The Eagles play their first playoff game since 2010 this week. The Saints come to town on Saturday night, for what should be an interesting game. They are 11-5 and a veteran team. They missed the playoffs last year, but made it the previous 3 seasons and won the Super Bowl in 2009.
The Eagles have a new coach, new systems and new players. The organization missed the playoffs the previous 2 years, which is what led to all the change. The Eagles made the playoffs in 2009 and 2010, but failed to win a game. The 2013 team doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience individually and they obviously have none collectively.
I’m not sure the experience factor gives the Saints much of an advantage. All in all, you’d rather have experience, but that shouldn’t be the difference in winning and losing.
A lot of people are focused on weather and the Saints being a poor road team. Those are valid points, but only to a certain extent. The Saints don’t lose because it is cold or they’re on the road. They lose when the opponent plays better in cold weather or when the opponent plays well at home. If the Eagles don’t do their part, the Saints will win and the conditions will mean nothing.
Consider that the Saints were probably lucky to win their game against the 49ers at home after that phantom penalty on Ahmad Brooks and likewise lost in the last moments of key road games against the Panthers and Patriots, two of the best teams in football. Those were all games where the outcome, win or loss, massively overstates the difference in play between the two teams. So flip the wins and losses in those games for a second. If the Saints are 7-1 at home (having credited them with a loss for the 49ers game) and 5-3 on the road (having now won the Patriots and Panthers games), are we even having this discussion about their performance on the road? Probably not. And if the discussion comes down to what happened in three or four plays across a number of weeks, it’s probably not as meaningful as it suggests itself to be.
Bill also shared one crazy stat.
I don’t see that the numbers suggest anything specific about Brees and his team that would make me think they can’t play well on the road in cold weather. Well, except for one. Chase Stuart, as he often does, came up with the best stat of all: In the playoffs, dome-dwelling teams playing in temperatures below 35 degrees on the road are 3-22. The last time a team like that won was in 2004, when the Vikings beat the Packers in Green Bay. That was the year Chip Kelly turned things around for his employer after years of misery and losing records. He was in his sixth year as offensive coordinator for the University of New Hampshire. 2004 was a long time ago, man.
Evan Silva wrote his preview for Rotoworld. Evan is more of a numbers guy, but is a good analyst. I always enjoy his take.
Unless New Orleans builds a big scoreboard lead, I’d look for Nick Foles to operate primarily as a game manager Saturday night, seeking to avoid turnovers and taking only manufactured vertical shots while Shady pounds on the ground. The potentially high-scoring nature of this affair may ultimately require Foles to do more, but I don’t think that’s what Kelly wants as long as the game is in control. … Foles’ target distribution from Week 13 on: DeSean Jackson 37; Riley Cooper 28; McCoy and Zach Ertz 22; Brent Celek 19; Jason Avant 17.
I’m sure Kelly would love to run Shady all game long, but Rob Ryan will focus on stopping the run. You wonder if Kelly will be proactive and plan a passing attack to see if he can take advantage of man coverage by the Saints.
Here is Silva’s pick for the game: Score Prediction: Eagles 28, Saints 27
He did pick the Eagles to blow out the Vikings, so keep that in mind.
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The Saints are a good team, but I don’t fear them. That may prove to be a dumb thing, but I think the Eagles will be able to score some points on them. Can the Eagles stop Drew Brees? That’s the key question.
The most important thing to remember is that the Eagles don’t need to shut him down. They need to turn a TD into a FG. They need to get a 3rd down stop here and there. They need a takeaway. A handful of plays might be enough from the Eagles defense.
I’ll get into a lot more specifics on Friday.
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Questions/comments from the previous post…
* Why not blame Kelce/Mathis more on the 4th/1 play? I watched that over and over and over. I think LB Bruce Carter made the key play by going over the top. That’s not on Mathis or Kelce. Peters was the guy who should be there, but blocking a diving LB isn’t easy at all and Jason didn’t have a clear shot at him.
* Why do the QB sneak? When you have one foot to go and you’re at the goal line, the defense is very compacted. They are selling out to stop the run. They are daring you to throw the ball. With 9, 10 or 11 guys focused on the run, it is hard to make a hole for a RB. 3rd/1 and 4th/1 are very different situations. The defense has to honor the pass on 3rd down. They ignore it on 4th, knowing the offense is going to run it. The smart play is the QB sneak. The ball never goes back. It is a quicker play.
The Eagles didn’t use the QB sneak with McNabb for a few years late in his career and it drove me nuts. I think it is a smart play, even if it didn’t work. The blockers do need to do a better job and Foles needs to work on executing the play a bit better.
* Why do I like the Brad Smith stuff in the Red Zone? The Eagles have been a good RZ team with Foles at QB. Why take the ball away from him? The Eagles have a lot of success with very basic plays in the Red Zone. I think mixing in the exotic stuff is good because it can work and it can also impact the defense even if it fails. The D is mostly expecting base stuff, but they also know to be on the lookout for oddball plays. If that creates half a second of hesitation or it causes one defender to screw up on a later play, that can be valuable.
Scoring TDs in the Red Zone is crucial to winning in the NFL. Anything you can do to give yourself an advantage is worth trying. And I think there are a couple of key follow-up points. First, this is an isolated play, not a whole series or a bunch of plays. If Smith was getting 5 RZ touches in a game, that would be dumb. One isn’t that big of a deal. Secondly, Smith isn’t a typical skill player. He threw for 8,644 yards and 56 TDs while a QB in college. That doesn’t make him an NFL QB, but this isn’t anything like handing the ball to Ronnie Brown. Smith can throw the ball. The pass he threw vs Dallas was as good as anything Koy Detmer threw in his final few years as an Eagle.
If Shady starts getting RZ hand-offs and then lobbing the ball into traffic, I’ll be as angry as you guys. Having a player like Smith with a run-pass option is worlds different and I’m fine with it. I understand the counter-argument. Would you take the ball away from Brady or Peyton? The Pats did have 2 skill players attempt passes in Brady’s first year as a starter so doing something like this to help out a young QB isn’t new.
* I’ll write about Mychal Kendricks in another post.