The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Saints

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Here is a complete breakdown of Saturday night’s playoff matchup between the Eagles and the Saints.

THE BIG PICTURE


The Eagles held on in Week 17 against the Cowboys to improve to 10-6 and take the NFC East. Chip Kelly's squad won seven of its last eight to earn a home playoff game for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.

In the first year of the Kelly era, many have used the "house money" argument. In other words, regardless of what happens this weekend, 2013 was a success. And that's true. But consider this: It's not every season your entire offensive line starts all 16 games together; and your star running and wide receiver have career years; and your quarterback puts together one of the most impressive statistical runs of all-time.

There are never any guarantees going forward. The Eagles are in the tournament and will be looking to seize the opportunity, regardless of preseason expectations.

As for the Saints, they put up 42 on the Bucs last week to earn a wild-card spot and the six seed. Sean Payton returned to the sidelines in 2013, and Drew Brees continued to do what he's been doing for years. Rob Ryan helped turn around the defense from one of the worst in league history to a formidable unit. Brees turns 35 later this month and is looking to earn his second Super Bowl ring.

Here is how the Eagles' offense matches up with the Saints' defense:

 
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
Eagles Offense6.3 (1st)27.6 (4th)22.9% (2nd)
Saints Defense5.2 (10th)19.0 (4th)-5.9% (10th)

And the Eagles' defense against the Saints' offense:

 
Yards Per Play
Points Per Game
DVOA (FB Outsiders)
Saints Offense5.9 (6th)25.9 (10th)15.9% (5th)
Eagles Defense5.5 (20th)23.9 (17th)5.0% (23rd)

Note: Click here for an explanation of DVOA.

***

EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE

 
YPC
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
Eagles Rushing Offense5.1 (1st)23.7% (1st)
Saints Rushing Defense4.6 (27th)-1.5% (20th)

The foundation of the Eagles' offense is still the inside running attack, and specifically, the inside zone.

But the evolution of the ground game throughout the course of the season has been remarkable. Early on, Kelly called a lot of zone read, but that's not the case anymore. The Eagles now use a lot of the split zone run where the quarterback is not responsible for an unblocked defender. Last week, they added a sweep play with the unbalanced line to keep defenses from crashing inside. And they've run a lot more with the quarterback under center.

LeSean McCoy had a spectacular season, leading the NFL with 1,607 yards on the ground and 2,146 yards from scrimmage. Of the 34 running backs who logged at least 150 carries, only DeMarco Murray (5.2) had a better YPC average than McCoy (5.1).

Blocking up front has been great from all five linemen. And Brent Celek is a better run-blocker now than he's been at any point in his career.

James Casey has also provided a boost. The Eagles' veteran tight end averaged just 5.9 snaps per game through the first 12 games. But in the last four, that number jumped to 21.5 snaps. Per Pro Football Focus, 67.5 percent of Casey's snaps have come as a blocker in the run game.

The Saints are technically a 3-4 team, but they play a lot in their sub packages, which usually feature four down linemen. During the regular season, their weakness was defending the run as New Orleans allowed 4.6 YPC (27th). They rotate six guys up front, including former Eagles first-round pick Brodrick Bunkley at nose tackle. He's flanked by Akiem Hicks and Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan.

Inside linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne led the Saints in tackles.

***

EAGLES PASSING OFFENSE

 
Completion Percentage
YPA
20+
FB Outsiders (DVOA)
Nick Foles64.0% (8th)9.12 (1st)*80 (1st)*29.9% (5th)
Saints Passing Defense60.0% (15th)6.8 (9th)40 (4th)-9.2% (6th)

Nick Foles finished the regular season as the first QB in NFL history to throw 25+ touchdowns and three or fewer interceptions. In all, he completed 64 percent of his passes, averaged 9.12 YPA (first), tossed 27 TDs and was picked off twice.

Foles faced some pressure against Dallas as receivers had a tough time breaking free downfield. He was sacked five times and fumbled once. The Eagles will have to do a better job in protection against a defense that ranked fourth in sacks (49).

Defensive end Cameron Jordan had 12.5 sacks, and outside linebacker Junior Galette added 12. Both players get moved around between the left and right sides. A key player to watch for the Eagles will be rookie Lane Johnson. He's had some very good moments, but there have been issues in pass protection on the right side with Johnson and Todd Herremans.

Jason Peters has been good in pass protection with a couple exceptions (the Kansas City game, the Minnesota game). Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis have been solid.

In the secondary, the Saints are a little banged-up. They lost starting corner Jabari Greer to a season-ending knee injury in mid-November and are also without standout rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro (ankle). While the Saints have played the pass well all season, the Eagles should have opportunities to get DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper free.

Jackson finished the season with a career-high 1,332 yards (ninth in the league), while averaging 16.2 yards per catch and scoring nine times. His 25 catches of 20+ yards were second to only Josh Gordon.

Riley Cooper also had a career year with 47 catches for 835 yards. He averaged 17.8 yards per catch, third-best in the league.

The Saints' best corner, Keenan Lewis, spent his first four seasons with the Steelers. The guy to keep an eye on is Corey White. A fifth-round pick in 2012, he is filling in for Greer and has just 10 starts under his belt. The Saints are vulnerable at safety too. Malcolm Jenkins plays a hybrid role as a starting safety and nickel corner. But because of Vaccaro's injury, veteran Roman Harper has once again been thrust into a starting role. Look for Kelly to try to exploit Harper in coverage. The Saints will go to three-safety looks too with Rafael Bush being used as the deep man.

Celek and rookie Zach Ertz both had productive seasons, combining for 68 catches, 971 yards and 10 touchdowns. Together, they had 21 catches of 20+ yards. Celek averaged 15.7 yards per catch, a career high and the second-highest mark among all tight ends with at least 20 receptions.

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  • EaglesFanInPhx

    I always love seeing these to see where our statistical advantages and disadvantages are. Thanks Sheil! BTW, a typo in the first paragraph says “since he 2010-2011 season.” instead of “since the 2010-2011 season.”

    • sdk152

      Fixed. Thanks! -SK

      • Joe from Easton

        Sheil sighting!

        Keep up the great stuff my friend. You make being an Eagle-aholic much more fun.

      • #7

        Sup Shiel

  • TNA

    Eagles offense: Run, run, pass
    Saints offense (without Thomas): Pass, screen pass, pass, screen pass

    Weather will play a role. It should favor the team that runs the ball effectively more.

    Two things I’ll be looking for out of curiosity:
    1) Eagles front-7 attack up the middle. Getting Brees out of the pocket will be key.
    2) Performance of James Casey; instead of wham block, I’d love to see him chip block and slip out for a pass.

  • Dr Rick

    This should be another great game. I expect both teams to bring their best games and think the coaching and matchup issues will be the deciding factors. What will BD and the defense do to contain the NOLA passing game? Can Folsey continue to adapt quickly enough to avoid happy feet and missed reads? Will the Zebras call an even game? What WILL the weather be and how will it affect the game?

    Prediction: Birds 28, NOLA 24

  • GEAGLE

    Bree’s has 12 TDs and 9 INTs in 8 road games this year and saints average 18pts a game on the road, and they are getting ready to face the worst weather conditions they faced all year…why would I fear them? Because they have name brand players? Burn their silly blitz all day with Vaccarro not playing. defense continues to not allow more then 22…

    31-20 Fly Eagles Fly

  • anthony barnes

    The key is run the ball they don’t play the run good so if we can run the ball we have a chance to win so lets go eagles and try to get bard smith more in some of the offense he is pretty good so try to used him lil more

  • jabostick

    I don’t really see either defenses doing much to stop the other team – there are clear mismatches. My hope is the Eagles have steady doses of the run and the frequency of Saints passes lead to a couple of bobbled frozen footballs.

    I think special teams will be big too. We’re due for a big return and In Donnie I Trust. Hopefully Henerey and the Eagles have more faith in him than I do, but this is where you make your rep as a kicker.

    • Maggie

      For a second there I thought you were hoping that the Eagles were having steady doses of the RUNS. You think they play at high speed (sometimes) now!

  • aub32

    People who are casually dismissing the Saints because they were beaten on the road, forget who the lost to. SEA and CAR are 1 and 2 defensively this year. The Pats are the second best team in the AFC. The Jets D is 11, a far cry from 29. I think we have a good chance, but the Saints are still very much a threat.

    • Richard Colton

      I don’t think you’ll find one rational person willing to dismiss this team. The Saints are dangerous, can score in bunches, and are still angry about Goddell stealing last season from them. Ohh yeah, and Drew Brees. Like you said, don’t care what their road record is, this is a quality team.

    • BlindChow

      You left out their loss to the mighty Rams.

      And it isn’t just the losses. New Orleans didn’t put up anywhere near their standard offensive performance against the Falcons or Tampa Bay when they played them on the road. (They were good against the Bears, though.)

      But I’m surprised people are dismissing them, too, considering how Kyle Orton and Matt Cassel lit us up. I think this game could get out of hand pretty quick.

      • aub32

        I’m glad you mentioned our loss to the MIN. In my opinion that was a worse loss than NO to the Rams. Sometimes you just lose on a day everyone expects you to win. That’s why I left out the Rams loss. However, for the most part NO faced some good defenses on the road or division matchups, which we all know can be harder in reality than on paper.

        I am not saying we don’t have a chance. I like our offense against their defense. I think we may have a chance of at least limiting Graham if we make him the focus. I like our front 7 to stop their run game. However, Brees is Brees, and he could still potentially pick us apart with some of the lesser known weapons on that team.

        • UKEagle99

          Graham scored 16 of Drew Brees 39 TDs, you have to remove him from the game and let the others beat you.

    • Andy124

      Frankly, the road game/weather angle is my only real source of optimisim in this matchup. Personally, I don’t feel like that’s a reliable predictor. Just don’t trust it.

      As far as people “casually dismissing the Saints”, I’d have to see specific posts but I’d guess it’s more a matter of
      a) extreme homerism, which is not a bad thing imo and
      b) intentionally overstating things as a means of building optimism, again, not a bad thing.

      Whatever happens, I expect it to be a good learning experience that should make the team better in the long run.

    • Kevin

      Our Defensive isn’t as bad as the 29th rank. That stat is based on yards and when you play with an offensive that stresses tempo and attack, the other team is likely to get more possessions. To evaluate the D, you need to look at stats like yards per play, completion percentage, points, etc., that do not reflect totals. While no one will consider this a great unit, it is more average and opportunistic with a lot of fight than ‘bad’ and average with this offensive just may be good enough.

      • Andy124

        At last check, our defense had barely faced more possessions this year than the average. The large number of yards, based on the large number of plays, is more due inability to prevent 3rd down conversions.

        This doesn’t and isn’t intended to displute your point that the Eagles D is better than the 29th in the league and that yards per play is a better measure than gross yardage, but I thought it was a good point to add.

        • Joe from Easton

          The eagles set an NFL record this year for their defense having had the most passes attempted against it with 670. Their yards given up are at least partially due to that, no?

          • Andy124

            I didn’t say anything counter to that:
            The large number of yards, based on the large number of plays,

            The point I was making was that the large number of plays isn’t so much due to our tempo, but due to the D’s inability to get off the field consistently.

          • Joe from Easton

            Ahh, missed that point. Thanks for the clarification. I agree too. If there is one thing that the D keeps me on edge about all of the time it’s 3rd and more than 9.

          • Andy124

            Yeah, I failed to mention the tempo in my first post. Wasn’t as clear as I could have been. Need to put my words in a better position to succeed there. Time’s yours.

          • Joe from Easton

            So Andy, we know the cold affects the players, but how to you put your mustache in a position to succeed in temperatures like this?

          • Andy124

            Well, I’ve got to take the next few days and check what I see in the mirror. In everything it’s my responsibility. It’s my mustache. It’s a reflection on me. I thought I’d try adding some extra walrus oil. In hindsight… I didn’t look very smart on that one.

            http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/pattisonave/The-Best-Worst-Andy-Reid-Quotes.html

          • Andy124

            Who knew? All these years he was talking about his mustache.

          • Joe from Easton

            haha this is gold.

          • UKEagle99

            Lol

          • theycallmerob

            A good analysis of that:
            http://www.bleedinggreennation.com/2014/1/3/5268984/eagles-defense-bill-davis-what-goes-wrong-on-3rd-down-long

            In short, better tackling and talent will help. A lot of those conversions were WTF moments.

          • Maggie

            I wonder if there is any significance to the fact that 35 of 38 were run from the shotgun?

          • UKEagle99

            Tempo has no effect on number of plays, which I believe you are alluding to. The only unit that effects how long it is on the field is the D. Turnovers and holding on 3rd down. The only thing our Os tempo effects is how long the D gets on the sideline.

          • Nathanael Brice

            Tempo plays a part if it gives the opposing offense more drives over the
            course of the season. In the Eagles case, they faced 190 drives vs the
            league average of 186. Pretty close. The def was at the bottom of the
            league in plays per drive, which resulted in them being at the bottom
            when it came to yards per drive. The defense kept scoring down because
            they created a lot turnovers. They give up the yards, but get the
            turnovers. Remind anyone of a certain Saints defense that won a Super
            Bowl not too long ago?

    • UKEagle99

      I think anyone who has seen the Saints and Eagles play knw this comes down to who executes and schemes the best. 50-50 imo but our 50 is better than theirs :-P

  • cliff henny

    over 32 hours till kickoff…this is brutal

    • UKEagle99

      When I read this it was posted 10 hours ago! 22 to go! Woohoo! Come on Eagles!

  • Richard Colton

    Using Pete Prisco logic (because it worked for us last week) I predict a defensive slugfest. Mostly because no one expects it.

    Birds 9 ‘Aints 5

    • Andy124

      I’m thinking 2-1. Shut up! ~PPrisco.

      • Richard Colton

        “spoken like a true Eagles fan”

  • theycallmerob

    Excited to see what Chip does in the playoffs. He seems like the coach who has been practicing a play since April that he’s been waiting to use until now. Or maybe he just unleashes James Beastmode Casey to destroy Roman Harper up the seam.

    Aside from Riverboat Ron, every other matchup will pit Kelly against some of the league’s best minds- on both sides of the ball. But even as a rookie, I still have more faith in him to scheme and adjust than I ever had with Reid.

    • jabostick

      I’m excited for that too. As much as I love Chip, a first NFL playoff game is a first NFL playoff game. It’ll be interesting to see if he plays it a bit conservative early to feel out what they’re doing, or if he swings for home runs.

      Like you, I think he’ll have some tricks up his sleeve and I think the Eagles will play looser than the Saints.

      For example, I know the swinging gate play was a disaster in the opener, but I wonder if he’ll try to ‘steal points’ the way it was talked about in the pre-/offseason…

      • theycallmerob

        ha, that was 1 I was thinking of but didn’t want to say aloud (fear of jinx). I don’t think Chip was the kind of guy to look at that play against WAS (which only failed on a poor execution, hat-on-hat block by the rookie RT in his first ever NFL game) and immediately scratch it out.
        Did we even go for 2 again after that (aside from necessity in a comeback bid)?

        • Jason

          3rd game, come on Rob, your better then that. :)

          And no, he didn’t go for two again. (Outside of game factors)

          • theycallmerob

            thanks. Sept seems like ages ago.
            Also, I was at the KC game on my bday, and I remember very little due to the boos and booze.
            Appreciate the assist. I think it was still LJ who missed the block?

      • Jason

        The swinging gate was against KC in week 3. Most of Chip’s trick plays have been well designed, just poorly executed.

        I think the “trick” will be normally designed plays but a twist to what we’ve shown on tape.

        • #7

          Agreed

        • jabostick

          Ah you’re right. I get my ethnically-marginalizing team nicknames mixed up sometimes.

          • Jason

            Haha, that was awesome.

  • theycallmerob

    Did not realize Thomas was hurt, he’s a huge weapon for them. One of the national guys, can’t remember who, said he’s possibly the best screen RB in the game (I’d take Shady personally)

    • Andy124

      It’s still Westbrook. :)

      • theycallmerob

        forever and ever. Marshall Faulk is a somewhat distant 2nd. bum

        • Andy124

          Does a disservice to bums.

          • Andy124

            For the record, no opinion on Marshall Faulk the tv guy, marvelled at Marshall Faulk the player. Even when he was an Aztec he just looked, different, special. Great football player to watch play the game.

      • Maggie

        I have his jersey if he wants to borrow it. Just one more time.

        • Andy124

          ‘Ol Westy was my daughter’s first jersey. Not realizing the significance of a child’s first jersey, the wife donated it when she outgrew it. I’m still flabbergasted and a little heartbroken over it.

          • Rohan Patel

            I hope you informed her that she performed an act of blasphemy.

          • Andy124

            I did, and continue to do so weekly.

    • aub32

      I think it was on NFL network, and personally I’d go with Jamaal Charles. Pierre Thomas has just been doing it a lot longer and is quite good at it.

    • #7

      Back injury for Thomas. Time for some Ingram. He’s been quietly running hard and they’re starting to use him to his strengths

      • theycallmerob

        Chest injury. And Ingram has been a bum all year, averaging 7 carries and 35 yards. Only had 1 TD. The great #1 pick from ‘Bama lost touches to the UDFA and D-II Khiry Robinson.

        • #7

          He had 149 yards just a few weeks ago..

          • theycallmerob

            against a sh!tty DAL defense. Only time he went over 100 all season. Aside from 1 big run against CAR the next week, he averaged less than 4 YPC and only 2.4 YPC against ATL. He’s been getting more carries, but not getting better.

          • #7

            Not saying he’s going to dominate or anything like that. The one main this the Aints didn’t do with him is feed him the ball because of the way their offense is ran which = drop back 50 times per game

        • BlindChow

          Ingram has been good when they’ve used him. 5 ypc is about the same as McCoy. Maybe they’ve got other reasons to not use him very often, but it’s also possible he’s just lower on the depth chart and Thomas had earned his starting spot.

          • jabostick

            I don’t follow the Saints but often a good back being sparsely used comes down to blocking. Just a hunch

          • theycallmerob

            That’s a very deceiving stat. Look at his splits:
            Only 11 GP. 5 games, almost half, he had YPC under a 4. Those also happened to be the games he saw some of his greatest # of touches- wks. 1, 2, and 12.
            Went 13-83 against CAR recently, and had the big game against DAL (14-145) when NO won handily. Those 2 games inflated his stats significantly.
            And again, it’s not just Thomas and Sproles stealing snaps. A rookie UDFA had 50 something carries.
            He had a Bryce Brown type year; I’m not too scared of that.

          • BlindChow

            I think the Bryce Brown comparison is very apt. The more carries a RB gets, the more likely he is to break a big run, so I don’t think you can sleep on him just because he hasn’t had big games on days he’s had less than 10 carries.

          • theycallmerob

            I just think he plays to our defensive strengths. We’ve faced far better backs this year.
            Ingram winning the game for them would make me very upset indeed. I think it’ll be Brees or bust.

          • #7

            Of course it will. Been that way for years and I think that works in our favor if we can get some hits on him

          • BlindChow

            I agree, we’ve been great against the run this year. I just hope Billy Davis doesn’t concentrate on Ingram like he did on Asiata. I assume the threat of Brees will weigh heavier on his mind than Cassel or Orton, and he’ll adjust accordingly.

          • #7

            Their offense isn’t built for it that’s why. And they also lack the toughness to run the football

        • Dr Rick

          I haven’t been able to figure out the Ingram thing. He has definite talent but has not had the impact i thought he would out of college. Is it an injury, football smarts, lack of necessary NFL speed, what?

    • Tom w

      I agree mark Ingram and sproles will get more touches but also makes the saints more predictable because Ingram can’t catch or pass block and saints are very reluctant to run sproles. Pierre is their dual threat and best pass blocker. Big loss but hopefully sproles doesn’t explode as a result.

    • EaglePete

      no way, thats great news hes a huge player for them, thank you football gods.

  • #7

    Should be a great game. Hopefully we can get some hits on Brees. Pretty boy doesn’t like to get roughed up. Go Eagles

    Oh, and Roman Harper is next to be targeted by Chippah

    • BlindChow

      The refs don’t like when he gets roughed up, either. Hopefully it works both ways in this game…

      • #7

        LOL you’re exactly right on that

      • aub32

        I can’t wait until Foles gets the kind of love Brees, Rodgers, Brady, and (Big) Manning get. I swear I saw a player lightly roll over Rodgers who had no possible way of stopping, and then later that night saw Foles get pounced upon well after being down and get nothing.

  • morgan c

    Excited and hoping for big things from this offense. The more I think about it, and the closer we get to kickoff, the more I worry about Brees eviscerating our overachieving defense though. Graham will have some best mode catches, but I worry more about giving up 15-20 yards on third and longs to Darren Sproles screens and shallow crossers. As Sheil said, we have been terrible on those all year, and Brees / Sproles are the types that could make us pay.

    Still, I’m confident we can score 35-38 points or more.

    Let’s go Eagles!