The Saints are out of their playoff bye week, and we’re back with the Enemy series. This week, our friend, Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation, answers 5 quick questions about our divisional round matchup, a battle in the dome pitting the New Orleans Saints against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
We all knows it’s Foles-magic leading the way at QB instead of Carson Wentz now, but what other changes are there on the Eagles roster since the last time these two teams met?
Darren Sproles is back for the Eagles now. You may have heard of him?
Starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was also activated off the NFI list since the last time these two teams played.
Mike Wallace was activated off injured reserve but still hasn’t played yet. He might have a chance to be active on Sunday.
In a related note to the increase of 12 personnel, Golden Tate isn’t being force fed as much as he previously was right after the Eagles traded for him.
Sidney Jones, who the Saints aggressively went after in Week 11, hasn’t played since Week 14. He’s been nursing a hamstring injury.
Rookie defensive back Avonte Maddox is playing at outside cornerback now instead of safety or nickel corner. He’s shown some impressive flashes out there. He’s also been vulnerable to biting on double moves, though.
Cre’Von LeBlanc has settled in nicely as the Eagles’ new nickel corner. Jim Schwartz has raved about how he’s helped stabilize the secondary. LeBlanc was only playing his second game with Philly when the Eagles faced the Saints in Week 11.
Corey Clement and Josh Sweat both saw playing time against the Saints but they’re on injured reserve now. Getting Sproles back has helped offset losing Clement. Sweat being out has made the Eagles’ defensive line rotation thinner.
If you were Sean Payton, game planning to attack the Eagles defense, how would you do it?
Well, running the same exact game plan as last time might not be the worst idea considering it got them a 41-point win!
Half-joking aside, if I was coaching the Saints, I’d be looking to attack the Eagles’ secondary. Rasul Douglas has played well recently but he’s still vulnerable to getting roasted deep; he lacks ideal long speed(4.59 40-yard dash). Avonte Maddox has made some plays on the ball but he’s also looked like a rookie out there at times. Maddox bit on several double moves against Chicago, leaving Allen Robinson wide open for chunk gains.
The Saints are going to want to get the ball out quick in order to neutralize Philly’s pass rush, which makes sense, but they also need to take some deep shots. The Eagles have done well defending the short stuff recently thanks to improved tackling.
The Saints had success running against the Eagles in Week 11 (29 carries, 174 yards, 2 TD) so it’s worth trying out again but I wouldn’t stick with it for long if it’s not working. Philly’s run defense has improved down the stretch. Taking the ball out of Brees’ hands is a gift to the Eagles’ defense. So that means no Taysom Hill passes either.
Who is one player on both sides of the ball for the Eagles that Saints fans might not be familiar with that you expect to make an impact in the game?
Hard not to go with reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles given his 105.2 career passer rating in the playoffs but I’m assuming you were looking for less obvious options.
I’ll go with Alshon Jeffery on offense. Folse and him really seem to be clicking lately. Jeffery has really turned his game up in the postseason over the past two years with 18 receptions for 301 yards ((16.7 avg) and three touchdowns. A sixth of his playoff catches have been 30+ yard plays. Foles trusts Jeffery enough to lob the ball up to him and allow the receiver to beat the defender at the catch point. That’s really tough to defend against. I think Jeffery could have some success against a Saints pass defense that ranks 22nd in DVOA and 21st in big play rate.
On defense, I’ll go with Brandon Graham. He’s had a relatively quiet season with only four sacks but I just feel like he’s due for a big play. Graham obviously came up huge for the Eagles in the Super Bowl last year when he strip sacked Tom Brady. Graham, who entered the season coming off ankle surgery, has looked healthier than ever in recent weeks.
Finish these sentences: “The Saints will win if _______________.” Or: “The Eagles will win if ________________.”
The Saints will win if they take care of the ball. The Eagles were fortunate to win in spite of a -2 turnover differential last week. Home teams were -2 in the playoffs over the past 40 years were 4-112 before Philly’s win in Chicago. Fortunately for the Saints, Drew Brees has only thrown one interception at home this season.
The Eagles will win if they stay aggressive. Philly can’t play this game stupid or safe. Philly made a number of dumb mistakes in Chicago that could’ve ended up costing them the game, including two dropped interceptions. The Eagles won’t be able to get away with that this time. They also won’t be able to get away with being as conservative as they were in Week 11. Doug Pederson needs to break out some trick plays, be even more bold than usual about going for it on fourth down, and maybe even sneak a surprise onside kick in there. Gotta go all out.
What’s your prediction for the game? Final score?
It’s impossible for me to bet against the Eagles at this point. I’ve seen them defy the odds time and time again. They just find a way to win. It’s not just magic, although sometimes I don’t know how else to explain Nick Foles. The Eagles haven’t been winning games because they’re been lucky. They’ve been winning because they have the ability to win in the trenches and control the game up front. Top notch quarterback performance is also being paired with great coaching. The defense isn’t perfect but it’s certainly a competitive unit.
If I legitimately thought the Eagles were going to lose, I’d be honest about it. I’d like to think this isn’t just a homer pick. I just know how I felt about the team in the playoffs last year and I have that same feeling again. Maybe it’ll end up being misguided but for now I’ll say the Eagles win, 33 to 30.
A big thanks to Brandon for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you check out his work and the rest of the good folks at Bleeding Green Nation for tons of Eagles content. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @BrandonGowton, Bleeding Green Nation @BleedingGreen, and of course you can always follow me @dunnellz.