The playoffs are upon us, and two of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses will go at it tonight in cold Philadelphia, as the New Orleans Saints will go into Lincoln Financial to take on the Philadelphia Eagles at 8:10 p.m. ET. Although the Eagles are the higher seed, the Saints are the favorites after narrowly losing out on a playoff bye to the Carolina Panthers. Meanwhile, the Eagles slipped into the playoffs after defeating the Dallas Cowboys 24-22, though the Eagles are clearly a better team than the Cowboys, even with Tony Romo healthy.
Philadelphia Eagles Pass Offense vs. New Orleans Saints Pass Defense
Nick Foles finished the season with the league’s highest quarterback rating, and it’s clear that the Saints are going to have their hands full with him, especially with safety Kenny Vaccaro out. Although he is just a rookie and wasn’t as good as Eric Reid or Tyrann Mathieu, Vaccaro was a very important piece of the Saints defense and a key weapon for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Whenever you have a safety like Vaccaro who can play well in coverage and in run defense, it gives you so much more flexibility with regards to both your usage of him specifically and of other players on the Saints defense (particularly when it comes to blitzing). Losing Vac will also hurt the Saints ability to cover twin TE sets, because Zach Ertz has become a very nice weapon for Foles in the red zone.
But the guy who stands out well above everyone else as Foles’s best weapon is DeSean Jackson, who had the best season of his career. He is a sure-fire, No. 1 wideout, and he showed it by being a more consistent player this season. It’s going to be fun to watch him and Keenan Lewis go at it tonight, because Jackson is an elite receiver and one of the league’s fastest and most explosive players, whereas Lewis has emerged as a true No. 1 CB and is one of the league’s best press corners. There isn’t a more important player on the Saints defense (not even Cameron Jordan) due to Lewis’s role on the team as the press/shutdown corner. He usually draws extremely tough assignments, and this week’s gig against Jackson isn’t easy.
With Jackson and Lewis tied up, that should free things for Riley Cooper, who is a favorite target of Foles’s. If any receiver on either team has a monster game, then I think it will be Cooper, although it’s also worth watching Jackson closely. Even though Lewis is very good, Jackson could break some trademark big plays if he can get off of Lewis’s press coverage. It will also be interesting to see how much pressure Jordan and Junior Galette can put on Foles, as the Eagles offensive line is really dealing.
Eagles Run Offense vs. Saints Run Defense
Honestly, this is the part of the game where the Eagles could really separate themselves, because I just don’t see how the Saints defense contains LeSean McCoy, who is the second best running back in the game. McCoy won the rushing title for a reason, and that’s because he has great blocking up front (Evan Mathis is the best guard in the game and dominates as a run blocker almost at will) and all the tools you look for in a running back. McCoy has elite elusiveness, top-notch vision, plenty of speed, great explosiveness, and he’s certainly strong enough to take the hits and be a workhorse.
The Saints allow 4.6 yards per carry and did a poor job of stopping the run this season, and I could easily see McCoy gashing the Saints for over 100 yards on the ground. It will be interesting to see if Ryan can find a way to create a successful gameplan to help try and bottle up McCoy, but it might take incredible performances from Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne downhill and in pursuit in order to stop McCoy; I don’t see it happening.
Topics: Brandon Boykin, Cameron Jordan, Curtis Lofton, Darren Sproles, David Hawthorne, DeMeco Ryans, DeSean Jackson, Drew Brees, Evan Mathis, Jimmy Graham, Junior Galette, Keenan Lewis, LeSean McCoy, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, Mychal Kendricks, New Orleans Saints, Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles, Pierre Thomas, Riley Cooper, What To Watch For, Zach Ertz