Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Saints’ offense.
1. The Saints are sixth in the league in scoring offense, averaging 27.1 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked eighth – 10th in passing and 15th in rushing. New Orleans is coming off its worst offensive performance of the season. In their first 10 drives against the Broncos, the Saints punted eight times, scored once and turned it over once. They scored just 14 points, a season-low. The Eagles’ defense, meanwhile, is also coming off its worst performance of the season in a 30-17 loss to the Falcons. They allowed scores on each of Atlanta’s first six drives (touchdowns on the first three). The Eagles are 16th in scoring defense (22.1 points per game). Football Outsiders ranks them ninth – 13th against the pass and eighth against the run.
2. With the Saints, it all of course starts and ends with quarterback Drew Brees, one of the best in the game. He’s averaging a league-high 45 attempts and 330 yards per game. When Brees is rolling, the Saints have a versatile passing attack, capable of putting together long, efficient drives or burning defenses with the deep ball. By some accounts, Brees is performing as well as ever. For example, his 20 touchdowns are second in the NFL to only Aaron Rodgers. On the other hand, Brees is completing just 59.7 percent of his passes, putting him at 21st in the league. That’s a huge dropoff from last year when Brees had a completion percentage of 71.2. The last time Brees completed less than 60 percent of his attempts was 2003, and he has a completion percentage of 67.2 since joining the Saints.
3. Brees is averaging 7.3 yards per attempt (tied for 12th), but the big play is very much a part of this offense. Brees has hit on 30 pass plays of 20+ yards, second-most in the league to Peyton Manning (33). And per Pro Football Focus, his accuracy percentage (which includes completions and drops) on throws of 20+ yards is 52.6, fourth-best in the league. He’s thrown eight interceptions, or one every 39.4 attempts. Brees hasn’t been great on third down (51.8 percent completions), but in the red zone, he’s got 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, even though Matt Ryan carved up the Eagles last week, the Birds are still second in opponents’ completion percentage (55.3). And they’re allowing 6.6 yards per attempt, tied for eighth.
4. The Saints will spread it out, meaning the Eagles will be in nickel or dime for much of the game. That means a lot of action for Brandon Boykin and potentially Curtis Marsh or Brandon Hughes. According to STATS, Inc., 60 percent of Brees’ attempts have come from 4+-WR sets. And 85.7 percent have come out of 3+-WR sets. Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and does an outstanding job of moving in the pocket to create space. It’s important that the Eagles at least make things difficult for him, something they did not do against Ryan and the Falcons.
Here’s a play from last week against Denver. First of all, look at the pre-snap formation.
The Saints go five-wide. No in-line tight end. No backs to chip or block. But Denver does an excellent job in coverage.
You can see initially that Brees has a clean pocket as the Broncos only rush four.
But his first read is covered and he has to maneuver to his left. Now, the pocket isn’t so clean anymore.
By the time he wants to get rid of the ball, he’s shuffling to his left while throwing to his right and has a defensive lineman in his face. Remember, Brees is the same height as Michael Vick (6 feet).
Brees actually made a nice throw, but the linebacker on tight end Jimmy Graham broke the play up. Regardless, you get the point. The front end and the back end working together to make things difficult on Brees, even if the defense didn’t tally a sack.
5. The Saints have very little interest in running the ball. They are averaging a league-low 19.9 rushing attempts per game and are tied for 30th, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Part of that is because the defense is so bad. And part of that is because Brees is generally such a high-percentage passer so throwing the ball carries less risk. On Monday night, the Saints will be without playmaker Darren Sproles and will go with Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. Thomas has played 40.2 percent of the snaps, and Ingram 17.9. Thomas is averaging 4.4 yards per carry; Ingram 2.9. The Eagles, meanwhile, are allowing 4.0 yards per carry, tied for 12th. DeMeco Ryans has been tremendous with 10 tackles for loss, more than any Eagles player had all of last season. He’s got 40 tackles in the last three games, according to team stats. On the defensive line, the Eagles could get a boost from defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who has not played yet this season. Fletcher Cox got the starting nod over Derek Landri last week. And Cedric Thornton played his best game of the season with eight tackles.
6. Marques Colston (6-4, 225) is the Saints’ leading receiver with 40 catches (on a team-high 70 targets) for 580 yards. He has lined up in the slot about 50 percent of the time, per PFF. The Eagles will have to decide what to do on those plays. Colston would have a sizable height advantage over nickel corner Brandon Boykin (5-9). This might be a good spot to move Nnamdi Asomugha inside on Colston. Colston leads the team with seven catches of 20+ yards and five touchdowns. His 10 red-zone receptions are tops in the league. And Colston has converted 12 third downs (tied for seventh).
7. Lance Moore is second on the team with 54 targets and 433 yards. He’s lined up in the slot 35.1 percent of the time, per PFF and can get deep. Last week, when asked about Vick leaving plays on the field, Andy Reid said that happens to all quarterbacks. And he’s got some evidence here. Brees is one of the best in the league, but he misses throws too. Last week, with the offense sputtering vs. the Broncos, he had a chance to hit a big play to Moore.
A double-move combined with a Brees pump-fake allowed Moore to get behind the cornerback. As you can see, the safety is not in position to get there in time, but Brees overthrew him, and a potential 66-yard touchdown instead was simply an incompletion on third down. You can be sure that the Saints will test the Eagles downfield. Nate Allen could be out with a hamstring injury, meaning David Sims, who has never played a defensive snap in the NFL, would get the start.
8. Tight end Jimmy Graham has 30 catches for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, Graham had 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. Asomugha could also match up with Graham in this one. Last week, the Eagles got killed on screens. You can expect the Saints to run a few of those to Graham on Monday night.
“I just thought we missed tackles,” Todd Bowles said on Friday.
The Eagles are 13th in the league at covering opposing tight ends, per Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, Devery Henderson is a deep threat. He only has 17 catches, but five of them have been for 20+ yards, and Henderson is averaging 16.0 yards per reception.
9. The Saints’ offensive line: Jermon Bushrod (LT), Ben Grubbs (LG), Brian De La Puente (Center), Jahri Evans (RG) and Zach Strief (RT). Bushrod has made 39 straight starts for New Orleans. Grubbs, a former first-round pick of the Ravens, is in his first year with the Saints. De La Puente has been the team’s starting center the past two seasons. Evans has been named an All-Pro for three straight seasons and has started 103 games in a row. The same five offensive linemen have started every snap together for the Saints this season. Brees has been sacked just 13 times. Jason Babin and Brandon Graham will match up against Strief. Babin played 33 snaps last week; Graham 31. Trent Cole has not played as well as he has in previous seasons. He’ll get matched up against Bushrod.
10. Will the Eagles blitz more? Brees has been pretty good against extra pressure, completing 60.4 percent of his passes and averaging 8.0 yards per attempt (four touchdowns, two INTs), per STATS, Inc. Last week, the Eagles blitzed seven times. Ryan went 3-for-3 for 36 yards, and the Eagles were called for three penalties (two pass interference, one defensive holding) on those plays. On another, the Saints were called for a penalty.
Last week, the Broncos’ lone sack on Brees came on a delayed blitz. Initially, it looks like a four-man rush, but the key is linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who waits a second after the ball is snapped.
The left defensive end rushes inside, meaning the right tackle has his back to Woodyard and has no idea he’s coming.
That leads to a sack and forced fumble on Brees.
See? The Eagles aren’t the only team that struggles to handle a delayed blitz every now and again.
Leftovers: The Saints have the league’s best red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 72.73 percent of the time. The Eagles are fourth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 37.5 percent of the time. … The Saints look for big plays on play-action. According to PFF, Brees’ yards-per-attempt jumps from 6.9 to 9.2 on play-action throws. Given the responsibilities of Eagles’ safeties against the run, they’ve been vulnerable to play-action all season. … The Saints are one of two teams that has had worse starting field position (their own 23.03) than the Eagles this season. They are dead-last in the league in that category.