I always say that when it comes to the NFL playoffs, throw the regular season statistics out the window because what happened during the regular season doesn’t always carry into the playoffs, and this game was a prime example of that.
Entering this game, the Philadelphia Eagles had the leading rushing attack in the NFL, not only in yards per game (160.4) but also in yards per attempt (5.1). They also had the leading rusher in the NFL in LeSean McCoy. On the defensive side of the ball, they had one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL, allowing 3.8 yards per rushing attempt which was good for 4th place.
Meanwhile, New Orleans entered this game with one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL as they ranked 25th in yards per game (92.1), and 26th in yards per attempt (3.8). They also had one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL as they ranked 28th in yards per attempt (4.6). But when the dust cleared on Sunday, LeSean McCoy finished the game with only 77 yards on 21 carries (3.7 yards per attempt). Meanwhile, New Orleans’ Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, and Darren Sproles ended up finishing the day with a combined 171 yards on 30 carries (5.7 yards per attempt). So let’s break down the film and see how New Orleans was able to stymy the Eagles’ rushing attack, establish their own ground game, and come away with a victory to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Let’s start with the Eagles’ ground game. In these next few clips, you’ll see how through a combination of great play from the Saints’ defensive line and great scheming, the Saints were able to contain LeSean McCoy.
On this first clip, it looks like LeSean McCoy is going to have a nice hole to run through, but nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley does a great job of pushing center Jason Kelce towards McCoy, and then getting off his block to wrap up McCoy as he tries to explode through the hole.
This next play is a result of good scheming by defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and poor scheming by Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles for not checking out of this play. As you can see, the Saints have 7 defenders in the box, meanwhile the Eagles only have 6 blockers. The Eagles are at a disadvantage, and as a result, defensive end Cameron Jordan is going to be left unblocked. Now, had this been a zone read play from the shotgun formation, it may have worked out, as Nick Foles would have been the 7th “blocker” and may have been able to force Jordan to play contain on the outside. However, that was not the case. Foles takes the snap from under center on this play, meaning his back is going to be turned to hand the ball off to McCoy, and thus Jordan is free to key in on the McCoy. I also think McCoy has to do a better job on this play and realize that his only chance of making something positive out of this scenario is to just hit the hole hard and try to use his quickness to explode past Jordan instead of dancing in the backfield.
The following play is again the result of the Saints having more defenders than the Eagles have blockers. This time they have 10 defenders within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage on this 3rd and 1 play, meanwhile the Eagles have 8 blockers. This leaves cornerback Corey White unblocked to meet LeSean McCoy in the hole and tackle him for no gain.
Here is another play where a great effort by a defensive lineman prevents what could have been a big gain. There is a hole for McCoy to run through, and guard Todd Herramins gets to the second level to put a block on linebacker Curtis Lofton, but again Jason Kelce allows his man to get off the block, as this time it’s John Jenkins wrapping up McCoy before he can get 1 on 1 with the safety.
This next play goes for 4 yards, but again it’s a case of the Saints’ defensive line not letting McCoy get to the second level untouched, preventing him from being able to make any moves in open space. This time it’s Tom Johnson who spins out of a block from All-Pro guard Evan Mathis to grab McCoy as he tries to burst through the hole.
LeSean McCoy is the most dangerous runner in open space in the NFL, but as you can see he didn’t have many opportunities to get to the second level clean to be able to operate in the open field and put one of his patented jukes on a defender.
For everything that went wrong with the Eagles’ rushing attack, they went right for the Saints’ ground game. Eagles’ defenders rarely were able to get off their blocks to slow down the Saints’ runningbacks and when plays were there to be made they missed tackles. Also, Sean Payton did a great job of keeping defensive coordinator Billy Davis guessing as to when they were going to run, and where they were going to run. NFL Spin Zone’s Joe Soriano wrote before the game that “One darkhorse to keep an eye on is Mark Ingram”, and he was certainly right as Ingram picked up 97 yards on 18 carries and scored a touchdown for the Saints.
Let’s start with the first play of the game, a 17 yard run by Mark Ingram. On this play the Saints’ offensive line does a great job of sealing off their blocks to allow Ingram to get to the outside where he meets cornerback Bradly Fletcher 1 on 1. He then makes Fletcher miss, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks is unable to get off his block which allows Ingram to pick up the first down and more.
02 ingram 18 yard run
Here is another big gain by Mark Ingram, this time an 18 yard run. On this play, it looks like defensive end Cedrick Thornton is going to have a chance to bring him down in the backfield, but tight end Ben Watson chips him just enough to re-direct him out of Ingram’s way, and the rest of the offensive line does their job to open up a huge hole for Ingram to run through.
This next play is a pitch to Darren Sproles on 3rd and 3. Linebacker Connor Barwin is going to shoot the gap, but by doing so he actually ends up taking himself out of the play, allowing Sproles to easily get to the outside. Mychal Kendricks has a chance to possibly make a stop on this play, but similar to the first play of the game, he is unable to get off the block and make the tackle.
So now that we’ve been through the run games for both teams, let’s get into some other key plays of the game. The Eagles and Saints have two of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL, but both were pretty well contained on Sunday through a combination of good defensive plays and mistakes by both offenses. But before I get into breaking down some of the other key plays from Sunday’s game, I would like to point something out. Commentator Chris Collingsworth alluded to the Saints being able to take Desean Jackson out of the game by having cornerback Keenan Lewis blanket him all day, but after reviewing the film, that really wasn’t the case. Desean Jackson was on the field for 21 pass plays with Keenan Lewis. Of those 21 plays, Jackson saw zone coverage on 11 of them, and was covered by Lewis on 9 of them. Jackson was covered by safety Malcolm Jenkins on the remaining play. Of those 9 plays where Lewis covered Jackson, 1 of them was a screen pass to tight end Brent Celek where Jackson was just a decoy. That leaves 8 plays where Jackson was actually a potential target and was covered by Lewis. And of those 8 plays, Jackson got open on 3 of them, and Lewis had him covered well on 5 of them. Foles was just unable to connect with Jackson on those chances due to 1 poor throw, 1 missed opportunity where Jackson beat Lewis deep, and 1 opportunity where a breakdown in the blocking caused a jailbreak where Foles did not have a chance to throw to anyone and got hit with an intentional grounding penalty.
That’s not to say that Keenan Lewis did not do a good job on Sunday, he did. Covering Desean Jackson is no easy task. But it’s not as if Lewis was manned up on Jackson and shutting him down all game long as Collingsworth made it sound from the broadcast booth.
Late in the first quarter, a key sack by the Saints pushed the Eagles back 11 yards, which eventually lead to a missed 48 yard field goal by Alex Henery. On this play, Foles has all day to throw as the Saints only rush 3 linemen and drop 8 into coverage. Foles was looking to go deep on this play to either Riley Cooper on a corner route, or Zach Ertz on a post route, but the Saints’ defenders have both of these routes well covered. If Foles could have a do over on this one, I’m sure he would have thrown the quick square in to Desean Jackson for the safe 5 to 8 yard gain.
On this next play, the Eagles get a key interception off of Drew Brees which lead to a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead in the 2nd quarter. Drew Brees somehow doesn’t see linebacker DeMeco Ryans as he throws this pass right to him.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Eagles’ rushing attack on Sunday. On this next play, LeSean McCoy scores a 1 yard touchdown on 4th and goal late in the 3rd quarter to cut the Saints’ lead down to 6 and make it a 20-14 ball game. This play is your classic Chip Kelly inside zone read play. The offensive line does their job sealing off their blocks, and Foles is going to “block” the outside defender by reading him, which causes him to hesitate and allows McCoy to get into the endzone.
The following 40 yard pass from Drew Brees to Robert Meachem in the 4th quarter eventually lead to a field goal which gave the Saints a 23-17 lead. On this play, the Eagles double cover Jimmy Graham (something they were doing quite often on Sunday), leaving Meachem 1 on 1 with safety Patrick Chung downfield. Brees sees this matchup and exploits it for a 40 yard gain.
On the next drive by the Eagles, they score the go-ahead touchdown, giving them a 24-23 lead with 5 minutes left to play. On the ensuing kickoff, a lack of lane discipline lead to a 39 yard return by Darren Sproles. As you’ll see in the clip below, Colt Anderson (circled in yellow) cuts across the field, leaving way too much open space to the outside with only Cary Williams left to defend the rest of the field. A horse collar tackle by Williams added 15 yards to the return, giving the Saints the ball at the Eagles 48 yard line.
Two plays later, Khiry Robinson takes this run up the middle for a gain of 13 yards on 2nd and 11. Once again, it’s a numbers mismatch for the Eagles as the Saints have 8 blockers to the Eagles 7 defenders in the box on this play. And also once again, the Eagles defenders are unable to get any push or get off their blocks, and as a result Robinson is able to make two jump cuts to his left and still have time to hit the hole.
This final play was pretty much the game clincher for the Saints. On 3rd and 1 from the Eagles 27 yard line with 2:32 left in the game, Drew Brees takes a QB sneak up the middle for a gain of 3 yards. This gave the Saints a fresh set of downs and would allow them to burn the rest of the clock out and kick the game winning field goal with no time left on the clock. Had the Saints not picked up this first down, they would have kicked the go ahead field goal and given the Eagles’ offense the ball with over 2 minutes left on the clock and a chance to win the game. This QB sneak was a combination of great effort from the Saints’ offensive line, and poor scheming by the Eagles. The Saints’ offensive line gets great movement as they keep their feet churning and drive the Eagles’ defenders back off the ball. However, on the Eagles’ side of things, the coaches did not call a proper play to stop a QB sneak (which everyone in the stadium knew was about to happen). They have defensive tackle Benny Logan lined up over center, but defensive ends Cedrick Thornton and Fletcher Cox lined up over the tackles. This leaves no one lined up over right guard Jahri Evans, and 6’0″ 240 pound linebacker Mychal Kendricks lined up over the 6’3″ 310 pound left guard Ben Grubbs.
Well that’s it for this week’s All-22 film breakdown. The Eagles will be watching the rest of the playoffs from home, but they certainly exceeded expectations this year as the won the NFC East division title and put up a valiant effort against a very good New Orleans Saints team in the first round of the playoffs. The Saints head to Seattle to play the Seahawks on Saturday, looking to exact revenge for a 34-7 loss they were dealt in early December on Monday Night Football. You can check out my film breakdown I did for that game here. (Quick sidenote: I was using different/worse technology back when I reviewed that game, so the clips are not as smooth and fluid as they are in this post).
Tune in next week as I break down one of the games from the divisional round of the playoffs. Until then, enjoy what is shaping up to be another great round of playoff football!