The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 6 seed) and New Orleans Saints (No. 1 seed) are set to play on Sunday at the Superdome. In order to preview this Divisional Round matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Canal Street Chronicles. The candid Chris Dunnells (@dunnellz) took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at his answers.
1 - The Saints only averaged 20.25 points scored in the last four games they tried to win (so, not counting Week 17) and Drew Brees finished December with a 88.2 passer rating. What went into those offensive “struggles” and is there a concern they could linger?
It was a string of two things that contributed to the Saints issues late in the season. For one, three of those four games were on the road, and the one home game (against the Steelers), the Saints scored 31. There is no secret that the Saints play better at home, especially on offense, which is one of the reasons the #1 seed in the NFC was so important for the Saints.
The other issue was offensive line health. Terron Armstead had a torn pectoral muscle. His backup, Jermon Bushrod, had a hamstring injury. Ryan Ramczyk has had a lingering shoulder injury. Andrus Peat and Larry Warford have been banged up. Missing Armstead, Bushrod, and being forced to keep Ramczyk, Peat, and Warford in the game, forced the Saints to not run on the left side of the offensive line and led to increased pressure on Drew Brees.
Armstead returned to action Week 16, only to aggravate his pec. Peat looked to severely injure his hand in Week 17. Bushrod’s injury looks to potentially be career-ending. I’m glad the Saints offense will be back at home, but the concerns of the health on the offensive line is definitely worrisome.
2 - Heading into Week 11, you said: “I think this game is going to be a lost closer than talking heads would predict. I’m personally terrified of this matchup.” Then the Eagles lost, 48-7. What’s the confidence level of Saints heading into this game?
The Saints, Saints fans, or me? I can’t speak for the Saints team, but general consensus from Saints fans seems to be a 50/50 mix of confidence and terror. There are some who say, “We beat those guys once, we can do it again.” There are others who say, “We beat those guys once, but I think another game could just easily go the other way, and it might be more likely the Saints lose now if the Eagles come in with a chip on their shoulder.”
Personally, I’m closer to the latter, but more on that in a second...
3 - It feels like the Saints have given the Eagles some bulletin board material for this matchup. Alvin Kamara said in the offseason the Saints would’ve “beaten the s***” out of the Eagles in last year’s playoffs. Then the Saints ran up the score on Philly. Then Kamara and Mark Ingram referred to the Eagles as “fraudulents” regarding the ski mask gimmick. Is there any concern this could all come back to bite New Orleans?
I firmly believe one of the reasons the Philadelphia Eagles were able to go on a magical run last season was the underdog mentality that was able to be preached in the locker room. It absolutely terrifies me that the Eagles, who didn’t need any more motivation after Carson Wentz went down with injury again, have just been given that much more fuel to their fire.
But hey, if you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. I’m not mad at the Saints for talking smack, but they will have to realize the scrutiny they will get and the crow they will have to eat if they can’t back it up.
4 - If you had to game plan against the Saints’ defense, how would you attack them?
Abandon the run. Accept the fact that you’re not going to be able to do it and use short passes and screens as a default run game. The Saints have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, and it’s far from a fluke.
The Steelers had success going five wide and spreading out the Saints defense. Put Alshon, Agholor, Tate, Ertz, and Goedert/Sproles all out as receivers at the same time. Use quick passes and precision routes to move the ball down the field. Use the passing game to help open up holes in the running game, instead of the traditional method that involves doing it the other way around.
You can ignore whoever is lined up against Marshon Lattimore. This isn’t just because Lattimore is some world-beater or something, but because Eli Apple can be a liability on the other side.
So in short: use lots of short, quick passes; attack Eli Apple; spread the ball around; and use the passing game to set up the run. That’s how I would do it.
5 - If you had to game plan against the Saints’ offense, how would you try to stop them?
Double Michael Thomas for starters. Use bracket coverage with your best corner and safety help over the top. If the Saints are going to beat you over the top, make it be by way of Ted Ginn Jr or one of the Saints many UDFA wide receivers and not their best player. Find your speediest linebacker and have him follow Alvin Kamara around the formation. Granted, Philadelphia doesn’t have the young and speedy linebacking corps of the Cowboys, but this was the formula that allowed Dallas so much success against the Saints.
In the trenches, blitz early and often, and make it a point to disguise exotic blitzes to target any potential backup offensive lineman on the Saints. Keep Brees uncomfortable in the pocket and maybe you can get Brees to force throws Thomas or Kamara’s way, when the coverage would dictate otherwise.
6 - What’s your prediction for Sunday’s game
I think it would be oddly poetic for the Saints to win on a last second field goal as time expires. Let’s say 34-32 Saints, with the Saints winning on the leg of Wil Lutz after the Eagles unsuccessfully go for a two-point conversion with under a minute to go.