The Eagles’ defensive line rotations/front seven have GOT to get consistently meaningful pressure on Drew Brees if there is any chance to keep things close enough at the end to give Nick Foles a shot at engineering a winning drive. That’s the way EYE see it.
Without pressure getting home to Brees, he will cherry-pick our secondary at will, and also use the pass to set up the Saints’ running game. As we’ve seen before, if Brees gets up on you by two or three scores early, the game is essentially over.
Beating the Saints at the line of scrimmage is a tall task. The Saints have athletic tackles (Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk) and an experienced interior (left guard Andrus Peat and particularly center Max Unger and right guard Larry Warford, who had superb seasons).
Say we do get some decent pressure on Brees—that just means he makes quicker throws, which of course means less time our relatively inexperienced defensive backs have to stay in coverage, which is a good thing for us. But as Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated points out, “the linebackers and secondary still must survive in coverage. Every defense’s coverage approach begins with a plan for Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, who often align together on the weak side. In Week 11, the Eagles played man coverage and dedicated doubles on both stars. Thomas finished with an acceptable 92 yards receiving while Kamara had just 37, but Brees killed other Eagles pass defenders who were left in true solo coverage. This time around, expect the Eagles to employ more of their traditional Cover 3 zones, with free safety Tre Sullivan playing shallow to take away in-breakers and make the meager-armed Brees throw over the top.”
As for the Saints’ defense? It’s better than most people realize. Did you know the Saints have the #2 overall-rated run defense in the league? The Eagles would love to run the ball to help out Nick Foles and also keep Brees off the field as long as possible. But we ran the ball terribly against the Bears last Sunday; don’t know how realistic it is to expect better against the Saints.
Andy Benoit says now more than ever the Eagles’ offensive plan sits squarely on the shoulders of Foles:
“And so it comes down to whether Foles can continue to make difficult late-in-the-down throws. Why does his production on these so greatly exceed what his physical tools suggest? Because he’s tough as hell in the pocket. That willingness to unleash the ball with defenders closing in is critical to Foles’s third down success, and having two plus-sized targets with big catch radius, like Zach Ertz and especially Alshon Jeffery, gives Foles a much-needed margin for error when it comes to precision accuracy. He must continue relying on those connections. The Saints, who are comfortable with Eli Apple at No. 2 corner, might guard Jeffery not just with top pass defender Marshon Lattimore, but also a safety, forcing Foles to rely more on Ertz inside and Golden Tate and Nelson Agholor on crossers. Chicago has a better defense than New Orleans, but if the Saints have an answer for Jeffery, this could be Foles’ greatest challenge yet.”
There you have it. Pretty simple stuff, but we’re at the point in the playoffs where football becomes a pretty simple game. As Palmy from Sarasota (a former lineman himself) often says here, the guys who best control the line of scrimmage usually end up on the winning side. I can’t think of a more appropriate example of that than this upcoming game in New Orleans. Our “big uglies” vs. theirs, it’s where the formula for an upset must begin.
[Saints are 8-point favorites against Philly at this writing. Andy Benoit of SI gives the Eagles a 35% chance to pull off the upset.]