The Eagles lost two of their top running backs, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, to injuries earlier in the season. They had the third-lowest rush average in the league during the regular season, 3.9 yards per carry, and were held to 1.8 yards per carry in the wild-card win over the Bears. In their last five games, they have averaged just 3.0 yards per carry.
Sixteen of their 23 rushing attempts against the Bears gained two or fewer yards. Rookie Josh Adams had been their most productive runner, but he played just one snap against the Bears. Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood split the workload, but neither was particularly effective.
The Saints were second in run defense (80.2 yards per game) and opponent rush average (3.6). Because the Saints jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the teams' Week 11 meeting, the Eagles ran the ball only 12 times. The Saints have held opponents to 3.5 yards per carry on first down, the second-best average in the league. They’ve allowed the second-fewest 10-plus-yard runs (30).
The Eagles have won four games in a row since Nick Foles replaced injured Carson Wentz at quarterback. Wentz had the worst game of his career against the Saints in Week 11, throwing three interceptions and finishing with a career-low 31.9 passer rating. Foles threw five interceptions in the last four games, including two against the Bears. But, he also completed 73.2 percent of his attempts and averaged 8.0 yards per attempt. Foles gets the ball out quickly. He averaged just 2.20 seconds from snap to throw in the last four games.
Alshon Jeffery has been a bigger factor with Foles at quarterback. He had 22 catches and a 17.4-yards-per-catch average in the last four games. He had two big catches on the Eagles’ game-winning drive in Chicago.
The Saints have a good pass rush, led by Cam Jordan (12 sacks), but Foles was sacked just once by the Bears. The Saints are beatable on the back end. They were 27th in opponent passer rating (100.3) and 29th in yards allowed per attempt (8.1).
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are a lethal running combination that combined for 1,528 yards and 20 rushing TDs. The Saints also have versatile quarterback/running back Taysom Hill, who has averaged 5.3 yards on 37 carries. Ingram and Kamara combined for 174 yards on the ground against the Eagles the first time around.
But if you toss out their meaningless Week 17 game vs. Carolina, the Saints averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in their last four regular-season games. The Steelers held them to 57 yards on 19 carries; the Cowboys held them to 65 on 19 carries. The Saints were fifth in first-down rushing, averaging 5.03 yards per carry.
The Eagles finished 21st in opponent rush average (4.7), but they have been much better against the run in recent games. Their cornerbacks have been very effective on the edges in run support. The Eagles held the Bears to 65 yards on 18 carries and held their last three opponents to 3.0 yards per carry.
Drew Brees made mincemeat of the Eagles in their Week 11 meeting, completing 22 of 30 passes for 363 yards and four TDs against an injury-ravaged secondary. Since then, the Eagles have managed to stabilize their back end and have gotten solid play out of young corners Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’von LeBlanc. The Eagles have held opponents to 6.9 yards per attempt and given up just six TDs in the last six games.
But slowing down Brees and the Saints’ passing attack won’t be easy. Brees finished first in passing (115.7), with 32 TDs and just five interceptions. He threw those 32 TDs to 14 receivers. Wide receiver Michael Thomas led the NFL in receptions with 125. Kamara can line up anywhere in the formation. In the first game against the Eagles, he beat safety Malcolm Jenkins for a 37-yard TD.
The Eagles need to limit the chunk pass plays. In the first game, Brees had eight completions of 20-plus yards. The front four also needs to get more pressure on him than it did in the first meeting.