Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ offense matches up with the Saints’ defense. If you missed the first cheat sheet, click here.
1. The Saints’ defense hasn’t just been bad. It’s been historically bad. According to NOLA.com, Steve Spagnuolo’s group has given up more yards in the first seven games of the season than any defense in NFL history. The Saints rank 30th in the league in scoring defense, allowing 30.9 points per game. They’ve allowed at least 24 points in every game so far this season. Football Outsiders has them ranked last in overall defense – 32nd against the pass and 27th against the run. If the Eagles’ offense is ever going to get on track, this would be the week. Then again, folks in New Orleans are probably saying the same thing about their defense. The Birds are averaging 17.1 points per game, 28th in the league. Football Outsiders has the Eagles’ offense 24th – 22nd in passing and 30th with the run. They have not scored more than 24 points in a single game all season and have turned it over 17 times, tied for third-most in the league.
2. The Saints have a pedestrian pass-rush (13 sacks, 22nd) and will likely rotate seven defensive linemen up front. Defensive end Junior Galette leads New Orleans with four sacks. Cameron Jordan, a 2011 first-round pick, has three. He’ll get matched up with Todd Herremans, who has been inconsistent for much of the year. Former Eagles first-round pick Brodrick Bunkley is in his first season with the Saints. He was inactive vs. the Broncos, even though he was not listed on the injury report during the week. The Eagles will go with the same offensive line that was on the field last week. Rookie Dennis Kelly once again fills in for Danny Watkins (ankle) at right guard. Kelly played pretty well last week, as did King Dunlap at left tackle. As a unit, the offensive line held up OK in pass protection vs. the Falcons, but a lot of that had to do with the game-plan that focused on Michael Vick getting rid of the ball quickly.
3. Opponents are completing 66.5 percent of their passes against New Orleans, the fifth-worst mark in the league. And the Saints are allowing 9.1 yards per attempt, which ranks last. New Orleans has given up 32 pass plays of 20+ yards (third-most) and is allowing 304.6 passing yards per game (30th). Meanwhile, Vick has completed 62.4 percent of his passes in the last four games, but is averaging just 6.5 yards per attempt in that stretch, as the Eagles have tried to shift to a more methodical approach to help the offensive line. Vick’s gone without an interception in four of the past five games, but part of that has been luck. Last week, linebacker Stephen Nicholas dropped an easy pick that was right in his hands.
4. Opponents are averaging 5.0 yards per carry against New Orleans (30th). And the Saints have allowed nine runs of 20+ yards, third-most. At linebacker, New Orleans goes with Curtis Lofton in the middle, along with Jonathan Vilma at the WILL and David Hawthorne at the SAM. Lofton spent his first four seasons with the Falcons. He leads the Saints with 68 tackles. For the Eagles, LeSean McCoy has had nowhere to run in the past three games, totaling just 120 yards on 46 carries (2.6 YPC). In the past two, 11 of McCoy’s 30 runs have been stopped for zero or negative yards.
5. In the secondary, the Saints start cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson. Greer, a nine-year veteran, is the team’s best defensive back. Robinson, a first-round pick in 2010, has been targeted 56 times, per Pro Football Focus. He’s tied for a team-high with five penalties, including a pair of pass interference calls. Nickel corner Corey White has allowed 30 catches on 37 targets, according to PFF’s numbers. Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins are the safeties. Harper made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and 2010. Last season, he had 7.5 sacks, but he’s been shut out this season. On average, Harper has blitzed just under four times per game, per PFF. Jenkins has blitzed just 10 times all season and been called for five penalties – including three face-masks and and an unsportsmanlike conduct. Jenkins has missed 14 tackles, per PFF.
6. For the Eagles, DeSean Jackson is having a quietly productive year, averaging 74.9 yards per game and 15.4 yards per catch. He’s yet to drop a ball and could have even better numbers if Vick had done a better job of getting him the ball. Some predicted a breakout year for Jeremy Maclin, but that has not happened. He’s averaging 54.7 yards per game, which would be a three-year low if it held up. Brent Celek leads the team with eight catches of 20+ yards, but he’s had a team-high six drops on the season.
7. On film, you see missed tackles, confusion and poor execution with the Saints. For example, there was this 95-yard Bucs completion to Vincent Jackson a couple weeks ago. You’ll see that after the ball is snapped, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has his back to the line of scrimmage and is still trying to communicate with the secondary.
Josh Freeman’s pass goes down the left sideline. Both Robinson and Harper try to undercut the receiver, but neither gets a hand on the ball.
They both end up on the ground, and Jackson takes off. Jenkins, meanwhile, did a terrific job of never giving up on the play, and tackled Jackson at the 1. The Bucs failed to get in the end zone and turned it over on downs.
8. Expect the Saints to play their safeties deep and challenge the Eagles to methodically move the ball downfield without making mistakes. But as we’ve seen in past weeks, even when defenses play their safeties deep, the Eagles have opportunities to hit on big plays downfield. Here’s one play from the Broncos-Saints game. Denver lines up with one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. But the Saints still have their safeties deep.
Peyton Manning gets Harper to bite with a play-fake, allowing Demaryius Thomas to get free.
Harper tries to recover, but can’t, and the Broncos get a big play.
Vick and Marty Mornhinweg talked this week about how they were a bit too conservative vs. the Falcons. We’ll see if the line can hold up, but I expect the Eagles to open it up this week and take plenty of shots downfield.
9. The Eagles continue to get very little from their special teams. They rank 26th, averaging 22.1 yards per kickoff return. Among the 27 players who have returned at least 10 kickoffs, only four have failed to notch at least one return of 35 yards. Brandon Boykin is one of them, with a long of 31. Of course, blocking plays a role too. Punt returns have been just as bad. The Eagles are one of three teams without a punt return of at least 15 yards. Mardy Gilyard is out, meaning it’ll likely be Damaris Johnson again handling return duties. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles’ starting field position has been their own 23.85-yard-line. That ranks 30th in the NFL.
10. The Saints are 25th in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns 60.6 percent of the time. The Eagles are 25th in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 45.5 percent of the time. …The Eagles are 11th in third-down offense, converting 42 percent of the time. The Saints’ defense is 13th, allowing conversions 37.8 percent of the time. … New Orleans is allowing opponents to gain 41.07 yards per drive (last).