The Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1) and the New Orleans Saints (10-2) are set to play this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. In order to preview this Week 14 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Canal Street Chronicles. The magnificent Madeleine Hudak kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at her answers. (Don’t forget to also check out my side of the exchange over at CSC.)
1 - What’s the confidence level in Taysom Hill as a full-time quarterback after getting to see his first three starts?
This question sincerely depends on who you ask; I am much higher on the Taysom train than most. The three Taysom Hill games have been a roller coaster, to say the least. His first start was pretty good against the Falcons. He played better than most expected, but he alarmingly under threw a few balls, didn’t throw any touchdowns, and fumbled, bringing up concerns about ball security. In the Denver game, as there was no opposing quarterback, Payton just turned him into a game manager.
Last week’s game was the most promising start by a landslide – up until 3:25 remaining in regulation. I would argue that the first three quarters were frankly sufficient, but I can’t ignore the increasing inability to protect the football. Prior to the fourth quarter, Hill looked poised and patient in the pocket, threw two passing touchdowns, got through his reads, and was surprisingly clutch on third downs; his play on third down stood out most to me. He was 11-of-13 for 114 yards and a passing touchdown on third down, and had five conversions of six yards or more. That’s the type of clutch play we see from Drew Brees on third downs, and we undoubtedly saw his mentorship in Hill in that game. He really needs to get the fumbling issue together though. I still think Payton would rather the fumbles than the interceptions, but it becomes indefensible at a certain stage. Personally, I think the whole “Brees successor” evaluation is causing Taysom to desperately try to make plays happen to a fault. That, and having the entire NFL think you’re a gadget player who is a C- quarterback at best. So, I think that factors into the fumbles more than we might think. It’s very teachable, but he’s going to have a hard time being seen as a future starter if he fumbles in our upcoming matchup.
I’m quietly rooting for him, and would love to see him get a chance at the role next season. People also forget how cheap his contract is; with the upcoming salary cap restrictions, that makes a Hill start that much more enticing.
2 - To what extent has re-signing Malcolm Jenkins helped the Saints? How’s he looking?
Massively, and for that, I thank you. I know how you guys feel; he was one of the Saints I was most upset we let get away. In the first few games of this season, the safety group was one of our biggest liabilities, mainly for their inability to cover tight ends, and a lot of that fell on Jenkins. I think their unit started to improve around the Chicago matchup, but they really achieved an elite playing level in the Bucs game; Malcolm Jenkins happened to be exquisite in that game covering Rob Gronkowski and tackling in space.
I think Jenkins’ best assets are in the intangibles. Mainly, his veteran leadership that’s shaped our safety group this season. I think you see his value not so much in his own play – though it’s been incredibly strong – but in the play of his counterparts, Marcus Williams and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Marcus Williams has been under fire for several years for his missed tackles – I don’t think I need to name the particularly infamous example. This season, as pointed out by one of our editors, Andrew Bell, he’s only missed two tackles this season through Week 12, and PFF had him at 4th out of 66 qualifying safeties in tackling efficiency. And C.J. Gardner-Johnson has just been a terror on blitz (and in the minds of opposing defenders, rent free apparently). Vonn Bell was a great safety, but the three younger players, together, were just too inconsistent. I think their improved play is highly attributed to Jenkins.
3 - What is the Saints’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
Honestly, and this doesn’t really answer the second component, New Orleans is unparalleled in their ability to discern the exact strengths and weaknesses of our opponents, and that they straight up thrive under adversity. The loss of your starting quarterback oftentimes derails teams; the Saints are 8-0 with backups under center. Payton flourishes when he has a challenge, and that just sets us apart.
In terms of matchup specifics, the obvious biggest strengths lie in our defensive performance. Namely, our pass rush and linebacker corp. The addition of Kwon Alexander mid-season was a massive, massive upgrade; it allowed Demario Davis to go off on an absolute tear, and his pass coverage abilities have opened up our safety corp. The mid-field coverage was of issue early season, but now they’re quite formidable and will certainly be looking to attack the lamb Doug Pederson has led to the slaughter, Jalen Hurts. I personally think Hurts fares much better against our defense than Wentz – he at least has a shot. But you have to consider what throwing him to the wolves in our No. 1 ranked defense has the potential to do, which is turn him into a deer in headlights, or just strengthen his propensity to tuck and run.
I think the pass rush will be all over the depleted offensive line in its 11th rotation of the season and just rattle Hurts in the pocket as much as possible. The quicker we get to him and he has to scramble, the less time his unseasoned rookie receiving corp has to separate from Marshon Lattimore and hopefully Janoris Jenkins. I think any hopes of an upset on your end come on the defensive side of the ball for you.
4 - What is the Saints’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
Taysom’s propensity to fumble; I’m truly not joking. Your run defense, from my knowledge, isn’t entirely sound, and as I just outlined above, I’m not sure you’ll have that much success against our elite defense. That leaves attacking our offense, or channeling Sean Payton and winning this game through special teams. Your best bet is to collapse the pocket – I’d recommend a particular avenue against Andrus Peat – and try to knock the ball from Hill. Just as we need to rattle Hurts to account for his mobility, the same applies on your end.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Saints season?
No offense, but this game 99% goes to the Saints. I’ve learned my lesson, historically, to never say a game is a sure thing. That said, you guys have had a QB controversy plague the team all season, have lost an innumerable number of starters to injury, and are putting your rookie quarterback in for a test drive with so-so receivers, against a terrifying front seven.
I’ll go 34-14, Saints. Hurts was able to find success on some scramble drills against the Packers, but I just can’t see him having a particularly productive outing in this matchup at least.
The Saints, with the way they’ve played, and their ninth consecutive win, are in Super Bowl or Bust mode to me. Anything less than an NFC championship run by New Orleans would be a pretty big disappointment. It’s Drew’s last year for a ring most likely, our defense is playing lights out, and we’ve gone 3-0 with a backup quarterback everyone thought was a gadget player. Hoping to get two for Drew.