Saints Pass Offense vs. Eagles Pass Defense
Now this is the big advantage for the New Orleans Saints. One thing that should scare the Eagles is just how deep the Saints pass-catchers are, because Drew Brees has about seven legitimate targets to throw it to with guys like Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham being major threats. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Eagles defend Graham, and I think it comes down to three different approaches. The Eagles can hope that Brandon Boykin‘s talent will make up for his lack of size and that he can adequately cover Graham (undersized New England Patriots nickel corner Kyle Arrington shut down Graham earlier this year), but that’s tough to bank on, especially since the Eagles could very well take the reliable Colston out of the game by putting Boykin on him. They could try to use a team effort against Graham by involving both LBs and safeties and disguising coverages, and this is the best course of action since I’ve seen Brees force the ball to Graham at times this year and miss LBs in coverage (that’s how he threw a pick to Luke Kuechly in the Week 16 loss to the Panthers, he just didn’t see him there). The Eagles could also just allow Graham to beat them and focus on other targets, though that’s obviously not an option in third downs or in the red zone. And if the Eagles ever get one of their safeties one-on-one vs. Graham, then they are screwed.
What should really scare the Eagles about the Saints is the fact that the Saints have two running backs with over 70 catches this year. Nobody works the screen game quite like Darren Sproles, but it is Pierre Thomas who led the NFL in receptions among RBs with 77. Those two guys can bail out Brees and move the chains, and they have a huge advantage against DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks in coverage.
Saints Run Offense vs. Eagles Run Defense
The Eagles run defense is better than their pass defense, while the Saints averaged just 3.8 yards on the ground. The Saints are obviously a pass-first offense, and that’s the matchup they are going to try and exploit against an Eagles defense that really struggles to cover downfield. One darkhorse to keep an eye on is Mark Ingram, who looked great against the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers this year. The former first-round pick doesn’t get many opportunities anymore due to a lack of trust built after disappointing 2011 and 2012 seasons, but Ingram seems to be rewarding Sean Payton and the Saints for their unwillingness to trade him at the deadline. It’s too early to take away the bust label from Ingram since he hasn’t done much of substance yet, but he looked really good against the Panthers in Week 16 and against the Cowboys earlier this year. In both of those games, he looked like the former Heisman winner and the feature back he was supposed to be by running with authority, explosion, power, and vision. Can he do that against the Eagles? If Thomas and Sproles struggle as rushers and the Saints decide to turn to Ingram, then he’s someone worth watching closely.
A key stat to keep in mind is that the Eagles allow just 3.8 yards per carry, whereas the Saints average 3.8 yards per carry. The Eagles strength on defense is run D and their weakness is pass D, whereas the Saints strength on offense is definitely pass defense while their weakness is running the football; that should make things interesting.