5 Reasons Philadelphia Eagles Should Be Big Favorites Against New Orleans Saints
5 Reasons Philadelphia Eagles Should Be Big Favorites
The Philadelphia Eagles opened as a -3 point favorite against the New Orleans Saints at home for the first round of the NFL playoffs, but the line has since moved to -2.5. Most home teams get a built in three point spread advantage, which means Las Vegas now views the Saints as slightly better than the Eagles on a neutral field.
This is hard to explain, because in the second half of the season, the Eagles’ offense has been unstoppable. Even when they faced blizzard conditions against the Detroit Lions, the Eagles somehow scored 34 points in the second half. Nick Foles has been both accurate and careful with the football, and LeSean McCoy has been the team's Offensive MVP, averaging five yards per carry on the ground while also being major weapon in the passing game.
While the Eagles have had several blowout victories and compiled impressive offensive statistics, they have not faced a defense of the Saints’ caliber since their Week 13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. New Orleans is second ranked against the pass, allowing under 200 yards per game. Most of the credit has gone to their front four, who have been able to pressure the quarterback without frequently blitzing linebackers. Foles, one of the most frequently sacked quarterbacks in the NFL, will likely face consistent pressure this Saturday.
However, some of the Saints' perceived matchup advantages are actually a product of the Eagles' offensive approach. Foles has succeeded under duress all season, because he has been specifically instructed to take sacks rather than throw interceptions. On the other hand, Drew Brees has not looked like a future Hall of Famer on the road this season. He has thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions in the Saints’ three December road losses. Unfortunately for Brees and his receivers, Saturday’s forecast calls for low temperatures and wintry conditions, which stands in stark contrast to the 70 degree, windless conditions of the New Orleans Superdome.
The Eagles match up very well with the Saints from both a personnel and scheme standpoint. Chip Kelly’s offense is well-designed to move the ball efficiently against Rob Ryan’s defense. Brees must play extremely well to keep pace with Foles and McCoy -- something he has failed to do consistently on the road this year.
5. Chip Kelly's Offense Is A Matchup Nightmare For Rob Ryan's Defense
Chip Kelly's offense matches up well with Rob Ryan's defensive scheme. The Eagles utilize bunch formations, crossing routes, and double moves to create mismatches and separation downfield. While these formations work well against man-to-man coverage, they are less effective against zone defenses designed to nullify outside receivers. For example, against the Cowboys' “Tampa-2” zone defense, DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper combined for six catches for 58 yards and zero touchdowns. The Saints, on the other hand, play more man-to-man coverage, which leaves their defensive backs vulnerable to big plays by Philadelphia's wide receivers.
4. Nick Foles Can Hurt New Orleans Saints With His Legs
Against the Seattle Seahawks, the Saints allowed Russell Wilson to be the game’s leading rusher as he scrambled for 47 yards on eight carries. In Week 15, Cam Newton ran for 48 yards on six carries. Even Geno Smith’s 18 yards and a rushing touchdown helped the New York Jets shock the Saints en route to a 26-20 victory.
To thwart man coverage, mobile quarterbacks often take off and run once defensive backs have turned to run with their assigned receiver. Rushing for 22.1 yards per game, Nick Foles is a mobile quarterback. On Saturday night, he will be looking to run to daylight to extend drives on third downs.
3. Nick Foles Is Historically Careful With Football
Although the Saints' 19 takeaways are near the league average, Rob Ryan’s defense is designed to force turnovers by pressuring the quarterback. The Saints’ front four delivered this year, finishing fourth in the NFL with 49 sacks. Philadelphia is ranked eighth in sacks allowed, so this would appear to be a matchup advantage for the Saints. However, Nick Foles often takes sacks in lieu of throwing dangerous passes. For the Eagles, sacks are better than interceptions.
So, what looks like an decisive advantage for the Saints is actually a function of Foles’ good decision making. In fact, Foles is the only QB in NFL history to throw more than 20 touchdowns with less than three interceptions in a season.
By contrast, Drew Brees has struggled to take care of the football, which is evidenced by his six lost fumbles and 12 interceptions in 2013. Bottom line, Brees is more likely to turn the ball over than Foles.
2. Drew Brees Struggles On The Road
The New Orleans Saints were 3-5 on the road this season, including losses to non-playoff teams (New York Jets and St. Louis Rams). Even more alarming, the team had a -41 point differential away from the New Orleans Superdome.
The Saints' failures on the road can be directly attributed to the play of Drew Brees. His production at home vs. on road this season is telling.
Home: 73.6 percent completion, 9.12 yards per attempt, 27/3 TD/INT ratio, 126.3 passer rating
Road: 64 percent completion, 6.86 yards per attempt, 12/9 TD/INT ratio, 84.8 passer rating
Brees is a completely different quarterback playing on his home field and in front of his home crowd. The wintry conditions at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night will be the furthest thing possible from comfortable dome conditions.
1. Philadelphia Eagles' Running Game Kills
The ability to run the ball is the most decisive advantage that a team can wield, particularly in the playoffs. With Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense, running the football is critical to sustain drives and limit the number of times that Drew Brees touches the football.
Fortunately, LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ offensive line led with NFL with 1607 rushing yards. Spearheaded by Pro Bowl snub Evan Mathis, the speed and quickness of Philadelphia's offensive line has allowed McCoy to consistently get to the second and third level of the defense and make linebackers and safeties miss in the open field.
McCoy does not simply get what is blocked. He is the most talented Eagles running back in franchise history.
Fortunately for Philadelphia, their prolific running attack will face a New Orleans rush defense that was repeatedly gashed throughout season. The Saints' rank in the bottom half of the league against the run, which is their greatest weakness. All signs point to a heavy dose of McCoy and Mathis this Saturday.