By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles are back in the playoffs and they will be faced with one of the more lethal threats right out of the gate. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints make their way to Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night in the NFC Wild Card opener. The Eagles will have to have their defense in gear if the Eagles are going to win their first playoff game since the 2008 season and their first home playoff game since the 2006 season.
The New Orleans Saints finished the 2013 regular season with a record of 11-5, one game better than the Eagles of course. New Orleans has struggled on the road though, especially coming down the stretch of the season. After escaping Atlanta with a 17-13 lead in late November, the Saints were pounded by the Seahawks in Seattle on a Monday night and dropped two games on the road at St. Louis and at Carolina before the year was up. This season, the Saints are 3-5 away from the Superdome, so perhaps there is a positive trend developing for the Eagles.
Saints on Offense
The Saints will bring one of the NFL’s top passing offenses to Philadelphia Saturday night. New Orleans ranks second in the NFL in passing offense and it all begins with quarterback Drew Brees. One of the top targets in that potent passing attack is Jimmy Graham, who accounted for 1,215 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Marques Colston added 943 yards as well, so the Eagles secondary will have their work cut out for them after the way Dallas picked apart the Eagles defense at times Sunday night. Where the Saints struggle is on the ground. The running game ranks 25th in the NFL and the team’s two leading rushers, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, have combined for just three touchdowns this season.
Saints on Defense
Nick Foles will be playing against one of the top passing defenses in the league. New Orleans ranks second in the NFL in passing defense, allowing just 194.1 yards per game this season. While the Saints do not allow a lot of yards through the air, they also do not create too many turnovers. New Orleans has turned just 12 interceptions this season. Considering Foles has done well avoiding being picked off, that could be an advantage for the Eagles. The Saints are ranked 19th against the run, so look for LeSean McCoy to once again be a key player in the game plan.
Drew Brees, Quarterback: It goes without much saying that as Drew Brees goes, so do the Saints. Brees is a veteran quarterback who is smart and patient. He is not going to be easily rattled, having been through the playoffs a number of times before and winning a Super Bowl. However, Brees and the Saints have traditionally struggled on the road in postseason play. This season, Brees has passed for 5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns. If the Eagles defense struggles in coverage, Brees should be able to take advantage.
Brodrick Bunkley, Nose Tackle: Former Philadelphia Eagle Brodrick Bunkley lines up in the center of the Saints defensive line. After five years in Philadelphia, Bunkley played one season with Denver before joining New Orleans in 2012. He has gone the entire season (playing 12 games) without a sack. The Eagles should have no fear driving the offense straight ahead in Bunkley’s direction.
The Eagles will have plenty of work to do to get the defense in gear. If they play the way they did against Chicago two weeks ago, they should be able to get by New Orleans, but if they play the way they did against Dallas they will not be as fortunate to get out of the game with a win. Drew Brees will be much more successful against the Eagles defense than back-up Kyle Orton was in the final game of the regular season. But if the Eagles can knock Brees off his game, then the Saints could quickly run out of options to try and keep up wit the Eagles offense.
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Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.