Eagles offense vs. Saints defense

The Eagles showed they could win last week despite a less-than-stellar performance from quarterback Jeff Garcia (17 of 31 passing, 153 yards, 1 TD, 79.1 passer rating). They will need better against the Saints. Eagles receiver Donté Stallworth didn't play against his former team in New Orleans' 27-24 win on Oct. 15 because of a hamstring injury. His presence should add a dimension against a Saints defense that allowed 26 touchdown passes, 30th in the NFL.

Brian Westbrook, coming off a career-best 141-yard rushing effort in Sunday's 23-20 wild-card win over the New York Giants, had just an ordinary game the first time against the Saints. He was kept out of the end zone and rushed for 72 yards on 16 carries and caught three passes for 3 yards. Incorporating him in the passing game will be a major key.

The Saints' defense will receive a boost from former Eagle tackle Hollis Thomas, who missed the final four regular-season games after being suspended for testing positive for steroids. Pro Bowl defensive end Will Smith had a team-high 101/2 sacks, but the linebackers are ordinary, and cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Fred Thomas are especially susceptible to the deep ball.

Eagles defense vs. Saints offense

The Saints led the NFL in total offense (391.5 yards per game). Drew Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and was sacked just 18 times. Of his 11 interceptions this season, two came against the Eagles.

Reggie Bush averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, but came on at the end of the season as a ball carrier. The rookie is dangerous as a receiver, but the Eagles limited him to four catches for 35 yards.

Receiver Joe Horn is questionable with a groin injury, but rookie Marques Colston, who missed nearly three full games after an ankle injury in November, caught 70 passes for 1,038 yards and eight TDs, including one against the Eagles. Little-known Devery Henderson averaged an NFL-leading 23.3 yards per catch, and veteran Deuce McAllister enjoyed the fourth 1,000-yard rushing season of his career.

Pro Bowl left tackle Jammal Brown leads a strong Saints offensive line.

The Eagles will play without Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard, who dislocated his right elbow last week. Roderick Hood will take his place. The Eagles didn't sack Brees the first time, and pressuring him will be key.

Special teams

The Eagles have done a much better job on kickoff and punt coverage lately. The addition of Koy Detmer as holder before last week's playoff game has provided a comfort zone for David Akers, who kicked the winning 38-yard field goal last week and made three field goals in a game for just the second time this season.

Dirk Johnson had just a 31.7-yard net average on six punts against New Orleans.

Look for Westbrook to return punts in certain situations, while sure-handed Reno Mahe will return kickoffs and be in punt coverage.

Against the Eagles, Bush had a 20-yard punt return and averaged 9.7 yards on three returns. He is dangerous, but averaged just 7.7 on 28 returns, which included a 65-yard TD. Michael Lewis, who missed the Eagles game while on the "physically unable to perform" list, has returned kicks and punts, although he is more dangerous as a kick returner, with three career touchdowns.

John Carney, who booted the winning 31-yard field goal against the Eagles, missed just 2 of 25 attempts. Rookie punter Steven Weatherford averages 37.5 net yards.


Just as it was in the regular season, the Superdome will provide the Saints a major advantage. While the Eagles have practiced this week with simulated crowd noise, nothing can match what should be a raucous crowd hungry for just the second playoff win in team history.

Just like players, cheering fans can intensify their performance in the postseason. That is why it is crucial that the Eagles don't get down early, as they did the last time.