Eagles vs. Saints: 10 Keys to the Game for New Orleans
The Philadelphia Eagles began the 2012 campaign as quite possibly the luckiest 2-0 football team ever. The Eagles won those two games by one point apiece. And their third win was an escape job at home on a Sunday night against the Giants, 19-17.
In the Eagles' four losses, two have been blowouts while the other two were lost by two and three points, respectively.
All that is to say that the Eagles' 3-4 record is relatively random, since winning and losing close games tends to be statistically random over a full season.
In other words, though the Saints are 2-5, the team's record is a little more indicative of the kind of football the team has played, which could be categorized as poor.
Still, it is more than conceivable that the New Orleans Saints could be a deserving favorite as the two teams match up Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
A lot needs to happen, though, for the 2-5 team to come out victorious. Here are the 10 most important keys to victory for New Orleans.
1. When in Doubt, Do Everything Possible to Slow Shady McCoy
No Eagles' offensive player presents the same kind of challenge for New Orleans' defense as LeSean McCoy.
The Eagles' Pro Bowl running back has 504 yards rushing on 127 carries while catching 28 passes for 134 yards. That's 155 total touches on the season for McCoy. Of course it makes sense that a multi-dimensional running back like McCoy would garner the most touches on an offense, but the ratio of yardage and touchdowns accrued by him is what's more ridiculous.
The 638 yards gives him 123 more total yards than wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Meanwhile Jeremy Maclin is the next closest player on the team in touchdowns with three.
More important than statistics, though, is what McCoy looks like on film. There he looks like a legitimate threat to take it to the house on every single play.
As such, the Saints must have two eyes on McCoy at all time, minimum. Preferably the team would employ a conservative scheme which accounts for McCoy and quarterback Michael Vick's ability to make big plays down the field (more on Vick later).
Clearly McCoy will be tough to stop, especially on stretch plays where he can use his speed. If Cam Jordan, Will Smith and Junior Galette can hold the edge and force him back inside, it will make life easier on the Saints' linebackers.
2. Keep Two More Eyes on Vick
Already you're beginning to see a trend with Philadelphia's offense. They have a number of big-play, home run hitter-type players. And the Saints excel at giving up big play, home run-type plays.
To be fair, the Saints have actually improved in this avenue over 2010 and 2011. Nonetheless, one of the Eagles' greatest offensive weapons is Vick and his legs. He's the Eagles' second leading rusher with 247 yards on 48 carries and one touchdown.
Consider then his 59 percent completion percentage to go with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions and it's clear that Vick's stronghold on Philly's quarterback job is due to the big play potential in his legs.
Of course, the Saints' defense struggled mightily early in this season with two similar quarterbacks—Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. In those games, the two offenses designed runs for Griffin and Newton to attack the Saints.
The Eagles have not done that much this season. Instead, Vick is called upon to bail the Eagles out of bad situations when no one else is open. It's the reason the Saints would actually be wise to blitz a lot in this game. A well-timed and well-executed blitz can get Vick on the ground and get the defense off the field.
And at all times have a linebacker or safety "spy" on Vick and make sure he doesn't burst into the open field for big chunks of yardage.
3. DeSean Jackson Can Make Big Plays Too; Don't Let Him
DeSean Jackson is the Eagles' leading receiver with 34 catches and 524 yards. He has only crossed the goal line once, but he remains a huge threat for the Eagles' offense.
Interestingly, Jackson is tied with Miles Austin for the best drop rate in the NFL. Neither has dropped a "catchable" pass this season. In other words, the Saints need to find ways to keep Jackson from getting open.
Vick still has to get the ball near him. But if Vick can do that, Jackson will most likely catch the ball. As I detailed here, the Saints rarely ever place Jabari Greer on the opposing team's No. 1 receiver, which is part of the reason those guys regularly kill the Saints.
It seems unlikely that the combination of Patrick Robinson and Corey White are going to stay with Jackson. Putting Greer on Jackson would seem to give the Saints a better opportunity to eliminate one big-play guy from the Eagles offense.
If not that, the Saints must at least put coverage towards Jackson. He is the Eagles' next best playmaker.
4. Jeremy Maclin Isn't Bad Either; Must Be Covered at Least
While DeSean Jackson is among the best in the league in drop rate, Jeremy Maclin is among the worst. His three drops on 29 "catchable" passes has him tied for 17th worst. Granted, there are many other receivers ahead of him (Lance Moore for one). Still, Maclin might be an overrated weapon for Philly.
Yet, as previously mentioned, he is second on the team in touchdowns with three, and has a 70-yard long on the season.
In my mind, the Saints should either trick themselves into deciding he's the Eagles' No. 1 receiver and thus cover him with Patrick Robinson and/or Corey White, or intentionally change their stance on that and cover the opposing team's No. 2 with Robinson and White.
Either way, Maclin still must be covered. The Saints haven't done a very good of that this season. Doing it well would go a long way to potentially stopping the Eagles offense this week.
5. Brent Celek Is Pretty Good for a Tight End; Cover Him Please!
Pardon me if the sarcastic and bombastic approach bothers you. The film of the Broncos game was enough to make me lose my hair if I cared enough about this team's defense.
Luckily, I have bigger concerns in my life than how the Saints' pass defense fares against one of the league's greatest quarterbacks of all time. Still, the Eagles present quite a challenge. In fact, Brent Celek is the best tight end the Saints have faced so far this year (Antonio Gates is basically dead at this point in his career).
Celek is actually Philly's second-best receiver this year in terms of catches and yards. His 13.9 yards per reception is actually higher than "big-play threat" Jeremy Maclin by more than a yard.
Because the Eagles have so many weapons, it seems Celek has to be passed down the line in terms of priority. But the Saints must be careful in doing that. Celek will burn them if not handled correctly.
Mixing up coverages between safeties and the linebackers who can actually cover—Curtis Lofton and Jon Vilma—will confuse Vick while maximizing the opportunities to prevent Celek from getting open often.
6. Get Pressure on Vick
I already mentioned that the Saints can potentially blitz in this game. Joe Vitt in his Thursday press conference mentioned issues with simply spying Vick.
#Saints Vitt on Vick: If you let him run to his left and throw, you get what you deserve.
— Saints RapidReports (@CBSSaints) November 1, 2012
Vitt also talked about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing expecting the same results and implied there would be different wrinkles going forward.
Either way, the Saints need to find some way to get pressure on Vick. The Eagles' offensive line isn't exactly gold. It often leaks like a sieve and allows Vick to get hit often.
If the Saints can manage to get pressure with three or four in this game, it will help in coverage and limit the big-play ability of the Eagles.
7. Run the Football
For weeks everyone has been looking for the Saints to run the football more. According to Joe Vitt, play-calling hasn't been the issue.
#Saints Vitt: Offensive philosophy will not change. Last in rushing, but part of it is changing called runs into big pass plays via audible.— Saints RapidReports (@CBSSaints) November 1, 2012
Instead, the Saints have seen run fronts that would have been better attacked through the air. In fact, this is a key reason for the struggles of Mark Ingram. Brees has often forced the run with Ingram in the game because he's a ramming buck of a back.
Still, the team must stay balanced, at least to the point where the Eagles cannot guess what play is coming and pin their ears back.
8. Take Advantage of Nnamdi
After being the talk of last offseason's free-agent group and getting big money to go to Philadelphia, it's almost unfathomable to think Nnamdi Asomugha has become an average corner so quickly.
Last week he was burned badly on a sideline go-route by second-year star-in-the-making Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. Jones beat him with speed but also good technique.
Granted, Asomugha is not helped by the Eagles' poor safeties. For the third straight week, the Saints face a defense that figures to be vulnerable to big plays in the passing game.
Marques Colston and Devery Henderson should be able to take advantage of the Eagles' secondary as a whole.
9. Protect Drew Brees
Considering who they were up against last week, the Saints offensive line did a decent job protecting Drew Brees. But this is potentially a bit of a trap game for the unit.
The Eagles were once one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league. Even a season ago, the Wide 9 technique seemed to revitalize the unit and made the Eagles one of the toughest teams to throw the ball down the field against because of their pass rush.
This year, it's been a slightly different story. The unit has struggled to garner the same kind of pressure.
Still, Trent Cole is a potentially explosive pass-rusher. The Saints must ensure Eagles' defensive linemen do not get home on Monday night. If they do, it could be a long night for the Saints.
10. Out-Coach Andy Reid
Though Andy Reid is the longest tenured head coach in the NFL, he has some known detractors. One of the primary issues is game management, especially clock management.
If any element of the Saints' coaching has been good this season, it's game management.
Still, the Saints staff must remain creative offensively and defensively. Andy Reid and his staff most certainly will do that, at least. And even with an interim head coach, the Saints should, and frankly must, win the game management battle.
It is essential.
There are other keys to this game. But if the Saints can win in these 10 areas, I like their chances on Monday night.
All statistics courtesy of nfl.com, unless noted.