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.
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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.