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Eagles vs. Saints: Philadelphia needs to take advantage of bad New Orleans defense

An enemy perspective on the upcoming Eagles-Saints game.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles 2015 regular season football schedule continues this week with yet another must-win game. The Eagles are set to play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Oct. 11 at Lincoln Financial Field. In preparation for the game, I reached out to our friends over at Canal Street Chronicles. Jean-Rene Ella kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming contest.

Let's take a look at the answers.

  1. To what extent do the Saints miss Darren Sproles and Malcolm Jenkins? Both players have been really good additions for the Eagles. Do you think New Orleans regrets letting Jenkins walk and trading away Sproles for a fifth round pick?

To Saints fans these two players are very interesting in their own way. Darren Sproles was a beloved figure in New Orleans, because he was absolutely dazzling and a big part of arguably the best offensive Saints team under Sean Payton in 2011. You know how they say: chicks dig the long ball? Well, football fans like points in bunches and Sproles delivered in New Orleans. On the other hand, Jenkins always had a love-hate relationship with Saints fans. Although he was an integral part of the 2009 Super Bowl team, the fanbase simply never felt that he lived up to his hype and his first round selection out of Ohio State in 2009.

Some Saints fans still bemoan the fact that the team traded Sproles away, and I'm convinced that the Saints organization secretly wishes they had kept him for at least another one or two years. After seeing what C. J. Spiller did last Sunday night and his big-play potential in the Saints offense, maybe the hand-wringing over Sproles' departure is finally going to subside. On the other hand, I think that the Saints and their fans feel like they let Jenkins go at the right time. True, the seven-year pro has been very productive in Philadelphia, but New Orleans felt that Kenny Vaccaro's great rookie year in 2013 was enough to make Jenkins expendable. And although Vaccaro hasn't been an all-world safety, he certainly hasn't been worse than what Jenkins was during his time in New Orleans.

  1. What's going on with Drew Bees? He's coming off a good performance against Dallas, but he still ranks 19th in passer rating and 19th in yards per attempt. Are New Orleans fans confident in the 36-year-old right now?

Brees' issues so far this season have been what every quarterback sees in his worst nightmares: bad offensive line play and even worse play by the wide receivers. Couple that with a shoulder injury in week two and you have the rankings that Brees has through three games (since he didn't play in week three at Carolina).

Allow me to be more specific: If the Eagles watch film (and they do) you'll see them repeatedly going after Saints right tackle Zach Strief when they rush on the edge, and after left guard Tim Lelito when they're trying to pressure Brees over the middle. While Strief hasn't been completely abysmal (+0.2 grade by PFF, 27th out of 73 tackles with a minimum of 102 snaps) Lelito has been pretty bad: -3.9 grade, 52nd out of 79 guards. Add to that the fact that right guard Jahri Evans has been hurt and you have a recipe for a lot of pressure on Brees and the weekly mediocrity of the Saints' offense.

On the outside, the absence of Jimmy Graham has been felt...bitterly. The funny thing is that, although he's on a great team in Seattle, I often wonder whether Graham is also wondering why the heck he's not catching passes from Drew Brees instead of attempting (and failing) to block for Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. Brandin Cooks, who came with all the offseason hype has been a disappointment. Four games in and Cooks is still looking for his first touchdown of the season. On the other side, Marques Colston, the Saints' former number one wide receiver is old and has a severe case of the drops this year. So Brees has had to rely on guys like Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman to catch the ball. I won't be offended if you have to Google them.

  1. The Saints defense ranked No. 31 overall by Football Outsiders last year. So far this year, Rob Ryan's unit is dead last at No. 32. Why has this unit struggled so much?

Youth...and injuries, and more youth! I know how this sounds, like a whole lot of excuses, but hear me out: last year, the Saints' defense was bad and I'm being nice. So during the offseason, New Orleans decided to get rid of dead weight and go young. What they didn't expect was for the few veterans that they kept to all get hurt. Jairus Byrd, Keenan Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe all played for the first time this season last Sunday. Playing regularly and starting on defense have been players like linebacker Stephone Anthony, linebacker/defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, defensive ends Bobby Richardson and Tyeler Davison, cornerbacks Damian Swann and Delvin Breaux. All of these guys are either rookies or are making their NFL debut (in the case of Breaux). With such inexperience, you expect a lot of growing pains and that's exactly what has been happening to the Saints defense.

Interestingly however, the Saints front office and the fanbase believe that the future is bright for the Saints' defense. All these young players have actually shown a lot of promise and being forced into action early, either by design or because of injuries is only going to make them better in the long run.

  1. Can you name one matchup that really favors the Eagles and one that really favors the Saints?

Eagles' Rush Defense over Saints' Rush Offense: The Eagles' offense has been one of the most disappointing units in the NFL, and because of Chip Kelly's background as a coach, that's all people are focusing on. What most people (apart from Eagles fans I'm sure) don't know is that the Eagles have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Football Outsiders has Philadelphia's defense ranked fifth in the entire league, and they're particularly stout against the run (tied for second in the NFL with Jets with a -31.2% DVOA rating). The Saints on the other hand are only 15th rushing the ball in the league, with a not-so-great -2.4% DVOA). This is a matchup that completely favors the Eagles in my opinion, one where they can make the Saints one-dimensional and force Brees to use his sore shoulder over and over, which might lead to mistakes by Brees and the Saints' offense.

Saints' Pass Offense over Eagles' Pass Defense: Well, I just finished saying that the Eagles rush defense would most likely succeed in forcing Brees to pass and pass again right? And yet, if there's anything that the Saints do well offensively, even with a diminished Drew Brees, it's passing the damn ball. Despite the Eagles' pass defense being ranked 10th by Football Outsiders, Philadelphia cornerbacks haven't been very good this season, most notably last season's big acquisition from Seattle, Byron Maxwell, who Pro Football Focus rates as the 98th cornerback out of 104 players with a minimum of 85 snaps (-5.7 grade). One thing is certain, if there is a weakness in the Eagles' secondary and New Orleans' offensive line can give Brees any semblance of time in the pocket, Brees will find and exploit said weakness. I give the edge to the Saints in that matchup.

  1. Who wins this game and why? Score prediction?

The homer in me wants to see this as a Saints win, especially after the way the team rebounded last Sunday night and beat the Cowboys in overtime after being completely deflated by missing a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds of regulation. But I haven't seen anything from this Saints team that instills enough confidence in me to pick them on the road against a hungry Eagles team. What I see happening is Sam Bradford having plenty time in the pocket to completely dissect and carve the Saints' secondary as if Thanksgiving had come early. Because of Brees, New Orleans will keep it relatively close, but in the end I think Philadelphia takes this one 31-24.