Flying into New Orleans at 3-4, the Eagles have to know this is a must-win scenario for not only mathematical reasons as far as playoffs-qualifying implications down the road are concerned, but also self-validation and self-confidence reasons…
The Birds have got to put something strong down on tape in New Orleans to show the rest of the league they are for real and deserve respect…they know it, the Saints (2-5) know it, and the rest of the league knows it…
The Philadelphia Eagles have a quarterback and a coach both likely playing for their jobs. The New Orleans Saints are off to their worst start in the Drew Brees era following the best regular season in franchise history.
Arguably the league's two most desperate teams entering Week 9, either the Eagles or the Saints will be in even worse shape after Monday night's game in New Orleans.
Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said Wednesday that Michael Vick will remain the team's starting quarterback, even after he struggled again last Sunday in a 30-17 home loss to Atlanta. The four-time Pro Bowler was held under 200 yards passing for the second time in three games, throwing for 191 despite 35 attempts.
While Vick didn't turn the ball over, his 13 giveaways his season are still the league's third-most.
"I think there's a lot of things that I can do better," he said. "I'm trying to do everything that I can to put the ball in the end zone to give my guys every opportunity."
Vick's 78.6 passer rating is his lowest since joining Philadelphia, though a battered offensive line isn't helping his cause. Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce are out for the season, and opponents have attacked the Eagles accordingly. Teams have blitzed Vick 99 times on passing plays this season, fourth-most against any quarterback.
He has been sacked 20 times in seven games after being sacked 23 times in 13 games last season. Perhaps even worse, he has been hit, hurried or knocked down at an average of over 20 times per game.
"I just don't think he's as comfortable as he usually is," receiver DeSean Jackson told the team's official website. "A lot of pressure is getting in his face. A lot of defenses are showing different looks and things like that. With the quarterback that has the skill that he's able to make big plays with his legs and his arms at the same time, I think a lot of teams are just trying to shoot at him, and just come any way possible and just give him less time."
Look, when you take a 3 or 4-step drop and constantly have someone in your grill, it's not about the quarterback… There's something that needs fixing in the Eagles pass protection design.
It has been rumored Reid's job also could be at stake, with the Eagles having lost three straight and coming off a season in which the team failed to make the playoffs. Reid recently fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, but Reid's offense has been having just as many problems.
Philadelphia's 17.1 points per game are tied for 28th in the NFL, but the struggling Saints – perhaps with even more holes to fix – could provide a temporary cure for the Eagles' woes.
New Orleans (2-5) has thus far fielded one of the worst defenses in league history en route to its worst start 2005, the year before Brees came on board. A 34-14 loss at Denver last Sunday was the Saints' most lopsided defeat in four seasons, and they became the first team to allow 400-plus yards in seven consecutive games since 1950.
"I've got to do a better job of preparing our football team," interim coach Joe Vitt said after the loss to Denver, his first game after a seven-game suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program.
"I've got to do a better job of getting the team ready physically, mentally and emotionally."
Geez, that sounds familiar! I just hope it's not Andy Reid giving that same speech after the game in New Orleans Monday night…
The Saints rank 30th in points allowed (30.9) and are allowing an NFL-worst 474.7 yards per game, more than 100 worse than last season's team which went 13-3. They showed no improvement last Sunday, allowing a season-high 530 yards.
"On defense it starts with me," first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "Somehow, some way, I have to get better with my job. I hope everyone else does the same thing. When you add it all up, everybody gets better and the whole defense gets better."
The Saints' offense and special teams took a hit this week, as Darren Sproles won't play after undergoing hand surgery. Sproles ranks second on the team in receiving (39 receptions, 323 yards, four touchdowns), third in rushing (26 carries, 117 yards) and handles both kickoffs (averaging 28.7 yards per return) and punts (a 6.6-yard average).
New Orleans' offense also looked uncharacteristically average against Denver, netting a season-low 252 yards. The league's worst rushing attack generated only 51 yards and the Saints converted 1 of 12 third downs.
Brees leads the NFL at 330.0 passing yards per game but tallied 213, his lowest total since having 196 against Tampa Bay on Jan. 2, 2011. He's also completing only 59.7 percent of his passes, his worst rate since 2003.
Brees figures to have plenty of time to operate against a Philadelphia defense which has nine sacks, second-fewest in the NFL.
That unit didn't show much improvement last Sunday in its first game since secondary coach Pat Bowles replaced Castillo. The Eagles surrendered a season-high 146 rushing yards and allowed scores on the Falcons' first six possessions.
"You don't go from the outhouse to the penthouse in one week," Bowles said. "Right now, we're in the damn outhouse."
Jackson and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy should enjoy playing at New Orleans, as both have fared well in dome games. Jackson has averaged 100.6 receiving yards in seven career indoor games, while McCoy has averaged 104.2 yards rushing in five such games since 2010.
New Orleans has won three of the teams' last four meetings including playoffs, most recently winning 48-22 in 2009.
None of the past record in 2012 matters anymore. Now we are in evaluation mode. The Eagles have had enough transition time to evaluate what they've got. Either the schemes are tweaked or the players are schooled on better technique. The only other alternative is our players are just not good enough…and I completely disagree with that opinion.
The reality is— we are about to find out whether our active roster players are good enough to step up and negate a set of circumstances that has so far sunk us to a 3-4 record…Do we have the right players at the right positions at the right time on Monday night? Are our coaches mindful of the old NFL truism that you don't "coach up" against strengths of the opponent, you instead "coach up" against weaknesses?…
The Saints are in the same boat. They're looking for answers to the same questions as we are…