The sequel to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles has followed a similar, yet divergent path from last year. Carson Wentz led the way with MVP numbers to the NFC’s top seed, only to suffer a season-ending injury. Foles was thrust into the spotlight just as the regular season winded down. Many wrote off Nick Foles, who had bounced around the league as a backup and not a very inspiring one to say the least. Well, we all know what happened. Nick Foles and the “The Philly Special” will live in Philadelphia lore forever. And the expectation was the “The New Norm”.
This year began as a total disaster compared to 2017. The team suffered a similar injury bug, but watched desperately from the outside looking in at the playoffs. Once again enter Nick Foles, and the magic begins. In both narratives, the Eagles run to the Super Bowl seemed to be sparked by an underdog mentality with Carson Wentz down and Nick Foles stepping up as the hero.
Foles is currently 10-2 as the Eagles starter since returning in 2017, including 4-1 in the playoffs. One of the most mind-boggling stats is that Nick Foles is 40-of-52 for 522 yards, and unblemished 6 TD to zero INT ratio with a 145.6 QB rating. The same Nick Foles who in 2015 with the St. Louis Rams went 4-7 as a starter with a 7 to 10 TD to INT ratio, and was benched for Case Keenum. (Ironic, huh?) That same guy who followed the coach who drafted him in Andy Reid to Kansas City only to contemplate retirement from football. He defied all odds and continues to do so. But now the Birds travel to play the New Orleans Saints, a rematch of the game played earlier this year that resembled a Varsity versus JV scrimmage.
Will Anything Be Different This Time Around?
In that dismantling by the Saints, the Birds came in at their weakest physically. Darren Sproles and Timmy Jernigan were nursing nagging injuries. After already missing safety Rodney McLeod greatly, Avonte Maddox went down with a knee injury in the first quarter, then CB Sidney Jones left with a hamstring injury in the 1st half, and CB Rasul Douglas in the 3rd quarter.
Just to put that in perspective, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Chandon Sullivan (practice squad), and De’Vante Bausby (no longer on the team), played the most snaps at cornerback outside of Douglas. Those three were essentially mercenaries playing in their first big action against one of the league’s best quarterbacks. That’s not an excuse for that big of an ass whooping but the Eagles knew they were in trouble. In fact, rookie Tre’Quan Smith killed the Eagles with underneath routes totaling 10 catches (on 13 targets) for 157 yards and a TD. Here’s one of him just simply beating Sullivan.
But I do see this game going one of two ways for the Eagles to have a chance to win.
Keep Brees on the Sidelines Approach
If you’ve read any preview or listened to a pundit regarding this game, you may or may not have heard the suggestion, “You have to keep the ball out of Drew Brees’ hands.” Well, it’s completely true. How do you do that besides running the ball and especially when it’s stopped from the start? It’s going to be difficult to win the ever-important LOS battle, especially with DE Cameron Jordan, LB Demario Davis, DT Sheldon Rankins, who rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game.
As for the Eagles backfield, Wendell Smallwood out snapping Josh Adams seems to be because of his advantage in pass protection and as Foles’ emergency checkdown. But Adams’ bruising north-south running style will wear down this Saints defense if he can break off chunk yardage.
In the Eagles first four possessions against the Saints in Week 11, they punted twice and Carson threw a pick. The other series was a methodical, 6-play, 75-yard drive mixed with four pass plays to two runs. The other three drives comprised of 7 plays combined for 20 total yards, with six pass plays to one run. The Eagles’ offensive line must execute and set up a running game early. Whether it be Smallwood, Adams, or a “revenge game” for Darren Sproles, someone has to move the sticks and keep Drew Brees off the field.
The Shootout Approach
If the Eagles are unable to establish the run and keep their defense fresh, this game could get high scoring fast. It’s become well known that Foles isn’t afraid to take shots over the top given his opportunities. And that’s where the Saints are susceptible. Their secondary allows 11.2 yards per completion (29th in NFL), and has allowed 66 plays of 20+ passing yards (30th in NFL).
One last nerdy stat to throw at you is Saint Nick’s performance in 3rd down situations. Since last year’s playoffs, Nick Foles completes 70% of his passes on 3rd down. The Saints defense let up 14 first downs per game through the air. That has Zach Ertz written all over it. If this game does turn into a shootout, an Eagles’ defensive back will get burnt on a double move by Brees. He just does his homework like that. But don’t be surprised to see the Eagles offense keep up with the Saints using methodical drives followed by deep shots (Hint, Hint: Nelson Agholor)
The Eagles run defense remains just as stifling, giving up just over 95 total yards per game (6th in NFL). Against the likes of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, the duo went for 174 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns during their matchup earlier this year. That was the season-high for total rushing yards allowed for the Birds defense as Ingram/Kamara picked up 6.0 yards per carry. Oh, and don’t forget about Michael Thomas who only led the league in receptions.
Most Important Player
Either way this game goes for the Eagles, whoever has the ball last will win. The key for the Eagles’ defense is continuing to tackle well in space. Missed tackles plagued Jim Schwartz’s defense for weeks this season, but the past few games have been a remarkable transformation.
As for my “Player of the Game”, it’s really the entire defensive discipline in tackling and in their assignments. But I think Malcolm Jenkins is going to show out in this one. The Saints were the team that chose young safety Kenny Vaccaro over him. The Eagles gave him a shot with a 3-year, $16.25M contract, and he’s become the heartbeat of this team ever since.
“We got back. We met as a veteran’s committee with Doug Pederson and we all agreed: flush that game. Eliminate it. We’re not going to focus on it. We’re not going to obsess on it. We’re not going to say ‘Look at those things we did wrong!’ We’re just going to start all over again from right now.”
The team has won six of seven games since and looks to continue proving people wrong yet again in 2019.
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