EaglesvsSaints1

Too early for scoreboard watching?…Eagles have rare “quadfecta” opportunity in New Orleans…

One of the weird things about playing a Monday night game is you already know what your divisional rivals have done the day before. This could be construed as a motivational advantage—or a huge distraction.

It just so happens that every other team in the NFC East lost their games on the first Sunday in November of 2012…

So does that motivate the Eagles even more as a team to get 'er done in New Orleans Monday night? Or does this weird quadfecta scenario create a false sense of security which somehow subtracts from the team's sense of urgency?

I don't know. I'm just putting the question out there. I think if I were a player, I wouldn't really want to know that the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins all lost their games on Sunday. But of course every Eagles player and coach knows that is what exactly has happened…

What it really means is if the Eagles can get out of New Orleans with a "W" after Monday night, it is like a 2-game swing over the rest of the division…Frankly that would be hugely motivational to me to win that game…but also devastatingly disappointing if I came up short.

Just another interesting angle to Monday night's game in the Big Easy…

Key Matchups

Lesean McCoy vs. Curtis Lofton

McCoy is the most elusive runner the NFL has seen in a long time, with his running style being compared to Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. He turns two yard loses into five yard gains on a regular basis, and linebacker Curtis Lofton will be the main defender charged with shutting down McCoy.

The Saints will need to remain disciplined and maintain their rush lanes as the cutback is always a threat with McCoy. The Eagles also use McCoy in the screen game, and he is very effective out in space. Lofton will have to do a good job with his play recognition and make quick decisions to try and keep the All-Pro Eagles' runner in check.

Yes, GK Emeritus Brizer has made valid criticisms of McCoy's recent tendencies to bounce away from developing lanes instead of running the designed play, as well as his occasional whiffs on pass pro blocking…But he is still the best RB we've got.

Michael Vick vs. Jonathan Vilma

“Bounty Gate” has been a dark cloud over the Saints all summer and into the season, with Vilma at the forefront. His year-long suspension has yet to be ruled upon in an ongoing court battle with the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, allowing Vilma to play the last two weeks.

Vilma has shifted out of the middle linebacker spot now manned by Lofton, and plays on the weak side this year. He is still the defensive leader and calls many of the plays and audibles, making him the man to match wits with Vick.

Reports have come out in the last couple of weeks that Vick is struggling to call the correct audibles on offense, and it’ll be an interesting chess match between two veterans to see who can make the right adjustments at the right time and give their team the advantage.

New Orleans Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense

The biggest factor in this game is who won’t be on field.

Saints running back Darren Sproles will miss this week’s matchup with a broken hand. Sproles has been one of the top all-purpose yardage backs in the league over the last two seasons, and he is dominant in the screen and check-down game for the Saints.

Drew Brees hasn’t played as well this season as he has in the past, throwing eight interceptions and completing a lower percentage of his passes, but he is still putting up massive amounts of passing yards, currently ranking second behind the Patriots’ Tom Brady. Brees is on pace for over 5,200 yards and is a threat to break his own single season passing record. But despite his passing yards Brees hasn’t been able to make up for the Saints’ defensive struggles.

The NFL’s worst rushing attack resides in New Orleans, as the Saints average just 72 yards per game on the ground. Sproles is one of the three backs that carry the load, along with Pierre Thomas and 2011 first round pick Mark Ingram. But with Sproles out this week, look for Brees to attack the Eagles defense through the air and likely ignore his running game altogether—although I don't think Brizer buys into that theory. The GK has correctly pointed out that Pierre Thomas was once regarded as a premiere running threat. Attention must be paid at some game-planning level to both Thomas and Ingram.

Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham has been struggling with an ankle injury the last couple weeks, and he will be hampered by it Monday night. Brees’ other main target is wide receiver Marcus Colston, who stands six foot four and is one of the best possession receivers in the league. He doesn’t have the speed to get separation deep downfield and is used on a lot of intermediate routes 10-20 yards downfield. Opposite of Colston is longtime Saint Devery Henderson, who is a deep threat but doesn’t get many opportunities. Graham has bee the big play threat for Brees on a weekly basis. We'll see how Brees compensates for Graham's bad wheel.

The Eagles struggled with the big play threats on the outside last week against the Atlanta Falcons, but overall this season they have played very well in pass defense. Quarterbacks have completed just 55 percent of their passes against the Eagles in 2012, the third best mark in the league, and the Eagles have surrendered just a 77 quarterback rating.

Philadelphia has also excelled on third down, allowing offenses to convert just 32 percent of their chances. They have also surrendered just nine touchdowns on 24 red zone opportunities.

Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have played the matchups week-to-week, with Asomugha generally trailing the more physical receiver and DRC playing the speed wide-out. So it makes sense for Asomugha to trail Colston and DRC to challenge Henderson. There have been times when Asomugha will play against tight ends who have speed, i.e., Vernon Davis of the 49ers for example, but look for Philadelphia to bracket Graham with rookie linebacker Mychael Kendricks and safety Nate Allen…oh wait, rumors are that Nate Allen will not be activated and David Sims will take his place? Well, stay tuned on that one…

The offensive line for the Saints has been up and down in pass protection this year, but Brees can cover up for a lot of mistakes because he is excellent at reading the blitz and getting the ball out quickly. The Eagles defense led the league last year with 50 sacks, 46 from the defensive line, but so far in 2012 have gotten to quarterbacks just nine times through seven games.

Even with new coordinator Todd Bowles, the Eagles have relied on their front four to supply the pass rush, blitzing fewer times than any other team in the league. Pro Bowl rushers Trent Cole and Jason Babin combined for 29 sacks a season ago, but they have just four sacks between them in 2012. The Eagles will need a lot more from the defensive line Monday night if they have any chance to slow down Brees and the Saints offense which still scores 27 points per game despite their lack of a running attack.

Jimmy Graham vs. Mychael Kendricks

Kendricks has been solid in his rookie campaign against opposing tight ends, including future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, whom he held to just three catches last week. But Graham (if his bum ankle is serviceable) can show more speed and athleticism than Kendricks has faced in his young career.

Kendricks was one of the fastest linebackers in this year’s draft and he will be made somewhat quicker by Graham’s ankle injury (assuming Graham is taped up and playing with the injury), plus he should receive plenty of help in coverage. Graham is still Brees’ number one target and the place he looks to get the ball, so if Kendricks plays his coverage on the TE well, it will go a long way to slowing down the explosive Saints offense.

Trent Cole vs. Jermon Bushrod

The Saints’ left tackle went to the Pro Bowl last season, but he hasn’t played up to that level so far this season. Cole has seemingly taken a huge step back, not registering a sack since week two, and maybe it looks like age and years of constant double teams have finally caught up with the two-time Pro Bowl selection. But I saw sparks of greatness in Cole's game last week against Atlanta. You know, too much emphasis is put on the "sack" as a stat, and not enough on the "pressure" element of a speed rush…or how much better you make your teammates when you control the integrity of your own gap coverage or your responsibilities on the edge.

If Cole can get consistent pressure on Brees from his blindside, Brees has shown a willingness to force some throws and make mistakes. But with no pass rush the Saints passing game will be unstoppable, no matter how tight the coverage on the back end is.

Okay, I'm done…See you Monday night for the Livefyre pregame buffet and broadcast…

 

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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