So every Philadelphia fan got their Christmas wish as the Eagles are back in the playoffs, for the first time in three years and in head coach Chip Kelly’s first season as an NFL head coach. Hopefully, knock on wood, the New Year can begin with a “bang” with a win when the Eagles square off against Drew Brees and the Saints at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night. In this case, it’s a match-up of two former Texas quarterbacks who went to the same high school (Westlake) in Austin, Texas.
After a 3-6 inch snow storm in the Delaware Valley a day ago, the weather will be a huge factor in the game, not because of the snow but rather because of the cold weather and wind chill. At game-time it will be roughly 20 degrees with 6 mile-per-hour winds, making it feel like 19 degrees. Not exactlyLambeau Field weather this weekend, but not San Francisco weather either, to say the least. There will also be undercover cops at the game, some of which will go undercover as Saints’ fans in the stadium stands.
New Orleans has never won a road playoff game in franchise history; a span of 47 years. Brees has three of those road losses (Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco), despite playing fantastic in those games, throwing eight touchdown passes to just three interceptions. In those three respective games, New Orleans’ defense has been the problem as they’ve given up an average of 38.7 points/game. This season, New Orleans was spectacular as usual at home as they went 8-0 at home, while they went just 3-5 on the road.
Brees, the former Super Bowl MVP, had another stellar year this season throwing 39 touchdown passes to just 12 interceptions, with another 5,000+ passing yard season (5,162), a completion percentage of 68.6 and a quarterback rating of 104.7. He ranked within the top five/10 among all NFL quarterback leaders in most, if not all, of his stats, including (with his league ranking noted in parenthesis): completions (2nd), attempts (3rd), passing yards (2nd), touchdown passes (2nd), QB rating (6th), passing yards per game (2nd), yards/attempt (7th) and passing touchdown percentage (4th), among others. Among those noted stats above, he ranked second only to Peyton Manning (who broke Brees’ previous single-season passing yards record) in pass completions, passing yards, touchdown passes and passing yards per game.
On the road this season, New Orleans scored only 142 points, for an average of just 17.75 a game, while compared to their home output, they scored an average of 34 points/game (272 points), nearly double the amount of points they average away from the Superdome. Specifically, Brees on the road this season averaged (a very respectable) 290.9 passing yards/game, while at home he averaged 64 more passing yards a game at 354. He threw at least 300 passing yards in all of his home starts this season, while five of his eight road games he had fewer than 300 passing years, including only 147 at Seattle in Week 13. At home this season, the Saints turnover margin is a +6, while on the road they’re the complete opposite at a -6.
These two teams last met in the playoffs almost six years ago in January of 2007 when Brees and the Saints just scraped by Jeff Garcia and the Eagles27-24 at the Superdome.
A significant improvement for New Orleans is their defense. Last season they ranked third in the NFL in points-per-game, yet they went just 7-9 because they had the worst ranked defense in the league in terms of points against/game with 454, among other categories, which led to head coach Sean Payton firing former (Giants’) defensive coordinator (who was also an ex Eagles’ coach from 1999-2006) Steve Spagnuolo. Payton replaced the former with former Cowboys’ (as well as Raiders’ and Browns’) defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Immediately upon being hired, Ryan switched the defense from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4, as did Philadelphia this year as well. Payton this year not only replaced Spagnuolo with Ryan, and effectively at that, but also regained the reigns as head coach, after assistant head coach Joe Vitt took over for him last year due to the Bountygate scandal that suspended him the entire year.
For Philadelphia, it was a roller coaster ride year that started in Washington with Michael Vick as the starter, then after a hamstring injury in Week 5 at MetLife against the Giants the doors opened up for Foles. Vick was just 2-4 at the time of his injury, completing 54.6% of his passes and throwing for 1215 passing yards (and 306 rushing yards as well), with five touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Since then, Foles has lit up opposing defenses, set records (both individual, team and NFL) and has been somewhat of a franchise quarterback for Philadelphia. The same franchise quarterback Philadelphia has been looking out for, for centuries. The Eagles, on their way to an impressive 10-6 record, won their first NFC East division title in three seasons, after going an abysmal 4-12 last season in Andy Reid’s final season as coach. In former Oregon Ducks’ head coach Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach (in his first year in the NFL as well), the team not only won the division, but dominated offensively.
Many thought Kelly’s overall, and offensive, approach wouldn’t work nor translate from the collegiate level to the NFL, but he’s proven otherwise that it has and can. Philadelphia ranked 4th in the NFL in points this year (442), and improved their defensive ranking from last year from 29th to 17th as well (they were also ranked 29th offensively last year as well). Philadelphia was also ranked 4th in the takeaway/giveaway differential with a respectable +12, mostly due to Foles’ and McCoy’s abilities to not turn over the ball.
Foles came within one touchdown pass of breaking an NFL record for consecutive touchdown passes to start a season without an interception (the record is 20, Foles had 19), but more importantly he did break the TD-INT% ratio record, as well as leading the league in touchdown % (8.5), yards/attempt (9.1), yards/completion (14.2) and passer rating (119.2- which nearly set another NFL record).
Meanwhile, McCoy had 1607 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs (and 11 total), and 2146 total yards. Wide out DeSean Jackson had a bounce-back year with 82 receptions, 1332 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Riley Cooper also chipped in with 8 touchdowns, as well as tight-end Brent Celek with 6.
- AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
For the Saints, tight-end Jimmy Graham is Brees’ favorite target and a formidable threat offensively, as he had 16 touchdown receptions this year on 86 total catches (for 1215 yards). Defensively, defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker both had 12 sacks a piece, while cornerback Keenan Lewis led the team with 4 picks.
Keys to the Game
-Get out to a hot, strong start. New Orleans, with the crowd, weather and the pressure of playing a road playoff game, can ill-afford to start out cold or slow
-Force turnovers. Foles only threw two interceptions all year long, in 10 starts, and led the league in fewest INTs/passer rating/TD-INT%, while RB LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards, attempts, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. McCoy only fumbled the ball once all year.
-Attack the secondary. Brees is an elite QB, a proven winner and one of the best in the sport. Philadelphia defensively this season against the pass ranked dead last with 296.8 yards against/game, while New Orleans ranked second (only to the Broncos’ 348.3/game) in the NFL this season offensively in passing yards/game with 322.6.
-Run a balanced, yet effective, offensive attack. McCoy, Jackson, Foles are all weapons that when utilized properly can be some of the best players in the NFL, and even Riley Cooper and Brent Celek as well are effective receivers and blockers. Also running a slowed down game will keep New Orleans’ defense out there and their offense cold, literally and figuratively.
-Put pressure on Brees. Making Brees work for his success is huge. This could be something that comes back to bite any defense against Brees if/when they attempt to implement it in their game plan, due to Brees’ arm and intelligence. But considering Philadelphia’s ineffectiveness against the pass, it can’t hurt to try it, as an if-all-else-fails type of scenario. Earl Wolff will play for the Eagles, even though he won’t start. As for New Orleans, starting running back Pierre Thomas is out, so Brees will have to rely even more now on the passing game instead.
-Offensive Line. The Eagles have one of the best young offensive lines in the league. 2013 1st-round pick Lane Johnson will not only play but start. If the Eagles’ strong offensive line can effectively contain New Orleans’ pass rush, it’ll significantly increase Philly’s chances of winning the game. New Orleans ranked fourth in the NFL this year in sacks for with 49, while Philadelphia was ranked 20th with 37, respectively.
Match-up(s) of the Game
-Rob Ryan’s blitz and defensive line vs. Philadelphia’s o-line
Player of the Game Prediction
Brees is the best of the best, but I feel Foles is great enough to hold his own against him, but most importantly I see a Saints’ loss due to the cold weather and their ineffectiveness away from home
Tags: Chip Kelly, Desean Jackson, Drew Brees, Eagles, Football, jimmy graham, lesean mccoy, lincoln financial field, NFC, NFL, Nick Foles, Philly Sports News, Philly Sports Talk, postseason, Saints, sean payton, Talk Sports Philly, wild card