A day away from another big game for the Saints. The 11-5 team will be the guest of the always hospitable Philadelphia Eagles who won the NFC East in the last game of the regular season against the Dallas Cowboys. Now I know what you’re thinking. New Orleans? Playing outside? On the road? In the cold? Get ready for a disappointing game.
Not so fast! Believe it or not, but since 2009 the Saints have has the most road victories of any team in the NFL. To extent that record though and gain another Lombardi trophy, they’ll have to win 4 straight road games. The journey to East Rutherford, New Jersey and Met Life Stadium begins tomorrow.
The matchup against the Eagles looks to be a favorable one offensively for the Saints. Drew Brees & Co. are going up against a relatively young defense who have looked especially green in the secondary. Of course they have CBs who are very good playmakers, like Brandon Boykin, but outside of those few they really don’t have much. They have decent pass rushers in Trent Cole and Connor Barwin, and a good defensive line with Bennie Logan, and Fletcher Cox. The concern I would have as an Eagles fan would be in the middle of the field defensively. ILB DaMeco Ryan is more of a run stopping LB and Mychal Kendricks (5’11”) isn’t tall enough to handle any of the Saints big threat WRs (i.e. Marques Colston). Look for Brees to throw the quick slant routes to Colston and Graham often.
Defensively, the Saints have several things to worry about. Most prevalent is how will they stop LeSean McCoy from making the big plays. The NFL’s leading rusher will find a way to get the ball into his hands and when he does are their enough athletes on the defense to stop him from breaking a big one. These are the times when the team needs a strong athlete like Kenny Vaccaro to lock onto Shady McCoy. If it’s not McCoy, then look out for Nick Foles and his favorite targets DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. It seems like every other week one of the two had a big game either in yardage or in touchdowns. Let’s not forget that the Eagles also have two TEs in Brent Celek and Zach Ertz who are threats down the field.
If their is any weakness in the Eagles offense it would be the offensive line, especially the right side. On the left you have All-Pros OT Jason Peters and OG Evan Mathis, so pressure coming from that side will be limited. On the right, you have rookie OT Lane Johnson and stiff OG Todd Herremens. A little easier to get the pressure coming from that side. This will be Lane Johnson’s first playoff game and I’m sure the jitters are high right now even though they’ll be playing in front of the home crowd. Look for the Saints to force mistakes from Johnson and give him a double dose of Junior Galette and Pro Bowl DE Cam Jordan. Mixing their speed and power will throw Johnson off guard and will hopefully force him into the lap of Nick Foles often. Which in turn will lead to turnovers.
It feels like its time for the Saints to finally rise to the occasion and show some things in the postseason that weren’t their in the regular season. New looks, new wrinkles offensively and defensively, and most importantly show teams that they aren’t afraid to run the football. Who knows, maybe the Sunday night game against Dallas in week 10 was just a preview of what they may do throughout the playoffs. Mark Ingram, I’m looking at you!
Prediction: Saints prove critics wrong and win handily 28-17.