The Philadelphia Eagles will get another matchup with the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs. Which players are key to a victory on Sunday?
Welcome back to the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, Philly! Once again, the Philadelphia Eagles will stay alive and continue to fight to defend their Super Bowl title from 2017. It wasn¡¯t an easy road for the Eagles to get here, but now that they are in and moving through the postseason, their dreams of repeating are beginning to become a reality. The Eagles are two victories away from reaching the NFL¡¯s biggest stage for the second season in a row. One of the two teams standing in their way of getting there is the infamous New Orleans Saints.
The reason why we call them the ¡®infamous¡¯ in Philly, is because for whatever reason the Saints absolutely hate the Eagles this year. From talking smack with hypothetical, coulda, shoulda, woulda scenarios in the offseason, to running up the score on the Eagles during Week 11, the Saints made it clear that they are fed up with the Eagles recent success in 2017.
Beating the Birds by 41 points wasn¡¯t enough though either. Saints running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram decided to put out a WWE-type promo video a few weeks back, smack talking the Eagles secondary for wearing Ski Masks this season, and calling them fraudulent. New Orleans probably didn¡¯t think they would run into Philly later on down the line after that Week 11 beatdown, but here we are. Eagles versus Saints for the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Eagles are by no means favored in this matchup, but anybody who thinks the Saints will put another 41 point loss on Philly has another thing coming. Week 11 was the Eagles lowest point of the season. Since then, they have become arguably the hottest team in the NFC to squeak into the playoffs. It won¡¯t be easy, but the Eagles have an excellent shot of coming out on top this Sunday. Which five players are going to lead the charge this week?
Fletcher Cox, DT
Here¡¯s how you beat the New Orleans Saints on the road ¨C you get pressure on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. This season, Brees has been playing at a ridiculously high level. He¡¯s going to go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game, no doubt. And if Brees isn¡¯t getting pressured, he will pick apart the defense in the passing game.
During the first matchup between the Eagles and the Saints, Brees went untouched for pretty much the entire game, which resulted in the Saints offense putting up 48 points on the Eagles. This time around though, the Eagles defense is clicking. Last week, they held the Chicago Bears to only 15 points on the road.
The Eagles defensive line was getting consistent pressure on the quarterback, and it was a significant reason why the Eagles were able to come away with the victory. This week, Fletcher Cox and the rest of the Eagles defensive line is going to have to apply consistent pressure on Brees to help out the young secondary. If they can avoid giving up the big plays like the last matchup, and make Brees uncomfortable, the Eagles will be in great shape to win this game.
Alshon Jeffery, WR
We have to assume that the Saints are going to stick by their game plan from the last matchup and double-team Eagles tight end, Zach Ertz. The Saints knew at the time that Carson Wentz leaned heavily on the tight end, and New Orleans was doing everything that they could do to eliminate Ertz from the game. Therefore, the Eagles wideouts could be primed for a big day if the Saints defense has a lot of their focus on the Eagles tight end.
Last week, Alshon Jeffery had a few big catches, but he didn¡¯t exactly go off. This week, it may be a different story. The Saints are a good team all around, but their offense is what makes them great. Their defense on the other hand, well, they are very much beatable. That secondary hasn¡¯t been all that great this season, and the Eagles struggled to expose that the first time around.
This time though, Alshon Jeffery and the rest of the Eagles wideouts could have a big game. Four catches for 33 yards was Jeffery¡¯s stat line in Week 11. Let¡¯s be honest, Wentz was not utilizing Jeffery¡¯s talents correctly at all this year. Ever since Nick Foles came in the picture, Alshon has been coming up with big plays, which gave the Eagles offense an opportunity to come up with even bigger plays elsewhere. This offense will look a lot different against the Saints this time around, and it starts with Alshon Jeffery intimidating that secondary.
The Backfield Committee
I can¡¯t name one player, so here¡¯s three for one. Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Josh Adams. So the Eagles don¡¯t have one running back that they feature. Instead, they rotate those three guys above, in hopes that one becomes the hot hand. Initially, Adams won over the bell-cow back role when he first had a solid game against the Saints. Since then though, the Eagles began to shy away from the undrafted rookie and stuck with a heavy dosage of Sproles and Smallwood.
Earlier in the week, I suggested that the Eagles should go back to using Adams this week since he had an impressive day against the Saints offense earlier in the year. Will they attempt to give Adams another shot at trying to prove himself to be a solid running back? That¡¯s debatable. However, regardless of who they decide to run with as the lead back on Sunday, they must establish a run game early and often.
Remember how the Eagles dominated in time of possession against the Washington Redskins during Week 17? Well, the Birds are going to have to dial up a similar game plan. Keep killing the Saints defense with short-to-medium plays, and keep that clock rolling. The key to success on Sunday will be keeping Drew Brees and the Saints offense off the field for as long as you can. If you put the game into their defense¡¯s hands, New Orleans is much more prone to losing. Stay true to run game once again, Doug.
Rasul Douglas, CB
This one could go either way. This week, you have to assume that Sean Payton and the Saints offense will have a pass-heavy gameplan to attack the Eagles young corners on the outside. As of late, Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox have been playing reasonably well. That doesn¡¯t mean that they are lockdown corners though. You better believe that the Saints will have tons of confidence this week in their passing offense after what happened the last time around.
Drew Brees decided to pick on Sidney Jones during the first matchup since he was dealing with hamstring issues. Assuming that Jones sees a limited amount of time this week if he does suit up, Brees will go after Maddox or Douglas. In coverage, Maddox is clearly the better corner. So if they are going to try and pick on a cornerback this week, it might end up being Rasul Douglas.
As of late, Douglas has been a solid corner. Right now, he may be the best tackler on the team. However, he isn¡¯t flawless when it comes to the deep ball. There have been some big plays given up by Douglas, and the Saints may try and expose him for that this weekend. And after Maddox got beaten by a few double-moves last week, they probably won¡¯t hesitate to go after him as well.
So, if Douglas can shut down his opponent early, the Saints may start throwing in Maddox¡¯s direction. I¡¯m going to make a bold prediction here ¨C both Douglas and Maddox will come up with interceptions on Sunday. Maddox has been due for one since the Houston game, and Douglas seems to snag one every once in a while in a very crucial situation of the game.
Nick Foles, QB
There is one thing that the Eagles probably don¡¯t want to happen on Sunday. That¡¯s getting into a full-on shootout with Drew Brees and the Saints offense. The way for the Eagles to win will be controlling the clock and holding the Saints to nothing but punts, turnovers, and field goals. However, if a shootout does happen to erupt, we have to hope that 2017 postseason Nick Foles will be in full effect. We all saw Foles in Minnesota for Super Bowl LII right?
Let¡¯s refresh our memories for a moment. Twenty-eight completions for 373 yards, three touchdowns, and 41 total points while going blow for blow with Tom Brady. I¡¯d say that Nick Foles plays pretty well when it comes to dome weather. This week, he will have to compete against another future Hall of Famer. Is the stage too big for Nick Foles? No. The stage is never too big for Foles. I think by now we have figured that out.
Last week wasn¡¯t a fantastic performance by Foles all around, but he did come up big when it came to clutch time. Seeing as though Foles will not be going against what is considered to be the league¡¯s number one defense once again this week, we should expect to see an entirely different quarterback. Still, a shootout between Brees and Foles will not be ideal, but Nick Foles had engaged in one before on the NFL¡¯s biggest stage and won. To say that we¡¯re confident that Foles can get the job done would be a massive understatement.