When the Eagles last visited the Superdome, Drew Brees thwarted their defense with a quick drop-back and an even quicker release. The New Orleans quarterback attempted 37 passes and was never officially sacked in the Saints' 27-24 win on Oct. 15.
The one time he was put on his back, by Trent Cole, the Eagles' Omar Gaither was called for being the 12th man on the field, negating the play. The Saints were on their final drive, which resulted in the winning 31-yard field goal by John Carney as time expired.
What frustrated the Eagles' defense was seeing Brees unload the ball before the linemen could get any momentum. Brees was successful on a series of three-step drops that didn't give the defense much time to tee off on him.
So, as the Eagles return to the Superdome for tonight's divisional playoff game, one of the keys will be whether they can apply any heat on Brees.
"You have to have some coverage, because he throws the ball so fast in a three-step drop," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "It's tough on the linemen unless you get your hands up and knock it down."
In the first game, the Eagles had five hurries. But for most of the game, it was Brees doing the hurrying, releasing the ball well before the pass rush could muster any steam.
As the game wore on, Brees could see the frustration level rising, especially in the Eagles' linemen.
"I have a lot of respect for that group, because they are used to getting to you," Brees said this week on a conference call with reporters. "I could sense a little frustration, but I know every play you have to be aware of where they are and have to get the ball out and not take any sacks."
If it's any consolation, the rest of the NFL wasn't too successful at putting Brees on his back this season. Brees was sacked just 18 times and the Saints allowed just 23 sacks, the fourth lowest total in the NFL.
The Eagles could blitz more, although Johnson said that isn't likely to happen. (And if it were, do you think he'd really disclose his game plan?)
The problem with blitzing a quarterback who gets the ball off quickly is that Brees could find a hot receiver in single coverage, and a short pass could lead to a big gain.
"Drew is a very intelligent quarterback and knows exactly how to manage a game - what he wants to do and how he wants to get rid of the football," Johnson said. "He does a lot of three-step, five-step drops and will try to stay out of trouble."
Brees is as quick in his thinking as he is releasing the ball. Just when the Eagles got the timing down on his three-step drop, he'd try something different.
"We always try to mix it up - three-step drop, five-step drop, seven-step drop, naked bootleg," Brees said. "We spread out all those kinds of things to keep the defensive pass rush unbalanced, not knowing where we are going to set up."
What the Eagles know is that they can't get discouraged if they are unable to get to Brees, especially early in the game.
"It's one of those things where the guys up front are going to have to do a great job of getting their hands up and pressure on him," strong safety Michael Lewis said.
While the linemen need to get their hands up, they have to make sure they don't have their heads down, even though defensive tackle Darwin Walker is being realistic about facing Brees.
"It is very difficult and we realize there will be times when the rush probably won't be there," Walker said. "You have to affect the quarterback any way you can - get your hands up, get push in the pocket, and continue to keep fighting."