The Philadelphia Eagles are officially reeling. On the offensive side of the ball, the brain drain of former OC Frank Reich and former QB coach Frank DeFilippo are evident. While Doug Pederson still handled the play-calling last season, those coaches impact on the the overall efficiency has been felt.
On top of the sloppy offensive play, the entire team has been riddled with injuries to players vital to the current team’s system. The most recent announcement was that cornerback Ronald Darby suffered a season ending ACL tear and joins nine other players on the Injured Reserve. It has been an injury-plagued season to say the least.
Inexperienced “No Phly Zone” must come prepared
Before the injury bug hit, the Eagles’ most questionable units week-to-week were their running backs and secondary. Losing Darby for the season adds a whole new wrinkle to the “next man up” mantra with not many men left.
One bright spot during these trying times has been rookie Avonte Maddox. The Pittsburgh product has played beyond his years given the situation he faces in his first season. Maddox played all but one snap last week at both nickel and single high safety. Throwing all of that at a fourth-round draft pick is a lot to ask and while Maddox has made some rookie mistakes, he’s proven to be more than capable in this defense’s future. A couple of the Eagles most important snaps were coverage sacks as Darby, Maddox, and Douglas locked down on Dak’s secondary reads.
Rasul Douglas is another young player that must step up in his expanded role. Last Sunday night he played in all but two snaps against the Cowboys as an outside corner. He and Maddox deserve a lot of credit given their massive increase in usage and importance to the defensive scheme. Douglas definitely held his own against the Cowboys wide outs, but the Eagles will face an entirely different monster in Michael Thomas this week. The star receiver requires blanket coverage and even then it may not be enough to stop him.
Thomas is tied for 1st in the NFL in receptions (78) with an incredible 89.7 catch rate, only missing nine targets this entire season. The entire injury-plagued secondary faces a well-documented highflying New Orleans Saints offense, not just the inexperienced secondary.
Alvin Kamara is arguably the most dynamic running back in the NFL today. His game-breaking ability makes him a matchup nightmare for defenses. It’s almost a guarantee he’s going to make someone look silly on a missed tackle or running an option route. Kamara’s speed and elusiveness in the open field help create huge chunk plays for the Saints, converting on crucial third downs. It’s not an exaggeration to say Kamara, next to his quarterback, should be in the MVP conversation. He’s 8th in the NFL in total scrimmage yards (1,019) and has 14 touchdowns (11 rushing, 3 receiving) in just nine games.
To counter, Nigel Bradham has been fantastic against the run while Jordan Hicks remains one of the top speed and coverage linebackers in the league. However Kamara will win a one-on-one matchup with any linebacker in the league.
The Eagles need to swarm to the football whenever it’s in #41’s hands. Even with multiple defenders surrounding him, it’s still tough to bring Kamara down. Just watch him make four defenders miss on his way to the end zone:
Do the Birds have a chance against New Orleans?
This entire article could be about the Saints’ offensive prowess. They even added a much-needed red zone target in Brandon Marshall this week with the abrupt loss of Dez Bryant. So with the decimated secondary, Jim Schwartz may be tempted to sink back in coverage thinking that Sean Payton will take advantage of any and all mismatches across the board.
That might be the smart play with the Saints’ variety of weapons and with Drew Brees at the helm. However a simple coverage scheme with little to no blitzing is where Brees becomes a surgeon. The Eagles defensive front can not let the future Hall of Fame quarterback get comfortable in the pocket.
Because the secondary is so limited and inexperienced, expect Schwartz to rely heavily on his defensive line to create pressure on Brees. There may be an exotic blitz or two thrown in, but Fletcher Cox and company need to control the line of scrimmage and rattle Brees consistently.
So to answer this section’s title, yes the Eagles have a chance. But everything has to go according to plan. The line must create constant pressure with a four man pass rush and the entire defense needs to snap out of their missed tackling funk. All facets of the game need to work in order to simply contain the Saints’ offense. Also, the Birds desperately need an afternoon of elevated play from their QB1.
Most Important Player
The Saints come into this matchup with the #1 ranked run defense in the NFL. With the Eagles’ lack of a rushing attack (just keep feeding Josh Adams, Doug!), Carson Wentz is due for a huge performance in this one. From his pre-snap reads to calling audibles leading to favorable situations, #11 has to be prepared and ready for this underrated defense.
Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins lead the way for the Saints pass rush with six sacks and five sacks respectively on the season. Seventh-year linebacker Demario Davis, who signed in the offense, is having an incredible season as the team’s leading tackler.
Davis flies all over the field, making tackles on seemingly every and lets his passion be known. His energy (and 46 solo tackles along with 21 assisted tackles) is the heartbeat for the Saints defense. However, Rankins has been an absolute monster in the trenches and is a large reason why the Saints run defense ranks so high. Isaac Seumalo and Jason Kelce better be ready for a 305 pound freight train coming their way.
In terms of an offensive game plan, attack former Giants cornerback Eli Apple all day long. Or at least until he can prove he’s able to cover either Alshon Jeffery or Golden Tate in space. Dougie P should have his sights locked in on Apple in coverage and force him to make plays or the Saints will suffer the consequences. In desperation games like these, exposing the other teams’ weakest link is the best chance the Eagles have to get off to a hot start for the first time in a very long time.
And as for my player prediction, Golden Tate’s usage was a tease at best on Sunday Night Football. Expect him to be fully incorporated into the offense this week and score his first touchdown as a member of the Eagles.
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