The Eagles are 1-3 coming into their showdown with the New Orleans Saints but for fans, this is more than just a regular game. Not only are the die hard bird fans craving another Eagles win, but the last time these two teams met was in the wildcard round of the playoffs two years ago, a match the Eagles lost. What do the Eagles need to do to come away with a win against the team who knocked them out of the playoffs in Chip’s second season?
Win the battle on third down:
The Eagles have been notoriously bad on converting third downs this season. Despite a slight improvement against Washington, the team still have only made 26.5 % of third downs this season. It’s something that has been perhaps the thorn in the side for the Eagles as their drives last an average of 1:45 minutes..the worst in the league. So when the Offense comes onto the field, gets to third down and fails to convert 75% of the time, it’s an easy momentum shifter and a large reason why the Offense has seen so little of the ball so far.
The bad news is that the Saints could end up being just as dominant if not more so in the possession game. The Saints average close to three minutes a drive ranking them sixth in the league and have converted 47.7% of their third downs. If the Eagles are going to come away with a win they simply have to retain possession of the Football and sustain drives for at least two minutes. If they don’t, then a very conservative Drew Brees will be in a prime position to chip away using short yardage gains to his advantage like we saw in the teams recent OT win against the Cowboys, with the team racking up 69 plays. Stop the Saints on third down defensively and find ways to sustain drives Offensively and the Eagles have the key to the game. Now that sounds like it should be the generic aim of the game…but the Eagles have one big advantage here..
Dominate the run game:
Last week against the Cowboys, the Saints ran the ball for 100 yards, averaging over 4 yards per rush. But with no elite running back, the Saints have struggled to get a ground game moving..rushing for only 331 yards on the season (just 49 yards more than an Eagles backfield who have had less productivity than that kid at school who throws paper at everyone). The Eagles however, have an ace up their sleeve. Against the run, the Eagles rank very highly when stopping the run, holding opposing teams to an average of 3 yards per play. If the elite run Defense can come out in full force and push Brees into throwing down the field where the Eagles secondary has an advantage then they may find themselves on the field a lot less than they have in previous weeks.
But this has to carry over onto the other side of the ball. DeMarco Murray called out for more touches and if he gets them, he simply has to produce. The Eagles have had a few signs of excellence out of the backfield but this week the ball should be spread around a lot more with former Saints star Darren Sproles being a major factor. All the signs point to a satisfactory “rushing” performance from the backfield, but it’s the wheel routes and screen plays that could turn the tide of battle on Sunday. An area where the Saints have notoriously lost a lot of yardage. With three versatile backs all waiting to punch their way through gaps on the outside..they have to be wary of not just the north/south style of Murray..but the elusiveness of Darren Sproles and the screen passes to Mathews, it’s advantage Philadelphia without a doubt going into Sunday.
Give Bradford some help!:
This is arguably the most important thing the Eagles can do. Here’s an interesting statistic to look at before we explain why..
Most air yards lost due to drops so far:
1. C Newton (139)
2. S Bradford (133)
3. B Bortles (118)
4. R Mallett (112)
5. C Palmer (92)
That’s not acceptable. 15 passes dropped in four games with at least half not only having the chance to go all the way to the end-zone but most of them having the chance to achieve a huge amount of yards. The Receivers have to be more clinical and work on catching in traffic. It’s an area where projected breakout star Jordan Matthews has struggled and it’s an area where Bradford has struggled until last week as he typically only targeted the hot route.
But last week, Sammy B aired out three eyebrow raising deep ball passes, two of which went for touchdowns. He had no interceptions and a big passer rating for the first time this season. IF he can show that kind of versatility against a very weak Saints Secondary that gives up an average of 9.8 yards per passing attempt (32nd in the NFL) then it’s not only going to keep them guessing, but give him more options. We now know that the former number one pick has the potential and accuracy to throw darts down the field and he’s coming up against the weakest Defense in the league when defending against such plays.
The same goes for the Offensive line though. In the final drive against Washington, Bradford was sacked twice..quickly…by the same player. That simply cannot happen. Johnson and Peters are expected to play through injury but the Eagles have to figure out why the line is leaking so much pressure. If they can buy Bradford more time in the pocket then we may be seeing more beautiful darts down the field than ever before.