Eagles-Saints Preview: Can the Eagles Save Their "Rocky" Season?
Nobody in their right mind would pick the Philadelphia Eagles to win a game right now, would they? I mean, their offense is at the bottom of the NFL rankings in every category, the defense can't stop the pass and there are injuries everywhere. So we have to assume that the Eagles (1-3) will get blown out by the visiting New Orleans Saints (1-3) on Sunday in Philly, right? With both teams fighting for their lives, it's appropriate that Rocky chimed in on the state of the Eagles. Anyway, let's take a look at the matchup
Eagles Offense Versus Saints Defense
Either QB Sam Bradford is one of the worst No.1 overall draft picks in NFL history or he's not quite all the way back from missing almost two whole years with knee injuries. Bradford has looked absolutely terrible in six of the eight quarters he has played so far this season. Until last week against a bad and injury-plagued Redskins secondary, he hadn't gone deep all year. All those check-downs have his completion percentage at a still not so great 60.7% and he's still only thrown 6 TDs against 4 INTs. Part of the problem Bradford and part of the problem is that his receivers have dropped 17 passes already this season, after the team dropped 25 all of last season. The good news is that the Saints pass defense is not that good, ranked 20th (258.2 ypg). Riley Cooper came out of witness protection to catch a TD last week, but he still stinks. The good news for the Eagles is that the Saints have allowed an NFL-worst 9.4 yards per pass attempt. The bad news is that last week the Saints got back safety Jairus Byrd (Remember him?) and CB Keenan Lewis. They take the Saints defense from bad to just below average. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that this is Darren Sproles' first game against his old team. I expect him to have a big game catching passes out of the backfield.
As average-to-bad as the Saints pass defense is, their run defense is even worse. They rank 27th in the NFL against the run (123.2 ypg) and have allowed 4.2 yards per carry. Unfortunately, the Eagles spent big money for DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews and are averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry, which is the second lowest mark in the league. Still, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has shown that he will attack a defense's weakness endlessly, so expect the Eagles to finally pound the rock this week. Of course, with Saints DTs John Jenkins and Kevin Williams clogging up the middle, expect the Eagles to run outside quite a bit.
The problem there, of course, is that the Eagles tackles are both gimpy. LT Jason Peters played all of six snaps last week after re-aggravating his quad injury and RT Lane Johnson hurt his knee and ankle last week. Both will try to play on Sunday, but they will most likely be a liability. Unfortunately, there is nobody behind those two thanks to Chip Kelly completely ignoring the offensive line the last two offseasons. The Eagles line is a mess, but if they can't get the running game going against the Saints, they'll never get it going this season.
Saints Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The Saints are led by future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees, who looked completely healthy last week shredding the Cowboys, completing 33 of 41 passes for 359 yards and 2 TDs. Seems his shoulder is just fine. Brees leads the 6th ranked overall offense (387.2 ypg) and 3rd ranked passing offense (304.5 ypg) in the NFL against an Eagles defense that is ranked 25th against the pass (276.5). The Saints don't have great receiving options after they traded TE Jimmy Graham during the offseason. Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead aren't going to demand double coverage, but this Eagles secondary still can give up the long pass. Plus, Byron Maxwell left the Redskins game with a quad injury and is questionable for Sunday. Still, Brees loves to throw to his backs and C.J. Spiller has taken over Sproles' old role out of the backfield. Safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond will have their hands full with him.
The Saints are 28th in rushing yards per game (82.8) and 30th in yards per carry (3.4). That's almost as bad as the Eagles and stopping the run is the one thing this Eagles team actually does well. RB Mark Ingram doesn't look like the same runner he was last year, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Eagles are holding opponents to 3.3 yards per carry this year. Plus, they might be getting DE Cedric Thornton back for this game. Don't expect the Saints to have much success on the ground in this game.
The Saints best offensive lineman, Jahri Evans has been out since Week 2 and isn't expected to play this week after getting his knee scoped. Eagles LBs Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks will miss the game, but DeMeco Ryans can still play the run and rookie ILB Jordan Hicks has been a beast against the pass and the run. The best matchup for the Eagles along the lines is DE Fletcher Cox against LT Terron Armstead and LG Tim Lelito. They may have to double Cox most of the game, which could free up OLBs Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Of course, the Eagles only have 6 sacks this season and Brees is great under pressure. The Eagles only blitzed Brees on 4 of the 33 pass plays during their playoff loss to the Saints in 2013, so let's see if defensive coordinator Billy Davis changes things up or sticks with what didn't work the last time. Honestly, you never know with Davis.
Who scores the most TDs for the Eagles against the Saints?
The one (only?) area where the Eagles have a distinct advantage over most teams in the NFL is on special teams. Yes, new kicker Caleb Sturgis stinks, but what did you expect from a guy who was on the street a week ago? The biggest advantage is always with Sproles returning punts. Sproles is averaging 19.9 yards per return and had that 89-yard punt return TD against the Jets two weeks ago. Saints just signed punter Brandon Fields this week and while he has a big leg, he doesn't have great hang time. Last year with Miami, Fields had a league-high 62.1% of his punts returned. The Saints don't cover punts of kickoffs well. They are 19th in punt coverage and 25th in kickoff coverage. This might be the Eagles only chance to steal a win.
Chip Kelly has gone from genius to dunce as defensive coordinators have figured out his gimmicky college offense. Trying to go fast all the time lets the defense anticipate the snap count and get into the backfield to blow up running plays and get to the QB. The system also doesn't allow the QB to call audibles at the line, which is how great QBs dissect defenses (See: Bress, Drew). On the other side of the field is Sean Payton, who has a Super Bowl ring and a brilliant offensive mind. I have to imagine that Payton and Brees are going to find ways to exploit Davis' defense on Sunday.
With both teams sitting at 1-3, this game has to be viewed as a must win for each team. New Orleans might already be done in a division where Atlanta and Carolina are already both 4-0. But the Eagles theoretically aren't dead yet, since the NFC East looks like the worst division in football. They have played like they are zombies, which is appropriate since The Walking Dead is back on Sunday night as well, but they can resurrect their season with a win on Sunday. Yes, I know Rocky said that the Eagles aren't dead yet and Philly fans should stick by Chip Kelly, but if the Eagles lose on Sunday to drop to 1-4, it's time to man the lifeboats, because the SS Chipper has hit an iceberg.
Normally there is an advantage to playing at home, but the Eagles have lost their last three home games at the Linc. Unfortunately, I don't see how the Eagles will be able to stop Brees or actually play an entire game for the first time this season.
Saints 27 - Eagles 24