS PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 100.8 PASSER RATING (7/32), 267 YPG (7/32)
NO- 100.3 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (27/32), 269 YPG ALLOWED (29/32)

So cool, so calm, it didn’t matter that the not-so-perfect Nick Foles showed up for 55 minutes in Chicago last Sunday in the Wild Card Round, but down with the ball in his hands with the game on the line, was there ever a doubt?! Foles came through with the go-ahead touchdown drive.

It’s becoming biblical, Foles’ numbers in the postseason are staggering. He now owns a 4-1 mark in the playoffs with 10 touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 105.2. His numbers on third/fourth down are jaw-dropping. He is 40-of-52 for 522 yards, six touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 146.5 on third and fourth down in his playoff career. He’s now beaten the top-ranked scoring defense in the playoffs in consecutive years, only the third quarterback to ever do that and joining John Elway and Joe Montana.

Pederson explained why Foles is so good on third down.

“One of his strengths, as we’ve said, is he plays that point guard. He wants to distribute the ball and put it in his play-makers’ hands.

I’ll tell you this. One of the things, we’re better on first and second-down, too, so our third-downs have been not quite as long as they were early in the season. That’s a benefit to the whole operation. So it does make it a touch easier to complete a shorter pass or run the ball in some of those situations which we’ve been able to do.

From Nick’s standpoint, just managing that on third-down. Great communication with [C Jason] Kelce on protections. If we’re going to run left and we need to run right, all that stuff has been ironed out. He just manages that well. That’s what he’s doing.”

The 48-7 drubbing in New Orleans was the low point of the season, but the Eagles rallied and finished the year 6-1. Doug Pederson explained what needs to happen Sunday so the game doesn’t snowball again.

We have to convert first downs on offense, be the best we can defensively, three-and-out, to start fast. I think offensively we’ve done that a little bit better here down the stretch. We’ve been able to get points off our first drives. Defense has done a nice job of getting three-and-out early, six-plays-and-out on the punt, getting the ball back to the offense.

Listen, those are things we do every single week. We try to do that every week, not just in this game. The importance of this game, because it is a one-and-done type deal, probably is a little more important.

Winning Sunday could come down to the right arm of Foles again. Like the Texans, the Saints have a great run defense but weak pass defense. New Orleans can pressure the quarterback evidenced by its 49 sacks, but if the Eagles’ offensive line can continue to dominate and give Foles time, he might be able to pick the Saints apart. New Orleans is 27th in passer rating allowed, last against deep passes and last in yards allowed to outside receivers. The Saints traded for Eli Apple during the year to pair him with Marshon Lattimore on the outside and it has improved the secondary.

Dominating is exactly what the Eagles’ offensive line has been doing, not surrendering a single sack to the likes of Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt the last month. That same offensive line limited the ferocious Bears front seven to one sack and five quarterback hits on Foles’ 41 dropbacks.

The unit will take on a front seven led by Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins. The edge rusher Jordan led the team with 12 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 18 tackles for loss, while the defensive tackle Rankins provided eight sacks and a consistent presence along the interior.

EAGLES RUNNING GAME VS. SAINTS RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 3.9 YPC (30/32), 98.1 YPG (28/32)
NO- 3.6 YPC ALLOWED (2/32), 80.2 YPG ALLOWED (2/32)

Just four opponents topped the 100-yard rushing mark against the Saints this year and top backs like Toddy Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey were all held to under 76 rushing yards. Rankins and Tyeler Davison blow plays up the middle, while Jordan and Alex Okafor defend the edges. The great play from the line allows stud linebacker Demario Davis to run freely and he led the team with 141 tackles.

I don’t think the Eagles will be running a ton Sunday like I said above. Philly ran it 22 times and threw it 50 against Houston, I expect a similar ratio against New Orleans.

The Eagles ran for just 58 yards in the first matchup between the teams, but Josh Adams did break off this long touchdown run.

 

SAINTS PASSING GAME VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 93.4 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (15/32), 269 YPG ALLOWED (30/32)
NO- 112.3 PASSER RATING (2/32), 253 YPG (12/32)

When the offensive line gives Drew Brees the protection he needs, he picks you apart. From inside the pocket, Brees leads the NFL with a 118.7 quarterback rating and completion percentage of 77 percent. Outside of it, however, that quarterback rating drops to 83.4, 24th in the NFL.

That means the Eagles’ defensive line is going to have to get after Brees, who is a magician at getting the ball out lightning quick, which has been the Kryptonite to Philadelphia’s defense in recent years.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz explained what the defense needs to do to limit Brees.

“I think you have to mix it up. You have to tackle well. There are some things that you can’t defend every single pass. If you do, you’re going to give up too many plays down the field. I think there are some that you just have to tackle. There are others that you have to pick and choose your times to be aggressive. I don’t know that this is a game that you can just stick with one thing and stay with it over the course of the game. He’s seen just about everything known to mankind. He has good playmakers at all the different positions. So there’s picking and choosing times. There are sometimes where you have to play zone and sometimes you have to play man. Bottom line is you have to defend, tackle and you have to keep the mistakes down.”

Philadelphia has ratcheted up its pressure in recent weeks and averaged 3.25 sacks per game over its final four regular season game. Kansas City and Pittsburgh led the NFL with 52 sacks, an average of 3.25 per contest. New Orleans’ offensive line is very stout, though, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are a great pair of tackles, while Max Unger is one of the best centers in the game. Guards Andrus Peat and Larry Warford are solid.

The mismatch might be inside, where Cox and Michael Bennett when he slides down have caused chaos. For a quarterback who gets the ball out fast, the fastest way to pressure him is inside.

The Saints offense has come back to earth since Week 11, averaging 22.4 points per game in five games since — I excluded the meaningless regular season finale, down 15 points from the 37.5 points per contest they were putting up before.

Pederson discussed what he’s seen differently out of the Saints since then.

“One, they continue to play tremendous defense. You’re seeing that on film. They fly around making plays. Offensively, still the same structure. Everything is going to run through [QB] Drew [Brees] and [RB Mark] Ingram and [RB Alvin] Kamara. We have to make sure that we’re up on that.

These guys, this is a talented group. [Saints head coach] Coach [Sean] Payton does a great job of moving guys around and presenting different looks to opponents each week. You really don’t see the same plays repeated over and over. It’s a credit to him.

They’re coming off a bunch of days’ rest here. So they’ll be ready and probably have something different for us. But we have to go.”

The Dallas Cowboys laid out the blueprint, getting physical with Michael Thomas at the line of scrimmage using Byron Jones and counting on the athleticism and instincts of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to limit Alvin Kamara in space.

Problem here is the Eagles play off most of the time and Avonte Maddox is certainly a lot more comfortable doing that than playing close to the line of scrimmage. I’m sure Sean Payton and Brees looked at the tape last week and will attempt to capitalize on Maddox’s propensity for biting on the double move.

Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham do give the Eagles a pair of linebackers to take on Kamara in the passing game, but they’re not nearly as athletic as Smith and Vander Esch. The Carolina Panthers shut down Kamara as well, but they have Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson at linebacker. We’ll see how much Bradham and Hicks can limit Kamara.

Philadelphia will also be healthier in the secondary this time around. Maddox, Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones all exited that Week 11 contest with injuries, leaving the Eagles with De’Vante Bausby, Chandon Sullivan and Cre’Von LeBlanc to take on the explosive Saints offense.

It appears that Jones will be active Sunday after missing time with a hamstring injury, but I wouldn’t put him in the starting lineup over Douglas or Maddox the way those two look at the moment.

SAINTS RUNNING GAME VS. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 4.7 YPC ALLOWED (21/32), 96.9 YPG ALLOWED (7/32)
NO- 4.3 YPC (17/32), 126.6 YPG (6/32)

The Eagles may have allowed a not-so-great 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season, but that number is down to 2.5 yards per tote over their last four games. Adrian Peterson failed the gain a yard on four carries against the Birds in Week 17. The Bears struggled to generate traction on the ground, totaling 18 carries for 65 yards (3.6 YPC). Jordan Howard registered 10 totes for 35 yards.

Schwartz spoke about the differences he’s been seeing with the run defense.

“I think that when you talk about run defense, people generally talk about the front seven and their ability. But it’s layered well beyond that. It is the front seven. It’s every man knowing their job. It’s finishing tackling. One guy missing a tackle can make a whole scheme look bad. It can make ten other players look bad. Most of the tackling like I’ve said before has to do with positioning and knowing where your teammates are and where you fit in the scheme, and I think over the second half the season, I’d say the that guys have settled into that and you’re seeing those guys knowing where they are and it’s resulted in better tackling. Our secondary has tackled better. Our front seven we’ve always relied on those guys, but everybody knowing their role within it. That’s something that’s developed over the last half of the season.”

It’s a stark contrast from Week 11, when the Saints carried the ball 37 times for 173 yards, a healthy 4.7 yards per carry. Mark Ingram put up 103 yards and a pair of scores on 16 carries, while Kamara totaled 71 yards on the ground via 13 totes.

 

PREDICTION: I think we’re going to see something similar to the Texans gameplan Sunday. Saints have a good run defense like Houston, but don’t have a good pass defense and are susceptible to the deep ball. Nick Foles will be tossing it around. Finishing drives with TDs and not FGs is a blatantly obvious statement, but since both teams are most likely going to move the ball, the team with the better red-zone defense might win. Eagles are No. 1 in red-zone defense, Saints are 24th.

31-28 Eagles

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