Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) returns a punt against the Minnesota Vikings in the third quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings win 48-30. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles 3 Keys to Victory vs. Saints

The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints have high-powered offenses, and that’s more than enough to make tomorrow night’s Wild Card matchup even more interesting. Although the Saints are the lower seed, they come in as the favorites, but this game is anyone’s to win if certain matchups are exploited. There are more than just three keys to victory, but here are three of the things that I think the Eagles need to focus on in order to defeat the Saints. Well, they aren’t jut things to “focus on”, but also include matchups, such as the first key.

1. DeSean Jackson vs. Keenan Lewis

DeSean Jackson had a fabulous 2013 season, and it was his best year as a pro, honestly. He looked like the elite, true No. 1 receiver he was meant to be, and he’s a guy Nick Foles can really rely on; D-Jax is definitely more than the lightning-in-a-bottle WR I used to call “overrated”. Jackson had 82 receptions for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns to prove it, and while the Eagles have other competent wideouts like Riley Cooper, Jackson vs. Keenan Lewis is still a big one-on-one matchup to watch.

Lewis is a crucial part of the Saints defense, and I would argue that he’s their most important player on defense. His breakout season this year and ability to play in press coverage against top receivers allows aggressive Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to use more creative blitzes. No. 1 corners open everything up, and Lewis has definitely been a No. 1 CB this season. It’s not easy succeeding as a press corner, but that’s exactly what Lewis has been able to do. I mean, he totally shut down Dez Bryant once this year.

Jackson isn’t as good as Bryant, but he’s a different animal due to his incredible speed. A big key for the Eagles is hoping that Jackson can do a good job of fighting through Lewis’s press coverage and burning him, since it’s all about beating Lewis early; Jackson has to try and use Lewis’s aggressiveness to his advantage. If he can do it, then big plays will come for the Eagles; this could be a huge key to victory. If Jackson gets taken out of the game, however, then it might be tough for the Eagles to keep up with the Saints electric offense.

2. Putting pressure on Drew Brees without blitzing

You want to know the best way to beat the New Orleans Saints? Get pressure on Drew Brees. That’s how the New York Jets upset the Saints, and that’s how the Carolina Panthers slogged through an ugly battle with N.O. Even though it was just Greg Hardy mauling Terron Armstead and Armstead has been better since then, one guy playing an out-of-his-mind game can do just the trick. While the Eagles don’t have that “one guy” who can take control of the game as a pass rusher (well, maybe Trent Cole can still do that), the Eagles have a deep group of guys who can rush the passer.

The key, however, is getting consistent pressure on Brees and being able to get pressure on a four-man rush. Billy Davis should throw in the occasional blitz to keep Brees on his toes, but Brees can kill the blitz if it doesn’t get there, especially if it’s predictable. If the Eagles blitz, then they leave themselves vulnerable in coverage, because the Saints have two excellent, 70-catch backs and more safety valves at TE. There are pros-and-cons to weigh, but those don’t even have to be weighed if Connor Barwin, Cole, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry can consistently put pressure on Brees. It won’t be easy against the likes of Brian De La Puente, Jahri Evans, and beastly right tackle Zach Strief, but who said beating the Saints was easy?

3. Coverage from the “other guys”, especially at LB

Part of what makes the New Orleans Saints such a scary team is the fact that they have such a deep array of pass-catchers, and they all make their game on different sections of the field. You have guys like Lance Moore and Kenny Stills who can absolutely burn you deep, and then you have intermediate threats like Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham who are either incredibly consistent or matchup nightmares (that’s Graham). You also have the short-field threats in RBs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, and those guys can really burn a defense in the screen game. Sproles and Thomas keep defenses on their toes, and Thomas quietly had 77 receptions in 2013 to lead all running backs. The linebackers absolutely have to be at their best in coverage against those two and Graham, and that’s not an easy task with the way Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans have played in coverage this year. They will have to step up, and they also can’t afford missed tackles against elusive backs like Sproles and Thomas in the passing game.

There’s also more the the Eagles have to worry about in coverage. While I think Brandon Boykin will be able to neutralize Colston in the slot (Boykin is simply amazing), he will run into problems with Jimmy Graham due to the huge size difference. While it is possible that Boykin does what New England Patriots undersized nickel corner Kyle Arrington did to Graham and shuts him down, I don’t think the Eagles can bank on that. But do they want to risk Patrick Chung covering Graham? The answer is obviously, “heck no”. Chung is incapable of covering anyone, and we saw a textbook example of that all night long on Sunday last week against Jason Witten and the Dallas Cowboys.

The RBs and star TE are the guys who could cause the Eagles matchup nightmares as they focus in on the Saints receivers, and it doesn’t help that their coverage in the middle of the field is vulnerable (with the exception of Boykin). Bradley Fletcher should be solid, and I think they can mitigate Cary Williams‘s awfulness by utilizing him in the one role that makes sense; having him cover the best deep threat on the field for the Saints. If there is one thing Williams does really well, it’s not get burned, so it makes sense to play him against Moore or Stills. If the Eagles can take either the Saints screen game or Graham out of the game without sacrificing coverage against the WRs, then they could really swing the balance. You can let one receiver beat you, but you can’t let a multitude of pass-catchers beat you repeatedly; that’s exactly what the Saints will try to do.

Tags: Bradley Fletcher Brandon Boykin Brandon Graham Cary Williams Connor Barwin DeMeco Ryans DeSean Jackson Fletcher Cox Matchups Mychal Kendricks Patrick Chung Philadelphia Eagles Trent Cole Vinny Curry

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