The Philadelphia Eagles face-off with the New Orleans Saints tonight in a Wild Card round Battle Royale at Lincoln Financial Field. Chip Kelly and Nick Foles are the newbies while Drew Brees and Sean Payton are the grizzled veterans of NFL Playoff competion.
All week I’ve been struggling trying to get a feel for this game because ultimately, I think these two squads are pretty evenly matched in this particular game.
The reason I say “this particular game” is because, if I’m being honest, the Saints are the better overall team. However, the Eagles aren’t so far off that something like the cold weather can’t help to even things out a little bit.
If this game was to take place in New Orleans or a neutral site that was perfect 72 degree weather, I don’t think the Eagles’ defense could slow down Brees and the Saints’ offense enough for the Eagles’ offense to overcome.
But, since this game is in Philly where it will be extremely cold, that should help slow down the Saints enough to keep this game close. Therefore, the weather could be the equalizer in this game.
With that said, the weather in and of itself will not be enough to stop the Saints’ powerhouse offense. They’re just too good. Counting on them having a “bad game” is not the way you want to think. They may simply be “not as good”, but that is a huge difference from being “bad.”
Think of it this way, instead of Brees and co. putting up 30-40 points, we can hope to hold them to the 20-30 range.
Besides the whole “dome teams stink in cold weather” mantra, I also get annoyed by the talk regarding the Saints’ record on the road this season as well as the fact they’ve never won a playoff game on the road.
Talk about a jinx!
“The Saints aren’t the same team on the road“; “The Saints have NEVER won a playoff game away from home“; “Look at Drew Brees’ stat difference between home and away“; “Dome teams struggle on the road in the playoffs”
Blah blah freakin blah!
You know what all that means? Absolutely N O T H I N G!
The Saints are 3-5 on the road this year. With the exception of New England, four of the five teams they’ve lost to all have defenses ranked in the top half of the league. That includes the two that are ranked No.1 and No. 2 in total defense.
Where do the Eagles rank? 29th overall. So, don’t be fooled into thinking the Saints struggle on the road just because they’re on the road. They’ve faced some pretty good defenses while the Eagles’ defense has been carved up by the likes of Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton recently.
Drew Brees and the Saints will move the ball and put up points. The best thing to hope for are turnovers due in part by the cold weather and slick football. Bill Davis also has to find a way to manufacture pressure on Brees, which is no small task.
Also, as far as the Saints having never won a road playoff game? Again, means nothing. If anything, it gives them extra-added motivation to finally get that monkey off their back.
With all that out of the way, let’s take a look at what I think will be the biggest keys to this game…
1. Disrupt Brees. Whether it’s by pressure, sacks or getting into his passing lanes, the defense has to get him out of rhythm.
2. Watch Kenny Stills deep and Darren Sproles short. Graham will get his so hopefully he is at least contained somewhat. However, the guys I’m worried about are Sproles on the screens and Stills on deep balls.
Particularly Sproles. The Eagles’ defense is vulnerable to screens and short crossing routes. They must be quick to the ball and not let Sproles get yards after the catch. This alone could be the biggest key to the game.
3. Time of possession. Chip Kelly has stated this means nothing. Well, in this game, it could mean everything. The best defense to Drew Brees is to keep the ball away from him.
Run McCoy, Brown and Polk consistently and relentlessly. Even if the Eagles get down by a couple scores, Kelly cannot afford to get away from the run.
4. Get DeSean Jackson involved again. Yes, the Eagles have been successful in using their tight ends recently and they should be utilized again tonight. However, what’s been missing the last few weeks has been impact plays from Jackson and the deep ball.
After catching 10 passes for 195 yards and a score against Minnesota, Jackson has a mere seven receptions for 57 yards and no scores in the past two games.
It’s no secret that the Eagles’ offense is much more explosive when they involve Jackson and explosiveness is what they’ll need tonight.
5. Win the turnover battle. The Eagles are +12 in turnover differential (31 takeaways, 19 giveaways) while the Saints are dead even with 19 takeaways to go with their 19 giveaways.
Neither of these teams turn the ball over often, so whomever wins this battle tonight could very well win the game.
There are the other usual keys to the game such as winning the red zone battle (can’t trade field goals for touchdowns with the Saints) and protecting Foles. Actually, protecting Foles could end up being a huge factor if the defense can’t stop the Saints.
Foles and the offense could be forced into pass mode which would allow the Saints’ defense, who are fourth in the NFL with 49 sacks, to tee-off on the QB. Because of this, Kelly should not abandon the run game until absolutely necessary, as in, they’re in the fourth quarter and down by three scores.
If the game is still within a score or two, the run game still needs to factor in. Let’s hope Chip Kelly doesn’t pull an Andy Reid and get away from the run too early.
Overall, the Saints are the scariest team for the Eagles to face in the playoffs, just based on how they match up. I feel better about how they match up against any other team in the NFC right now, but the Saints have the formula to frustrate the Eagles to no end.
This will be the best team they’ve faced all season. The Saints have so many ways to hurt you on offense and they have a defense that gets after the quarterback and defends the pass very well.
If they can make it past this game, the sky is the limit. But, first things first…they need to go out and punch New Orleans in the mouth.