The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Saints
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 Offense||6.3 (1st)||27.6 (4th)||22.9% (2nd)|
|Saints Defense||5.2 (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 Offense||5.9 (6th)||25.9 (10th)||15.9% (5th)|
|Eagles Defense||5.5 (20th)||23.9 (17th)||5.0% (23rd)|
Note: Click here for an explanation of DVOA.
EAGLES RUSHING OFFENSE
|YPC||FB Outsiders (DVOA)|
|Eagles Rushing Offense||5.1 (1st)||23.7% (1st)|
|Saints Rushing Defense||4.6 (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 Foles||64.0% (8th)||9.12 (1st)||*80 (1st)||*29.9% (5th)|
|Saints Passing Defense||60.0% (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.