5 Most Important Players in Philadelphia Eagles-New Orleans Saints Game
You really couldn't come up with a more important game between a pair of losing teams in week nine. On Monday Night Football, the Philadelphia Eagles will travel to the Superdome to face the New Orleans Saints. The Eagles are 3-4, the Saints are 2-5, and the loser of this game will likely see their slim postseason chances come to an end. The winner stays alive but still faces an uphill battle to reach the playoffs, as 10 wins will likely be required to reach the postseason.
For the Eagles, the major storylines consist of head coach Andy Reid coaching for his job, quarterback Michael Vick playing for his starting job, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles looking to rebound from an extremely disappointing first game. For the Saints, the 2012 season is basically a lost year, as head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire year because of his role in the Bountygate scandal. Quarterback Drew Brees has been having his usual tremendous season. His numbers are down, particularly his completion percentage and passer rating, but he's averaging 330 passing yards per game, and he's thrown 20 touchdowns in just seven games.
This should be a high-scoring game that has the potential to rank as high as the second best game in week nine (I would be surprised if any game turned out to be better than the Pittsburgh Steelers against the New York Giants). The following five slides will highlight the most important players in the Eagles-Saints game, starting at number ten and working up to number one.
5. Mychal Kendricks, Eagles linebacker
In a game that is expected to become a shootout, the Eagles' strongside linebacker is the only defensive player to make the list. Kendricks made the list over middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who is having a Pro Bowl season, and cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, because of one reason: his speed. Against the Saints and their highly successful screen game (which is worsened by the absence of dynamic back Darren Sproles, who is suffering a hand injury), Kendricks will be counted onto chase down Pierre Thomas and stop the veteran from breaking off some big gains. I'm not sure if Kendricks will be expected to cover tight end Jimmy Graham, but if he is, he'll need to be at his very best because he's at a seven-inch disadvantage in height. At the very least, Monday night's game is one in which Kendricks needs to be all over the field making plays for the Eagles.
4. Pierre Thomas, Saints running back
Thomas is a very important piece of the puzzle in the Saints' offense. On Monday night (and for possibly the rest of the season), he'll need to be more than just a piece. Without Sproles on the field, Thomas will be the feature back for the Saints, both running the football and in the screen game, where he is extremely explosive. He's carried the ball more than nine times just once, and he really isn't having a good year as a runner. Take away his nine-carry, 110-yard effort, and he's averaging just 3.0 yards per carry in 2012. It will be interesting to see how much the Saints rely on Mark Ingram, a 2011 first round pick who is averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt this season.
3. LeSean McCoy, Eagles running back
For three straight games, LeSean McCoy has been stopped, or contained, by opposing defenses. Blame it on the offensive line, Michael Vick, or the playcalling. Or blame it on McCoy, who showed that he was capable of succeeding despite a poor offensive line in 2010 (Mike McGlynn, Max Jean-Gilles/Nick Cole, and Winston Justice). But if he can't break out against the Saints, it might never happen. New Orleans ranks 30th in the league in rushing yards per attempt as a defense. Teams are averaging 5.0 yards every time they run. The Eagles should go with a steady dose of McCoy. I'm thinking 20+ carries, which should get him well over 100 yards. If the Eagles' run game can control the clock and take the pressure off Vick, plus keep the defense off the field, the chance of victory is greatly increased.
2. Michael Vick, Eagles quarterback
Even though I think the Eagles should use McCoy to control the game, I don't think they will. I expect Michael Vick to throw the ball at least 30 times in an attempt to take advantage of the Saints' porous pass defense, which is allowing a 110.6 passer rating this season (the single-season record is 110.9, by the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008). If the Eagles with Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek cannot move the ball down the field against New Orleans, despite their bad offensive line, it's truly never going to happen.
1. Drew Brees, Saints quarterback
Brees is easily the most important player on the field in Monday's game. He's even more important to the Saints now that Sproles is out. The Saints don't run the ball. They rank 32nd in the league in rushing attempts and they're not very good at running the ball when they do so. They want to come at you with their MVP-caliber quarterback, and usually it pays off. Brees's numbers may be down slightly this season, but don't be fooled. He's playing without his head coach, and that's enormous. If the Eagles can't stop Brees, like when they played in 2009, expect New Orleans to come away with a victory. But if the Eagles stop Brees, like Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos did, they'll win.