The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Saints
EAGLES RUSHING DEFENSE
|YPC||FB Outsiders (DVOA)|
|Saints Rushing Offense||3.8 (25th)||-5.3% (19th)|
|Eagles Rushing Defense||3.8 (4th)||-11.3% (12th)|
This matchup tilts in the Eagles’ favor. They allowed just 3.8 YPC to opponents in the regular season – fourth-best in the league. The guys up front – Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox at the end spots, Bennie Logan at nose tackle – have led the charge and played consistently well.
Cox said defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro keeps it simple and stresses the same two things every week: effort and technique. This group plays hard every snap.
New Orleans’ run game ranks 19th, per Football Outsiders, and the Saints could be without their leading rusher in Pierre Thomas. Thomas ran for 549 yards during the regular season, although he averaged just 3.7 YPC and did not have a single carry of 20+ yards. He has not practiced this week because of a chest injury and might miss Saturday’s game.
If that’s the case, the Saints will turn to former first-round pick Mark Ingram. Ingram had a career-low 78 carries during the regular season, but averaged a career-high 4.9 YPC. The Saints also have rookie Khiry Robinson (54/224) and Darren Sproles (53/220).
Connor Barwin is one of the best outside linebackers in the league at setting the edge, and Trent Cole has held up well against the run also. DeMeco Ryans finished 12th in the league in tackles, and Mychal Kendricks is playing the best football of his career.
EAGLES PASSING DEFENSE
|Completion Percentage||YPA||20+||FB Outsiders (DVOA)|
|Drew Brees||68.6% (2nd)||7.94 (7th)||67 (3rd)||35.9% (3rd)|
|Eagles Passing Defense||60.9% (19th)||7.3 (19th)||62 (29th)||16.6% (25th)|
If the Eagles lose Saturday, it will be because of this matchup. Brees completed 68.4 percent of his passes during the regular season, throwing for 5,162 yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He is a master of the nuances of the position: moving safeties with pump-fakes, maneuvering in the pocket to find passing lanes and identifying mismatches based on coverage.
His No. 1 target is tight end Jimmy Graham (86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 TDs). The Eagles ranked 24th at defending tight ends during the regular season, per Football Outsiders. There’s no simple solution in terms of defending Graham. Ryans against him would be a major mismatch. Kendricks gives up 7 inches; and Brandon Boykin gives up 10.
Billy Davis will likely try a variety of methods to slow Graham, including jamming him at the line of scrimmage with Barwin and Cole. Graham is going to get his catches one way or another. The Eagles will have to limit him from taking over the game or making too many plays downfield.
The difficulty in defending the Saints is that they have three other guys who notched 70 catches or more. At 6-4, Marques Colston (75 catches for 943 yards) presents a difficult matchup in the slot. Rookie Kenny Stills led the league in yards per catch at 20.0. Sproles and Thomas combined for 148 catches.
Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and tight end Benjamin Watson combined for six touchdowns.
For the Eagles, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are playing their best football of the year. The breakdowns last week had more to do with the linebackers, safeties and failed blitz calls. Look for Sean Payton to take advantage of Ryans and safety Patrick Chung in coverage. Rookie Earl Wolff’s status (knee) is up in the air. Nate Allen starts at the other safety spot.
Given the Saints’ reliance on the passing game, expect Boykin to be on the field a lot.
New Orleans is solid up front. They have Pro Bowlers at both guard spots (Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans). Right tackle Zach Strief has been solid as well, and center Brian De La Puente has started 32 straight games.
Davis will look to attack rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, who is making just his third career start. Trent Cole had the third-most sacks in the NFL since Week 11 and will look to go after Armstead. It’s tough to pressure Brees, but the Eagles will send extra bodies at Armstead.
* The Eagles finished the regular season with a +12 turnover differential, fourth-best. The Saints only turned it over on 8.7 percent of their drives, second-best in the NFL.
* Neither squad has a good special teams. The Saints ranked 24th and the Eagles 25th. New Orleans kicker Shayne Graham was jobless until the Saints signed him two weeks ago.
* Brees will take shots downfield, but overall, this is a high-efficiency passing game. His average pass went 7.99 yards (26th in the league). The Eagles have tried to avoid big plays, but they still allowed 62 pass plays of 20+ yards, fourth-most in the NFL. They have trouble with underneath throws (slants, crossers, etc.) all season long.
* Brees has a passer rating of 119.0 indoors this year and 81.7 outside. Good note here from Chase Stuart of the New York Times:
In playoff games when the weather was 35 degrees or below, dome teams have won 3 of 25 games.
The high in Philadelphia Saturday is supposed to be 28 with a low of around 20.
Kickoff is set for 8:10 p.m. on NBC. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will have the call. The Eagles are 2.5-point favorites; 55 percent of the money is on New Orleans, per Sports Insights.
If the Eagles win, they’ll travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers in the divisional round.