Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) vs. New Orleans Saints (2-5)
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
One of the biggest games of the weekend will take place under the lights of Monday Night Football as two struggling teams look to right the ship and get their seasons back on track.
The 3-4 Eagles head into the Superdome riding a three-game losing streak through October with the hope that November brings a positive trend.
The Saints had won two straight games following their 0-4 start to 2012, but they were blown out Sunday night in Denver.
A loss by either team could be the death blow to their playoff chances, which makes this as close to a must win as you can have in week nine.
Eagles head coach Andy Reid is coaching for his job, as anything less than a playoff appearance will likely have him being shown the door. Meanwhile the Saints get their initial interim head coach is in his second week back after serving his six game suspension for his role in “bounty gate”.
Philadelphia Offense vs. New Orleans Defense
Eagles head coach Andy Reid sent out a media release on Wednesday proclaiming Michael Vick as his starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Vick has struggled with turnovers all season throwing eight interceptions and losing five fumbles. He has played just two turnover-free games this season, including last week against Atlanta.
Even when Philadelphia has held onto the ball they have really struggled scoring points, averaging just over 17 points a game, which is good for 28th in the league. Despite the lack of points, the Eagles have moved the ball well for the season, averaging over 363 yards per game, and they own the 10th ranked running game in the NFL on the shoulders of all-pro running back Lesean McCoy. McCoy has scored 25 touchdowns since the beginning of last season, including five through the first half of 2012, more than any other player in the league.
A major factor in Reid’s decision to stick with Vick could have something to do with the opponent this week. The Saints have been historically bad on defense this season, surrendering over 474 yards per game, over 100 more than they averaged in 2011. No team in NFL history has given up more yards through their first seven games than the Saints. They have the 3rd to worst passing and next to last rushing defense in the league and give up 31 points per game.
Philadelphia’s offensive line has been an issue all season, surrendering more quarterback hits than any other line in the league, which has really hampered Philly’s vertical passing attack. Receivers Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have both played will this season but have been running considerably more short routes to allow Vick to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
The Saints pass rush has been non-existent this season and Vick should have time to sit in the pocket and take some shots deep to his receivers, who shouldn’t have a problem shaking loose in the Saints secondary. Safety Roman Harper has struggled when in pass coverage, playing more in the box as a run defender this season.
McCoy should have some sizeable holes to run through, though he has struggled to find running room during the Eagles losing streak, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. But New Orleans gives up over 170 yards on the ground per game.
Lesean McCoy vs. Curtis Lofton
McCoy is the most elusive runner the NFL has seen in a long time, with his running style being compared to Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. He turns two yard loses into five yard gains on a regular basis, and linebacker Curtis Lofton will be the main defender charged with shutting down McCoy.
The Saints will need to remain disciplined and maintain their rush lanes as the cutback is always a threat with McCoy. The Eagles also use McCoy in the screen game, and he is very affective out in space. Lofton will have to do a good job with his play recognition and make quick decisions to try and keep the All-Pro Eagles runner in check.
Michael Vick vs. Jonathon Vilma
“Bounty Gate” has been a dark cloud over the Saints all summer and into the season, with Vilma at the forefront. His year-long suspension has yet to be ruled upon in an ongoing court battle with the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, allowing Vilma to play the last two weeks.
Vilma has shifted out of the middle linebacker spot now manned by Lofton, and plays on the weak side this year. He is still the defensive leader and calls many of the plays and audibles, making him the man to match wits with Vick.
Reports have come out in the last couple of weeks that Vick is struggling to call the correct audibles on offense, and it’ll be an interesting chess match between two veterans to see who can make the right adjustments at the right time and give their team the advantage.
New Orleans Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense
The biggest factor in this game is who won’t be on field.
Saints running back Darren Sproles will miss this week’s matchup with a broken hand. Sproles has been one of the top all-purpose yardage backs in the league over the last two seasons, and he is dominant in the screen and check-down game for the Saints.
Drew Brees hasn’t played as well this season as he has in the past, throwing eight interceptions and completing a lower percentage of his passes, but he is still putting up massive amounts of passing yards, currently ranking second behind the Patriots’ Tom Brady. Brees is on pace for over 5,200 yards and is a threat to break his own single season passing record. But despite his passing yards Brees hasn’t been able to make up for the Saints’ defenses struggles.
The NFL’s worst rushing attack resides in New Orleans, as the Saints average just 72 yards per game on the ground. Sproles is one of the three backs that carry the load, along with Pierre Thomas and 2011 first round pick Mark Ingram. But with Sproles out this week, look for Brees to attack the Eagles defense through the air and likely ignore his running game all together.
Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham has been struggling with an ankle injury the last couple weeks, and he will be hampered by it Monday night. Brees’ other main target is wide receiver Marcus Colston who stands six foot four and is one of the best possession receivers in the league. He doesn’t have the speed to get separation deep downfield and is used on a lot of intermediate routes 10-20 yards downfield. Opposite of Colston is longtime Saint Devery Henderson, who is a deep threat but doesn’t get many opportunities; Graham is the big play threat for Brees on a weekly basis.
The Eagles struggled with the big play threats on the outside last week against the Atlanta Falcons, but overall this season they have played very well in pass defense. Quarterbacks complete just 55 percent of their passes against the Eagles in 2012, the third best mark in the league, and the Eagles have surrendered just a 77 quarterback rating.
Philadelphia has also excelled on third down, allowing offenses to convert just 32 percent of their chances. They have also surrendered just nine touchdowns on 24 red zone opportunities.
Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie have played the matchup’s week-to-week, with Asomugha generally trailing the more physical receiver and Cromartie playing the speed wide out. So it makes sense for Asomugha to trail Colston and Cromartie to challenge Henderson. There have been times when Asomugha will play against tight ends that have speed, Vernon Davis of the 49ers for example, but look for Philadelphia to bracket Graham with rookie linebacker Mychael Kendricks and safety Nate Allen.
The offensive line for the Saints has been up and down in pass protection this year, but Brees can cover up for a lot of mistakes because he is excellent at reading the blitz and getting the ball out quickly. The Eagles defense led the league last year with 50 sacks, 46 from the defensive line, but so far in 2012 have gotten to quarterbacks just nine times through seven games.
Even with new coordinator Todd Bowles, the Eagles have relied on their front four to supply the pass rush, blitzing fewer than any other team in the league. Pro Bowl rushers Trent Cole and Jason Babin combined for 29 sacks a season ago, but they have just four sacks between them in 2012. The Eagles will need a lot more from the defensive line Monday night if they have any chance to slow down Brees and the Saints offense that still scores 27 points per game despite their lack of a running attack.
Jimmy Graham vs. Mychael Kendricks
Kendricks has been solid in his rookie campaign against opposing tight ends, including future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, who he held to just three catches last week. But Graham has more speed and athleticism than Kendricks has faced in his young career.
Kendricks was one of the fastest linebackers in this year’s draft and he will be aided by Graham’s ankle injury, plus he should receive plenty of help in coverage. Graham is Brees’ number one target and the place he looks to get the ball, so if Kendricks plays well it will go a long way to slowing down the explosive Saints offense.
Trent Cole vs. Jermon Bushrod
The Saints’ left tackle went to the Pro Bowl last season, but he hasn’t played up to that level so far this season. Cole has taken a huge step back, not registering a sack since week two, and it looks like age and years of constant double teams have finally caught up with the two-time Pro Bowl selection.
If Cole can get consistent pressure on Brees from his blindside, Brees has shown a willingness to force some throws and make mistakes. But with no pass rush the Saints passing game will be unstoppable, no matter how tight the coverage on the back end is.
The Eagles held the dreaded “players only meeting” this week and should also get a boost on defense with the likely return of defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who has yet to play this season after undergoing brain surgery in the offseason.
The Saints defense is the worst in NFL history up to this point, and if this isn’t the week the Michael Vick and the Eagles offense finally explodes than it’ll never happen.
It’s going to be a shootout in the bayou, but the lack of Darren Sproles along with the Eagles big play ability versus the Saints defense has me thinking Philly will break out and get to 4-4 at the midway point.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Game Info
- Eagles-Saints Date: Monday, November 5
- Eagles-Saints Kickoff Time: 8:30 PM
- Eagles-Saints TV Network: ESPN
- Eagles-Saints Point Spread: Saints -3.5
- Eagles-Saints Over-Under Odds: 52