Eagles vs Saints NFL Week 9 Preview
You really couldn’t come up with a bigger week nine game than Monday Night Football’s battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints. The Eagles, who are 3-4 and reeling following three consecutive losses, will travel to the Superdome to face the 2-5 Saints, who are looking to overcome an 0-4 start and stay alive in the postseason race.
Each team has some major storylines surrounding them this season. For the Eagles, head coach Andy Reid is coaching for his job. Owner Jeffrey Lurie stated before the season that another 8-8 season would be unacceptable for Reid to keep his job. The majority assume that the Eagles will need to not only reach the playoffs, but advance deep into the postseason for Reid to keep his job. That means the Eagles will likely need to win nine of their next 11 games, playoffs included (putting them in the NFC championship game). But they might need to do so without veteran quarterback Michael Vick, who was seemingly on the verge of getting benched before Reid announced on Thursday that Vick is his quarterback moving forward. But don’t take that as a guarantee. We’ve seen how fast Reid can change his mind on quarterbacks. Just ask Kevin Kolb. If Vick cannot put up points against the Saints, he could be replaced by rookie Nick Foles.
For the Saints, the 2012 season is likely a lost season, as head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire year for his role in the Bountygate scandal. Payton’s impact on the team is as obvious as the team’s 0-4 start. It doesn’t help the Saints that they no longer have defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the mastermind behind the Bountygate scandal. Their defense is ranked 32nd in the league in yardage. In fact, they’re currently on pace to allow the most yards in a season in league history. The only bright spot for the Saints this year has been their offense, led by quarterback Drew Brees, who is threatening a number of single-season passing records, including attempts, completions, and yards.
So heading into the NFL’s biggest game in week nine, here is a four-slide breakdown that tells you everything you need to know about this game. (This article is written by an Eagles fan.)
When the Eagles run: Eagles easily
I don’t know if this is so much the product of the Eagles’ running game as it is the Saints’ inability to stop the run. For the first time in the Michael Vick era, the Eagles are not one of the league’s top running teams. That’s largely the result of left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce, who are both out for the year. LeSean McCoy is still explosive but he doesn’t have the holes to run through, giving him a career-low 4.0 yards per carry. Backup Bryce Brown (2.8) yards per carry isn’t helping. Even Michael Vick (5.1 yards per carry) is less effective than he ever has been. He’s scored just one touchdown and he’s fumbled nine times.
But the Saints can’t stop the run at all. They rank 30th in yards per attempt as a defense, 31st in rushing yards allowed, and 29th in rushing touchdowns allowed. That’s brutal. They’ve allowed at least 100 yards in all seven games in 2012, and more than 200 yards three times. The Eagles should be able to run all over the Saints. Expect a breakout game from McCoy, who has recorded three straight subpar performances.
When the Eagles pass: Eagles easily
The Eagles do not have an efficient passing attack this season. Again, that’s a result of Peters and Kelce not playing, which has resulted in Vick throwing a high percentage of short passes. The Eagles have almost completely taken the deep pass out of their playbook. Vick has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, and his 6.0 yards per attempt ranks 24th in the league.
But the Saints can’t stop anybody through the air. As bad as their run defense is, the pass defense might be worse. They’ve allowed the most passing yards and touchdowns in the league, while intercepting just three passes. Their passer rating as a defense? 110.9. That’s on track to tie the 2008 Detroit Lions with the worst passer rating in NFL history, and we all remember how those Lions did (0-16). I don’t expect Vick to have a monster game, but I expect 250 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The Eagles have some weapons and Monday night is their time to shine. It also helps Vick and the offensive line that the Saints are awful at pressuring the quarterback. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vick takes just one sack.
When the Saints run: Eagles
Well, first of all, this is assuming that the Saints actually choose to run the ball on Monday. As a team, the Saints have the fewest rushing attempts in the league, despite a three-headed running attack that should be pretty effective: Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Mark Ingram (plus a deactivated Chris Ivory). They’re averaging 3.7 yards per carry, the 30th ranked total in the league, and they have just three touchdowns on the ground.
The Eagles have a pretty effective run defense, surrendering 4.0 yards per carry and just two rushing touchdowns in seven games. Their run defense has struggled as of late, but I expect the Saints to make almost no attempt to run the ball against the Eagles. Realistically, expect 12 to 14 carries for 50 to 60 yards.
When the Saints pass: Saints
This is where the game will likely be decided: the Eagles’ ability to stop the Saints’ passing attack. Drew Brees is one of the four best quarterbacks in the league (depending where you rank Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Brees), and he’s being asked to do more than ever this season. He’s playing without his head coach and without any form of a running game. I expect him to end the season with some monster passing totals. He’s averaging 330 yards per game, with 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He doesn’t just focus on one weapon either. The Eagles will have to stop explosive running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas on the screen. They’ll face veterans Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Devery Henderson at wide receiver. And don’t forget about Jimmy Graham at tight end. His numbers are down a little this season, but he’s still a top five tight end in the league. Brees is also tremendous at avoiding sacks, so don’t expect the struggling Eagles’ pass rush to take down Brees more than once.
Both teams need this game to stay alive this season. I believe, without a doubt, that the loser is DONE. The winner stays alive but still faces an uphill battle to reach the playoffs. You could argue pretty convincingly that the Eagles need this game more. The entire course of their franchise could, and probably will, be changed if they don’t come away with a victory. Reid is one step closer to a firing that will be all but inevitable, and the Eagles will have to win seven of their final eight to reach the playoffs. That won’t happen, not with this team.
For the Saints, a loss drops them to 2-6 and puts them in line for a likely 6-10 or 7-9 finish, which would make 2012 a totally lost year. That’s not the end of the world. Brees will still be around for four or five more years, and Payton will return, as motivated as ever, in 2013. But here’s the key. The Saints have home-field and I think they’re going to want this game more. I really do. I think the Eagles are on the verge of quitting on Reid, which you saw signs of last week against the Atlanta Falcons (and last year against the Seattle Seahawks in week 13). I think a prime-time game against a pumped up crowd in the Superdome is too much for them. I think the Eagles will more or less roll over and give up before a national audience. As an Eagles fan, I am prepared for humiliation in a game that has the potential to turn into a blowout Saints victory. Oh, and I don’t think it will be as high scoring as everybody thinks. Saints win, 27-13.