Jeff McLane's Eagles-Saints Scouting Report
The Philadelphia Inquirer Blog - Eagles
Jeff McLane's Eagles-Saints Scouting Report
Jeff McLane, Inquirer Staff Writer
The Saints have Bountygate and are without their head coach this season. The Eagles can't finish 8-8 or they'll be without their coach beyond next season.
Both teams are not living up to recent heights. The Saints are 2-5 and have shown how vital coaches are in the NFL, with their leader Sean Payton suspended for the season.
The Eagles are 3-4, and some may wonder if Andy Reid has been suspended because the team has often been a rudderless ship. Reid has already fired his defensive coordinator. He seriously entertained the idea of benching quarterback Michael Vick this past week, despite his claims to the contrary.
As bad as the Saints have played, particularly on defense, they don't have a quarterback controversy with Drew Brees still under center.
But the Eagles and Saints have one thing in common: Monday night is a must-win game for both.
When the Eagles run
Based on the numbers - the Saints allow 170.1 rushing yards a game and 5.03 yards per carry - the Eagles should have success on the ground in New Orleans. The same was thought heading into last week's Falcons game, but LeSean McCoy accomplished very little against Atlanta's suspect run defense. McCoy was held to 45 yards on 16 carries (2.8 average) and is now mired in the worst stretch of his career. He has gained just 120 yards on 45 tries (2.7 avg.) over the last three games. It's not all the running back's fault, though. The offensive line has done little to help, especially when McCoy's running off the left tackle and the left end (season average of 2.5 yards a carry). The best remedy, aside from the Saints' porous defense, could be playing indoors. McCoy has averaged 104.2 yards and 6.7 yards a carry in his last five games in a dome. The Saints signed former Eagles defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley in the offseason to help plug the middle, but he has hardly played and was a healthy scratch last week. Getting back linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who recently returned from his Bountygate suspension, should help some in the run game.
When the Eagles pass
If there was a defense for backup Nick Foles to face in his first career start it might as well have been the Saints'. The New Orleans defense, now coordinated by former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnuolo, has allowed a whopping 474.7 yards and 30.9 points a game. Of course, facing the Saints defense could help Vick get his mojo back and resuscitate the Eagles' dormant downfield aerial attack. To offset the inconsistencies on the line, the Eagles have increasingly taken fewer chances downfield. But Vick could have more time than usual against a pass rush that is ranked the second-worst in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. While DeSean Jackson continues to get open, the big play - once a staple - hasn't been there. Unless the Saints double him all game, the wide receiver should have opportunities deep against a secondary that has seen opposing quarterbacks tally a league-worst 110.6 passer rating. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins has been easy pickings for most of the season. Spagnuolo's defense is aggressive, but the Jim Johnson acolyte hasn't had much success when he has blitzed. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 71 percent of their passes for 718 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception when the coordinator has sent extra pass-rushers.
When the Saints run
Because of their defense, the Saints have had a hard time establishing their run game. New Orleans hasn't had much of a rushing attack for years, but it's been truncated because Brees has been forced to play catch- up. When they do get carries, Pierre Thomas (4.4 avg.) and Darren Sproles (4.5 avg., out for this game) have been decent. Second-year running back Mark Ingram, however, has been ineffective (2.9 avg.). The Eagles defense has been susceptible to breakdowns in run-gap responsibilities, or in the case of last week, when Jacquizz Rodgers darted for 43 yards, missed tackles. Aside from that one run, Falcons running backs gained only 76 yards on 32 carries. In should be noted, though, that Atlanta ran the ball almost exclusively in the fourth quarter. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has flourished as a run defender. Last week, Brandon Graham had the best performance of any end against the run all season. He took snaps away from Jason Babin against the Falcons and could be in line for more.
When the Saints pass
A year after setting the NFL mark for passing yards, Brees is second in the league in yards through the air (2,310) and touchdowns (20). His accuracy, though, has dropped significantly from a year ago (71.2 percent to 59.7 percent). Brees' receivers haven't been as sure-handed, and the protection hasn't been as consistent, but the quarterback hasn't been as sharp when under duress. Brees has a 59.7 passer rating when under pressure this season, per PPF, as opposed to last season's 93.9 rating. Wide receiver Marques Colston (40 catches for 580 yards and five touchdowns) remains his top target. Tight end Jimmy Graham, who put up all-pro numbers in 2011 (99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 TDs) has been slowed by an ankle injury in recent weeks. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks could see a fare share of the 6-7, 265-pound Graham. The Eagles have done a decent job against tight ends this season, holding starters to an average of three catches and 28.4 yards per game. The Saints line is anchored by two of the best pass-blocking guards in the league - Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Eagles defensive ends haven't recorded a sack in four games. New coordinator Todd Bowles ran essentially the same defense against the Falcons and blitzed only a handful of times.
The Eagles' cover units have been more consistent since the returns of Colt Anderson, Akeem Jordan, and Riley Cooper. The kick and punt return teams still can't block for their returners, though. That didn't hinder the Eagles much last week because the Falcons weren't forced to punt until five minutes left in the fourth quarter. With Damaris Johnson a scratch and Marty Gilyard injured, kick returner Brandon Boykin filled in. But Johnson will return Sunday. The Saints aren't much better at covering punts than the Eagles, but they do have punter Thomas Morestead, who leads the NFL with a 45.2-yard net average. He also has 17 touchbacks on kickoffs. Sproles returns both kicks (28.7 yards per return) and punts (6.6), so he will be missed.
The Saints have the league's best red zone offense, converting 16 of 22 possessions (72.7 percent) inside the 20 into touchdowns. The Eagles defense ranks fourth in the league in the red zone, holding opposing offenses to just nine touchdowns on 24 red zone possessions. But they allowed the Falcons to score on their first two drives last Sunday. The Eagles are averaging a third-worst-in-the-league 4.51 yards on first down. But they're facing a Saints defense that has allowed 7.42 yards on first down, almost two yards more than the league average of 5.43.