The Saints will travel to Philadelphia and will play a brand new opponent on Saturday night they haven't faced all season. The Saints did play the Eagles in 2012 and they embarrassed them in the dome without Sean Payton, but much has changed in a year and this is not close to the same squad. The forecast still calls for 0% chance of rain. The high is now up to 32 and the low is up to 25, and I'm guessing at the 7pm kickoff it will be somewhere in between. Here's some things you should know about the Eagles:
Nick Foles replaced Mike Vick earlier in the season and the Eagles have never looked back. Foles finished the season with the third highest QB rating EVER, and of course it was the best of the season, including better than Mr. MVP shoe in Peyton Manning himself, who broke the TD pass and yards records this year. That should scare you. What should also scare you is that LeSean McCoy is the NFL leader in rushing this season. The Eagles lead the NFL in yards rushing, they lead the NFL in yards per carry, and they are the #2 overall offense. DeSean Jackson is their primary target and he is very explosive, but Riley Cooper is a possession receiver that can make plays downfield too. They have a balanced offense top to bottom that is loaded with playmakers. Most concerning for the Saints are two things: 1. they are missing Kenny Vaccaro. The Saints are already bad at stopping the run, but Vaccaro is their best second line tackler and run stopper. Without him it's even more pronounced. The Saints may be 4th overall on defense but that comes from their elite pass rush. The Saints are tied for 27th, though, in yards per carry given up at 4.6. When McCoy gets a hand off, the Eagles are at a huge advantage. 2. The Eagles are also a threat getting behind defenses, and Malcolm Jenkins at free safety can be a liability. Not only that, but Roman Harper is on the field more due to the absence of Vaccaro, and pass coverage is a major weakness of his. By far the biggest edge the Saints have is Cameron Jordan going against rookie right tackle Lane Johnson.
The Eagles have lost many games this year due to the fact that they have the 29th overall defense. It's not good. They're actually 4th in the NFL in yards per carry given up at just 3.8 per carry and the Saints as we all know can't run the ball. The Saints are 25th averaging 3.8 yards per carry. So if this turns into a really bad weather game the Saints are probably dead. The Eagles run the ball and stop the run pretty well. The Saints' run defense is probably their biggest weakness on that side of the ball, and they don't run the ball well. On the flipside the Eagles are dead last in the NFL, or 32nd overall, against the pass. They have given up the following to passers: 329yds to RGIII, 419 to Rivers, 273 to Alex Smith, 327 to Peyton, 334 to Eli and most recently 358 to KYLE ORTON. So Brees should be able to torch them if the weather is even marginally decent. Brandon Boykin does have 6 interceptions on the year, though, so he's one to be careful about. But since Boykin is a cover corner, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles should have very favorable matchups all game long. The Eagles are 20th in sacks and Trent Cole is the only real pass rushing threat (8 sacks), so Brees should have ample time if his line doesn't repeat the recent road woes. The bottom line is the only things that can stop the Saints are penalties, stupid turnovers or maybe the weather. Otherwise, they should be able to move the ball at will, even with crowd noise.
Kicker Alex Henery is 23 of 28 on the year, his worst of his 3 year career. His career long is 51 so he doesn't have as strong of a leg as some out there, but he is accurate. He's an 86% career guy through three seasons, but he's probably not a threat beyond 50 especially in these conditions. His kickoffs can be a problem as he's had 55.4% of them returned this year, so maybe Sproles can get something going there. Donnie Jones of LSU is their punter, and he's still doing a decent job. Damaris Johnson hasn't done much on returns this year, but DeSean Jackson is a punt returner you always need to be aware of. The Eagles are unspectacular on special teams, much like the Saints this year, but I think Thomas Morstead is the advantage here. If he can neutralize Jackson then the Saints have the edge in this phase of the game assuming Shayne Graham doesn't completely implode.
If the weather starts to affect passing, the Saints are in big trouble. Otherwise, this game could turn into a really fun shoot out. I think the Saints are a more balanced team top to bottom, but there's no question stopping McCoy is a major concern. Vaccaro would have been the perfect hybrid defender to slow him down. But this game is more about whether the Saints can manage being on the road and get that mental block squared away. If the Saints are playing their best, they should win this game.