Date & Time: December 13th – 4:25 P.M.
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Lincoln Financial Field
- Philadelphia: T.J. Edwards (OUT), Rudy Ford (OUT), Michael Jacquet (OUT), Jason Peters (OUT), Grayland Arnold (Questionable)
- New Orleans: Malcom Brown (OUT), Patrick Robinson (OUT), Deonte Harris (Questionable)
The number 1 seed in the NFC comes to town Sunday afternoon, as the 10-2 New Orleans Saints take on the 3-8-1 Eagles. Carson Wentz has been benched. Jalen Hurts will make his first career start, and against what may be the NFL’s most complete team, it won’t be an easy task. The Philadelphia Eagles lead the all-time series 17-15 with the Saints taking the last 2 meetings, both of which were in New Orleans.
Eagles Matchup Overview
The Philadelphia offense will be commanded by a new voice this week. Jalen Hurts will make his first career start after the Eagles benched Carson Wentz midway through the 3rd quarter against the Green Bay Packers last week. Hurts brings dual threat ability to an Eagles offense that has desperately lacked any semblance of explosiveness. Against the Packers, Hurts presence seemed to spark the offense somewhat. Hurts displayed calmness and confidence as a passer in the 2nd half against Green Bay. He was able to navigate the pocket when he felt pressure and he passed for 109 yards, a touchdown and an interception (on a tipped pass). Playing behind a subpar offensive line and facing a Saints defense that ranks 5th in QB pressures per dropback, Hurts ability to break the pocket and gain positive yardage on the ground will be critical to the success of the offense. Against New Orleans, who’s defense allows the 2nd lowest completion percentage in the league, the task will be much harder for the Oklahoma product.
One of the main ways to ease a rookie quarterback into his first game is by leaning on the run. Even with a QB that has struggled for most of the year, this is something Doug Pederson has refused to do. Miles Sanders is 5th in the league in yards per carry, but 28th in attempts. The Eagles don’t run the ball nearly enough and against a New Orleans rushing defense that ranks number 2 in the league, this matchup may not yield a lot of success on the ground, but the key is to stick with the running game.
With the offensive line, Jason Peters was ruled out for the season on Friday. Nate Herbig will take his spot at right guard. Elsewhere, Jordan Mialata will have a tough matchup in Saints 4th-year defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who is currently enjoying a breakout 10.5 sack year. Hendrickson is an aggressive pass rusher who has registered 2 sacks in a game on 2 separate occasions this season. Mialata will have his hands full all afternoon.
For the Eagles pass catchers, this game will hinge on matchups and Doug Pederson’s deployment of his pass catchers. An area of exploitation against a Saints passing defense that is ranked 4th against the pass will be in the slot, where New Orleans will be without starting nickel corner (and former Philadelphia Eagle), Patrick Robinson. Safety P.J. Williams filled in for Robinson last week and he’ll likely do the same this week. On 28 targets, Williams has allowed 18 catches for a whopping 17.9 yards per completion. Williams has also allowed a 103.6 passer rating when targeted. In this game, the Eagles will have to get creative with how they attack this Saints passing defense that has allowed the 6th lowest passer rating in the league (85.6). Whether it’s Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham (YES), or Jalen Reagor getting the lion share of snaps from the slot, the opportunities for exploitation may be avaliable.
Saints Matchup Overview
Offensively, the Saints are led by Taysom Hill, who is making his 4th consecutive start. For Hill, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind in his first 3 starts. He’s 3-0 but has faced the 30th ranked passing offense twice and a team with a wide receiver playing QB. He’s turned the ball over 6 times in his three starts and has also been sacked 8 times in three starts. Statistics show that outside of a 43.2 passer rating against the Broncos, who possess the 9th ranked passing defense, Hill has done enough for the Saints to win. He’s completed 71.6% of his passes for 629 yards and 2 touchdowns and an interception. Hill also threw a career high 37 passes last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Against Philadelphia, New Orleans will likely have a gameplan similar to the one utilized against Denver, as the Eagles boast the NFL’s 7th ranked pass defense and the 7th highest QB pressure rate in the league. Hill’s mobility will come in handy against a team that has struggled defending mobile QBs all season.
The matchup everyone will be watching will likely be Eagles cornerback, Darius Slay vs. Saints wide receiver, Michael Thomas. Thomas feasted on Atlanta cornerback, A.J. Terrell in both matchups in which Hill was the starter. However, against Darius Slay the task will be taller. Sure, Slay has had 2 back to back bad weeks, but this is a matchup that Slay can rebound on. For 2 main reasons, 1) Taysom Hill is playing QB, not Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers and 2) Slay’s skillet matches up well with Thomas’. Another matchup to watch will be Saints WR Tre’Quan Smith – Eagles CB Avonte Maddox.
The Saints rushing attack has been absolutely lethal. They are 7th in yards, 1st in touchdowns scored, and 7th in yards per game. Alvin Kamara has 143 rushing attempts for 673 yards and 70 catches for 655 yards. The guy is a flat out monster with the ball in his hands. The Eagles unusually mediocre rushing defense (24th in the league) will have its hands full.
Overall for New Orleans, this game will come down to its ability to run the ball against the Philadelphia defense.
For Doug Pederson, his football team is struggling, mightily I might add. His team is 3-8-1, yet they are STILL in the hunt for a possible division title. The Eagles have made the decision to make a change at QB. Throwing the rookie QB straight into the fire against the NFL’s number 1 defense. It is absolutely dire that Pederson helps his young QB by allowing him to use his legs to his advantage, moving the pocket, and leaning on the run (even if it doesn’t yield success early on). Pederson is coaching for his job (as reported by several outlets), and making a change at QB sort of gives him a bit of a last ditch effort for the final 4 weeks of the season. If he can display the ability to coach up a rookie QB, who’s seen limited in-game action, and have that rookie play at a high level in an offense that has struggled most of the year it would likely buy him at least another year, in my opinion. However, that all begins this Sunday.
For Jim Schwartz, there shouldn’t be any snarky pre-game comments made to opposing wide receivers this time around. Schwartz’s number one corner has struggled in the last two weeks and if he begins to again this week, Schwartz has to put help over the top and switch from a predominantly cover 0 based passing defense to more of a cover 2 look. He has to both put his players in position to succeed and help his players succeed.
The Philadelphia Eagles have not played good football at all this season. Almost every game has been a task for both the offense and defense. It has not been easy on any level. On the other hand, the New Orleans Saints are winners of 9 straight games. They are the leagues number 1 ranked defense and possess a dynamic running back who’s been elite on the ground and as a pass catcher. They have it all together. However, there’s something about the element of the unknown that keeps popping into my head with this game. Jalen Hurts is making his first career start. As stated, Hurts is a legitimate dual threat QB. He passed for 3,851 yards and rushed for 1,298 yards during his senior season at Oklahoma. This season, New Orleans has not played a QB that possesses the rushing ability that Hurts does. Of their last 10 games, 6 have been decided by a touchdown or less. Also, in their last 6 games, quarterbacks they’ve faced are: Nick Foles, Tom Brady, Nick Mullens, (WR-turned-QB for a week) Kendall Hinton, and Matt Ryan twice. These are all QBs who aren’t really threats to run (except Hinton). Hurts has an attribute that they haven’t really had to defend this season. Sure, you can say, “they practice against Hill every week,” but practicing against and playing against in real live game action are two different things.
In all, because of the element of the unknown and the small sample size seen of what Hurts can do and how he brought a bit of a spark in limited time last week, I’m taking the Eagles to (somehow, someway) do what seems impossible.
Bold Prediction: Jalen Reagor catches a TD and returns a punt for a TD
Pick: Saints 23, Eagles 31