Defending the Saints

Posted: January 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 61 Comments »

Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame QB. Sean Payton might be the best playcaller in the NFL. Jimmy Graham is one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the league. Calling him a great TE is too limiting. Darren Sproles is another dynamic weapon. Marques Colston is an outstanding big receiver. Lance Moore is an outstanding slot receiver. And so on. The Saints were 4th in the NFL in total offense.

So how do you go about stopping them?

There isn’t an obvious solution. Seattle is the one team that shut them down. It helps that Seattle had the best secondary in the NFL and several good pass rushers, as well as a major home field advantage. Most teams simply hoped to limit the damage the Saints did.

Sal Paolantonio reported that Bill Davis told him the defense would focus on 2 things. The first is obviously Jimmy Graham. The second is the Saints screen game. Davis said the Eagles DL would need to be active in pursuit to help stop screens.

I’m curious to see what kind of plan Davis has for the game. I think his gameplans have been pretty vanilla this year. I talked to Derek Sarley about this on Twitter (Derek is a must follow) and he agreed. Davis will blitz a lot, but the scheme remains pretty basic. Davis did a lot of creative things in Arizona. He can come up with a distinctive, complex gameplan.

We don’t know if Davis vanilla style is his choice or an edict from Chip Kelly. It could be simply that Davis doesn’t want to be complex this year since he’s put in a very different defensive system from what was run in the past and he’s got 5 new starters on defense. Or maybe Kelly wants to keep things simple so the players can play rather than doing too much thinking. We’ll likely find this out next year when we see if the defense changes or not. We could get a hint on Saturday night.

Graham has been covered by CBs, LBs and Safeties this year. He’s been double-covered. He’s had all kinds of different looks thrown at him. It will be interesting to see what Davis does. I could see one of the CBs covering him. I could see Nate Allen doing it. Nate has size and is solid in man coverage. Or Davis could do something with LBs and double teams. If we see one player following Graham all over the field, that will be a sign that Davis is getting creative.

Fran Duffy did a great All-22 piece on the Saints. Take a look at how they move Graham around. He’s in tight, in the slot, out wide, in motion and even in the backfield on occasion. If you want to cover him aggressively, you better have a creative plan and be willing to use guys in different ways. Just lining up in a base set is probably not the wisest idea.

The Eagles got a big break today when they found out RB Pierre Thomas will miss the game. He doesn’t have big numbers, but he is still a key player for them. He is the RB who does the dirty work and allows the other skill players to be so creative. The Saints still have Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram at RB so you don’t need to feel sorry for them, but Thomas had more touches than those 2 guys combined so that should tell you he was important.

With Thomas out, I wonder if the Eagles will consider playing from the Nickel as much as the 3-4 base. The Saints are a passing team. There is something to be said for going 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 to deal with them. At that point you are daring them to run the ball. And maybe that’s the way to go.

It really is going to be interesting to see what Davis does against the Saints. We’ll judge him on how it works, but also on what he does. He doesn’t have great players, but this is the time of year to take some chances. Challenge your guys.

* * * * *

Pete Schrager, an NFL reporter for Fox Sports, made his Wild Card picks.

New Orleans at Philadelphia: Drew Brees and Sean Payton and the rest of the Saints have heard it all this week. They can’t win on the road. They’re bad in cold weather. They can’t beat top teams away from the Superdome. They’re going to be playing mad and they’re going to be playing with a chip on their shoulders. It won’t be enough. Philly’s flying.  The Lincoln Financial crowd will be rocking on Saturday night. I fully expect the Eagles to come out of the gates like they did two weeks ago against the Bears, and ride that momentum to Chip Kelly’s first postseason win. Drew Brees will get his, but fellow Westlake High School graduate Nick Foles will get even more.

The Pick: Eagles 38, Saints 30

On ESPN’s NFL Live, Ron Jaworski picked the Eagles, 38-35. Mark Schlereth picked the Saints in a tight game.

_


  • Mitchell

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rv2m1sr-ivy
    2:10. Don’t tell me Nick isn’t athletic!

    • TommyLawlor

      Video is unavailable.

      What was it?

      • Mitchell

        Nick playing bball. They passed it to him and he did a spin move into a dunk. You can tell he is a bit out of practice but totally could have played DI basketball.

      • goeagles55
  • Mitchell

    Re: Schlereth
    He said the Eagles would only score 20 points. We may lose, but there is no way we only score 20 points lol.

    • Tumtum

      No way? Strong words. I really dont have a good feel. I could see a high scoring shootout or low scoring affair.

  • RIP Worms

    This might sound crazy but I’d like to see Boykin get the assignment to follow Graham all over the field. He gives up a lot in height/weight, but I think his athleticism makes up for some of that. Boykin has the vertical and ball skills to challenge for jump balls.

    Plus Payton would not be able to motion Graham into a favorable situation. If you put Kendricks on him, he will have trouble covering him on the outside. Williams or Fletcher might struggle with him in the slot.

    The only real mismatch that would create would be in the power run game. But if we can create a scenario where the Saints are turning to their power run game, then it’s Advantage: Billy Davis.

    • Mitchell

      I agree with the jumping ability of Boykin. I had a theory this summer, that because of the height disadvantage, QB’s could have a false sense of security when throwing the ball to larger receivers. However, because Boy King’s vert is what? 41.5? His jumping and his flat our speed can make up for some deficits in height.

      • Philip Soloninka

        Graham has an incredible vert as well, nullifying that option. I like the thinking though, as I would like to cover their best player with our best player. Maybe double cover with Boykin buzzing around to get his hand on whatever Graham bobbles/misses.

        • Mitchell

          It doesn’t really matter how high Graham can jump. It would be Brees’ perception of where Boykin can break up the play. Therefore Brees may throw the ball a bit lower on Boykin than against, Allen.

    • Tumtum

      He would be giving up quite a bit of size and muscle in that match up. I prefer a Fletcher match up to jam him and pay him real physical like Talib did earlier this year.

  • Sifter

    Was looking at Eagles coverage options for Graham. I think Connor Barwin is the best physical match for him. For starters, Barwin is easily the closest in size. The concept of Boykin or even Nate Allen covering Graham seems laughable – Jimmy’s at least 6 inches taller than either. And Barwin is just as athletic as Graham if you go off Combine numbers, even a little better in fact. Also wonder too whether putting a bigger, more physical guy on him might disrupt Jimmy a bit. Maybe not use Barwin on Graham ALL game, that might be disruptive to the scheme, but I think he’s worth a shot at least.

    The idea of playing Nickel might still work too, as Boykin might be the guy who matches up best with Sproles. To me, Boykin+Barwin is approximately equal to Sproles+Graham in either run or passing game, and playing nickel would challenge the Saints to run, forcing them away from their strength. If Ingram comes in, then you can perhaps add the 4th LB on early downs.

    • Arby1

      I like the idea of trying to get physical with Graham coming off the line. I would consider putting Cary Williams on him, putting Boykin in the corner and I don’t know in the slot.

      • Arby1

        I don’t doubt that Barwin could slow Graham down initially – if Barwin could cover Graham, that would be huge.

    • ACViking

      Barwin’s very, very athletic.

      But I’m not sure he’s good enough to cover Graham in space.

      • BlindChow

        And Rodger Goodell is really pushing to play games in space by 2018.

        • ACViking

          My stomach hurts from laughing so hard.

  • JulzPE

    If I see Patrick Chung lined up on Jimmy Graham just once…

    • Rambler

      I do not know if it is possible, but I think the Saints automatically get 14 points with that situation. Best we not find out.

  • T_S_O_P

    So here in Blighty we are getting reports of the ish worst storms on the Eastern seaboard and from thne maps, it shows an area covering Philly, so what is the deal?

    • jshort

      Global warming, or weather channel ratings

    • deg0ey

      It’s like that worst storm since 87 that we were supposed to have a few months back that turned out to not even be the worst storm we’ve had this year. Mostly just hype from what I’ve heard.

  • bentheimmigrant

    Since the beginning of November, our lowest score has been 24. In that time NO has been held below that 6 times. I think they’re potent and explosive, but they’re not consistent. We are all three. If Davis can just slow them down a little, our O will be putting up points. I think the key to this game is our O scoring in the second half. This is one team you just can’t let up against.

    • deg0ey

      I’m curious how you’re defining consistent here, because if you take a look at the bottom table over here, Football Outsiders have the Eagles ranked as the least consistent team in the league (in terms of their DVOA stats) http://www.footballoutsiders.com/dvoa-ratings/2013/final-2013-dvoa-ratings

      • bentheimmigrant

        We consistently put up points. They do not. I think looking at things like dvoa can lead one to miss the wood for the trees.

        The reason we lead the league in variance is the same reason we’re 8th overall but third in weighted – we improved so much. Add in the defensive clunker against the Vikes and that will really ramp up the variance.

        But then I look at the scores and see NO struggling to put up points, both against good teams and bad. We’ve gotten to the point where we consider 24 to be a disappointing score.

        • deg0ey

          I do kinda take your point, but I don’t think you can just dismiss the Vikings game. The point to make regarding the Eagles consistency is that it works both ways. On any given day they can be an unstoppable force like we saw against the Bears, or they can fall apart and lose to an AP-less Minnesota.

          The take home message to me is that while most rankings would put us fairly middle of the pack, if we put it all together we can beat anyone. And when only one game stands between us and the next round, I’m very happy with that.

          • bentheimmigrant

            I’m not dismissing the Vikings game, but I am trying to make some comparison of the consistency of the offenses. The variance in overall DVOA includes def and STs, so I was simply trying to give a reason why we’ve got the highest variance, but have more consistent offensive output.

    • ACViking

      Tough comparison.

      Since Nov 1st . . . the Eagles played 1 top-10 defense in points (AZ), 1 top-15 defense (Det), and 6 defenses ranked 24th or worse in points.

      In that same period, the Saints played 4 top-3 defenses in points (Carolina twice, SF, Seattle), 1 ranked 13th (Rams), 1 ranked 15th (Det), and 3 ranked 21st or lower.

      What the Rams game proved most vividly is that if you can get to Brees, you can shut down the Saints. Unfortunately, the Eagles don’t have pass-rushing DEs as good as Quinn and Long.

  • CTAZPA

    I don’t see a 4-2-5 because they don’t like to take any of the starting LBs off the field. Lately when we go nickel, it seems like we’re 3-3-5, but Trent Cole ibecomes one of the linemen. If you look at snap counts, Cole/Graham, Barwin, Ryan’s and Kendrick’s are all nearly 100%. Boykin’s snaps are coming from Cedric Thornton and the DL rotation. It’s sort of a 2-4-5.

  • bill

    They need to use the gameplan t at worked well for the cowboys and Vikings against the Eagles – push the interior of the line back into the pocket. The guards are too good, and Brees too quick to get clean pressures – relying on that is most likely going to be a failure, ’cause everyone wants to pressure Brees, and yet he still is perhaps the most prolific passer of the last 5 years. But if you can have big bodies bumping into Brees and just generally being in the way of his step-ups, it will keep him from dominating.

    The second step is to have a clock in the D-line’s heads. 2 – Mississippi or some such- and the hands go up. Even if they don’t bat the pass, the hands in the air will disrupt Brees’s passing lanes and vision, and while not shutting him down, will slow him down. And that’s really the best this defense can hope for against this offense – they just don’t have the secondary to really hold the Saints down below 22 points. Be willing to be bend but don’t break.

  • Scott J

    I think this might be a game where we see Kelly’s theory in practice where big guys beat up smaller guys. Graham could have a big game. Out best defenders, Kendricks and Boykin, are much shorter. Hopefully we can get Williams or Fletcher on him.

  • eagleyankfan

    I think Davis defense scheme is vanilla because there’s no real talent on this team. There are a bunch of good players who may get better as they mature. Eagles are “ok” up front. They never got pressure last week. If you blitz there, you’re “ok” coverage will give up big plays. Give it time, I do think the Eagles will address defense in the off season.
    Tonight I think if the Eagles play like last week, they lose. Eagles need to score and score often. Brees will score. This won’t be a 10-7 game. I don’t think both teams score in the 30’s either. Score early, force a turnover or 2 early and get a big lead. I don’t think the Eagles can keep up with the Saints if they start exchanging scores in the 4th quarter.
    Eagles should have pounded Dallas last week. Instead they have up 4 billion yards to Orton. I’m hopefully but not confident. Can’t wait for game time though. Best day of the season IMHO. Can’t wait!!!! Fly Eagles.

    • P_P_K

      I agree with your analysis. I do, though, think the Eagles will have to shoot it out. Brees is going to do what he is going to do against our D. Hopefully, they will have some stands where they bend but don’t break. I think Nick and Co. are going to have to score 30+ for us to win.

    • ACViking

      “If the Eagles play like last week, they lose. ”

      Maybe the better framing is: “If the Saints’ defense does the same things as the Cowboys’ defense and just as well . . . “

  • Arby1

    Tommy, Brees is known for getting rid of the ball quickly. I agree we need to blitz more, perhaps up the middle (disguised), but I’m not sure how to counter Bree’s quick release. Will we see more of Curry and Brandon Graham early?

    • ACViking

      Here’s what Brent Cohen postulated about defending QBs over at (the always excellent) Eagles Rewind. His two posts came after the Cowboys game and was prompted by Orton’s short drops and quick passes.

      In the first post, go to the section on Billy Davis — where BC mentions Brees, as well.
      http://eaglesrewind.com/2013/12/30/week-17-eagles-v-cowboys-post-game-notes/

      Here’s a follow-up post on blitzing QBs.
      http://eaglesrewind.com/2013/12/31/two-factor-blitz-theory/

      • Arby1

        AC, what he says in that first piece is you can’t treat Brees the way you’d treat Orton. Because of Bree’s great accuracy, in other words, great coverage doesn’t necessarily work. He can still find those small windows. You have to blitz him but you have to pick your spots and you have to be clever and disguise it against a very clever QB. Should be interesting.

        • ACViking

          Yes, indeed. Blitzing Brees will be a BIG challenge.

          By the way, if we had a young Bill Belichick here as DC, he’d be focused on taking away Graham and Sproles — even if it meant rushing just 3 men all game long (or most of it). Force Brees out of his comfort zone.

          Anyway, that’s how I understand Belichick’s approach. [SB 2004 -- Westbrook effectively taken away from McNabb and the Eagles' offense.]

  • HipDaDip

    I feel obligated to post this. Maybe Ashley Fox saw how frustrated we were and threw us a bone:
    http://espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs/2013/story/_/id/10239020/philadelphia-eagles-fans-get-bad-rep-partly-due-fierce-loyalty-team
    She lives in Philly?!

  • P_P_K

    Thinking about the Chiefs, Eagles, and the Wildcard games. The past couple of weeks confirm for me a sense that Andy coaches to prove that his strategy is right and Chip coaches to win.

    • ACViking

      P_P_K:

      Serious question for you.

      I assume you view Reid’s coaching philosophy as a fatal flaw.

      Did he have that flaw in the first half of his tenure in Philadelphia — the 1999-2004 period? Or the second half only — from ’05 to ’12?

      As for Kelly coaching to win, I’m not sure what happened in Minnesota. I’ll leave that to the more well-versed in strategy. But it sure looked to me, as a football layperson, that Kelly coached to his philosophy, too — and lost.

      • P_P_K

        Good question. I come from a place of being a huge Andy fan who became terribly frustrated with him, especially during that second phase of his time in Philly, particularly with the ludicrous pass-run ratio. I don’t think Andy’s strategy was fatal, per se, in that he was a very successful coach. I do think it was terribly flawed, however, in that he seemed unable or unwilling to modify his basic strategy. The exception being when Donovan was hurt.

        Your question made me step back and examine whether or not I was right about Andy this year. I did some checking on the stats and found this — for the season, the Chiefs were a reasonable 55-45% pass-run. During the streak when they lost three in a row, they were 65-35%. After this streak they went back to a more balanced offense, and went 2-2 (though starters rested during the Oakland loss in week 17). I know stats can hide complexity but I think they do show that, when push comes to shove, Andy falls back into old habits. Scanning the boards, I also know a lot of Chiefs fans are questioning why Alex Smith is throwing so much and Jamaal Charles isn’t getting more touches.

        Yea, I didn’t like the Vikings game, either. But the team has played differently since then. Chip doesn’t seem to have a rut that he falls back into when things get tough.

        • ACViking

          Well done. Very thoughtful.

          I think — as T-Lawlor wrote a day or so back — Reid and Mohrnenwig together were poison. AR’s offense became more extreme the further out in time we were from Childress leaving.

          I’m looking forward to how Reid does today against a very physical Indy team, who’s beaten every “top” team in the NFL.

    • Tumtum

      Im not sure sure of the validity of this, but it is funny that it is the exact same thing Redskins fans are saying about Shanny.

  • ACViking

    Re: Reid’s Intended “Jimmy Graham”

    We kick Reid in the ribs quite a bit, too much maybe, over draft mistakes for which he’s been assigned the blame — certainly, implicitly — by Lurie and Roseman. Guys like Watkins, Jarrett, Te’o-Nasheim, Bryan Smith.

    Anyway, in 2009 Reid used the Birds’ 5th Rd pick on a high character, high talent TE from U-Florida coming off a knee injury.

    That was Cornelius Ingram. He came to camp in 2009 and put on a pretty good show, as I recall things. Then his (poorly) repaired ACL gave out. Never the same.

    Ingram was nearly 6’5″ 250lbs. To his credit, Reid saw the value of big, fast, pass-catching weapon at the TE spot.

    Anyway, in 2010, two pretty good teams flattered Reid’s vision by imitating his choice to get a big, fast TE.

    The Pats drafted Gronkowski and Hernandez in Rds 2 and 4.

    The Saints drafted Jimmy Graham in Rd 3. (You could argue the Saints were doing what the Chargers stumbled onto with Antonio Gates, i.e., an undersized power foward in basketball player as a TE — but Graham played a year of college football, while Gates didn’t.)

    Reid was onto something with the Ingram pick. He had the tough luck of losing Ingram to a career ending injury.

    If a healthy Ingram were in Kelly’s offense . . . sfortunato!!!

    • Insomniac

      Imagine Leonard Weaver in this offense.

      • ACViking

        Ah, Leonard Weaver. A real shame what happened to him (and Ingram).

        He may be a bit short for Kelly’s taste. But Weaver was James Casey BEFORE Casey.

    • Tumtum

      I think Tony Gonzalez started the trend of the ultra athletic tight end. Not sure how prophetic Reid was in that regard. I did like the pick and wished it would of worked out. To make it worse PE.com profiled and journaled the heck out of him making me all the more attached.

      At least when they did it with BB it worked out.

      • ACViking

        Gonzalez was a great, athletic TE drafted in 1997.

        Teams waited a long time, more than a decade, to move in that direction — that is, to add a second TE who could stretch the field and create mismatches.

        But I don’t discount your point. We have no idea what exactly Reid was thinking when he drafted Ingram.

        Only what Belichick had in mind . . . because he moved fairly quickly to a 2-TE offense.

    • P_P_K

      Chad Lewis was something like 6-6 and 250lbs. A BYU guy with the Mormon character. I think he was originally drafted by Ray Rhodes. He got traded to the Rams but Andy Reid brought him back to the Eagles after one year, and used him well. Chad had 3 Pro Bowl seasons, 2000-2002.

  • SteveH

    I have absolutely no feel for how this game will go, I feel like it could be a tight low scoring game, a tight high scoring game or a blowout either way. Just no clue whats going to happen today.

    I feel like Darren Sproles could be a big factor, we struggle at times to contain 3rd down plays, I’d hate to see him spring a couple long ones in that situation.

    • ACViking

      StH . . .

      Such a great observation.

      Look at the Eagles’ first game against Dallas. A total of 20 points in the entire game, on a perfectly beautiful day for football.

      On the other side was the Lions game. Maddeningly bad weather. And the teams hang 54 points.

      Screwy.

  • ACViking

    BlindChow:

    I see you’ve begun a fairly regular campaign of satirical comments in response to mine. Some provocative. Some not so much.

    • SteveH

      I sense a war of the words brewing.

      • ACViking

        None from me. I don’t dicker in the world of satire.

        I’m just looking for a reason.

    • BlindChow

      Eh, can’t say I really pay attention much to whom I’m responding. I just post when I have something to say. Looking through my history, I’ve responded to you unprompted maybe 5 times out of my last 100 posts, so “regular campaign” is a really weird way to put it, especially if you count the sheer number of your posts I haven’t responded to…

      But seriously, if this is about calling Drew Brees’ nipples large dinner plates, I’m sorry.

  • Noel

    The entire countdown crew picked the Eagles, so we’re screwed!

    • cliff henny

      if that includes ditka, might be ok. he doesnt even know what game they are talking about half the time

  • BlindChow
  • Sean Stott

    Maybe I have green goggles on, but I’m not with the narrative that the Eagles don’t have talent on defense. Bottom line, Trent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Ced Thornton especially, and to a lesser extent Curry, Barwin, Graham, Kendricks… those guys have some talent. There aren’t too many OLBs I’d take over Cole. This particular game might mean an Aldon Smith is superior to Cole (Aldon is a slightly better pass rusher, while Cole is much better against run), but still, Cole is a top 10 OLB. He’s going against a rookie LT.

    Just not buying it.

  • Pennguino

    The Saints are 4th in scoring defense, 2nd in passing defense, 2nd in passing offense, 10th in scoring. They are scoring 26 a game and giving up 19 a game.
    I think we can win this game but it will be a fight and we will need some luck to get past them. They lost on the road to some pretty good teams.
    They beat TB…barely (Div Game)
    They beat CHI (Cutler 350+ yards and Jeffery 218)
    They beat ATL (Div)

    Lost to:
    NE…Brady final drive
    NYJ…Ivory 140 on the ground, Drew 2 picks, Jets have a good D line.
    SEA…#1 Defense and the 12th man. Beast mode RB and a smart QB.
    STL…Drew another 2 INT, Stacy 133 on the ground, Quinn 2 sacks (19 on the year)
    CAR… #2 Defense
    Rush/blitz Kendricks and put Sconces on Graham. Pound Shady/Bryce/Polk earlier. Wear out the defense. When they are tired and cold start popping them for big plays.