The Advocate’s Gameday preview: Saints at Eagles _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Saints coach Sean Payton

The basics

Saints at Eagles

When: Noon Sunday

Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3

TV: Fox

Favorite: Eagles by 51/2

Over/under: 491/2

Top storyline: Saints must adjust as Eagles try to speed things up

The Philadelphia Eagles don’t like to waste time. When they have the ball, they like to push the pace, wear out the defense and run the most plays they can. If teams try to match the pace or get caught in a sprint, it typically plays into Philadelphia’s hands.

The Saints know that, heading into Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field, they’ll have to take measures to protect their defense. That might mean eating some clock and leaning on the run to make sure the defense has time to recover, but the Saints said they won’t change too much.

The biggest alteration is that the scout team operated at a frenetic pace to get the defense used to it. And the coaching staff has taken measures to speed up substitutions so the Saints don’t get caught with too many men on the field.

“You’re conscious of understanding the speed at which they operate can be problematic for defenses,” Drew Brees said. “When we have the ball on offense, we want to try and possess it and give our defense a rest. We want to wear them down a little bit, and that’s kind of the back and forth with a team anyway, but especially when you’re going up against a Philadelphia team that operates so quickly.”

The issue the Eagles have faced this year is that their offense hasn’t been effective. After averaging 70.7 plays per game in 2014, most in the NFL, the Eagles are averaging 60.2, which places them 28th.

One of the main reasons behind that is Philadelphia has converted only 13 of 49 third downs — 26.5 percent, which ranks 31st in the NFL. If the offense is unable to sustain drives, the frenetic pace only means the offense is racing toward punting the ball, which will make New Orleans’ job that much easier.

Three and out

1. Peat’s time We’re about to find out what Andrus Peat is made of. The 13th pick in the draft, Peat is expected to start in place of left tackle Terron Armstead, who has been ruled out with a knee injury. Peat has been limited to jumbo packages and a few snaps in place of Armstead during last week’s win against the Cowboys.

2. Cornerback shuffle It remains to be seen whether Keenan Lewis will take on a bigger role after being limited to 18 snaps last week. If he does play in the base defense, New Orleans needs to figure out whether Delvin Breaux or Brandon Browner will start on the outside. Safety Jairus Byrd is expected to take on a bigger role as well.

3. Penalty reduction The one thing holding this defense back is the number of penalties it has drawn. The Saints have committed 33 penalties for 307 yards. That’s well behind the Buffalo Bills, who lead the league with 47 flags, but it’s more than the Saints are happy with. They were certainly an issue against the Cowboys and extended drives.

4. Brees’ arm Drew Brees said earlier this week that he doesn’t view his injured shoulder as an issue and asked to be taken off the injury report. That’s a step in the right direction, but his shoulder is still going to be viewed as an issue until he proves it isn’t. One way of doing that is by connecting on some passes down the field.

Know your opponent

Eagles RB DeMarco Murray

The Eagles have to eventually start leaning on Murray, right? This is the same guy who shredded the Saints for 149 yards last year with the Cowboys and finished the season with 1,845 yards.

It doesn’t make sense for the Eagles to leave him on the shelf, even if he only has 29 carries for 47 yards right now. Chip Kelly is too smart of a coach to let a weapon like that rot on the bench for long.

Eagles LB Brandon Graham

The Eagles feature a fairly strong front seven, and Graham has been one of the most active pass rushers in the group so far.

According to Pro Football Focus, even though he has only picked up one sack, Graham has recorded 13 pressures and three quarterback hits. Without Terron Armstead, the New Orleans offensive line will have to find a way to contain Graham.

Eagles WR Jordan Matthews

Matthews has been one of the better slot receivers in the NFL this season, and he leads the league with 280 yards out of the slot.

If Keenan Lewis returns to full action, it’s possible the Saints could move Delvin Breaux inside to pair up with Matthews. If the Saints choose to use Brandon Browner in specific situations again in sub-packages, then Damian Swann will be called upon to slow Matthews.

Injury report

Saints

OUT: P Thomas Morstead (right quadriceps), T Terron Armstead (knee) QUESTIONABLE: DE Bobby Richardson (hip), G Jahri Evans (knee)

PROBABLE: S Jairus Byrd (knee), CB Keenan Lewis (hip), WR Marques Colston (not injury related), DT Kevin Williams (not injury related), WR Brandin Cooks (ankle), G Tim Lelito (back)

The Saints will lean on rookie Andrus Peat to fill in at left tackle for Armstead. Peat has logged 29 snaps this season, standing in mostly in jumbo packages as the third tight end. He logged a few snaps last week at left tackle after Armstead initially suffered his injury. A natural left tackle, he spent most of the summer playing on the right side. Brandon Fields, who was signed earlier this week, will fill in for Morstead at punter.

Eagles

OUT: LB Kiko Alonso (knee), DE Brandon Bair (groin), LB Mychal Kendricks (hamstring)

PROBABLE: G Allen Barbe (groin), DE Taylor Hart (shoulder), S Chris Maragos (quadriceps), DE Cedric Thornton (hand), T Lane Johnson (knee), CB Bryon Maxwell (quadriceps), T Jason Peters (quadriceps)

Predictions

Nick Underhill: Saints 28, Eagles 21

The Eagles offense is a mess, and the Saints are starting to get some pieces back. The release of Kenny Phillips makes it appear Jairus Byrd will be the full-time free safety. If Keenan Lewis is capable of playing more than 18 snaps this week, the New Orleans defense should be in position to take advantage of Philadelphia’s struggles.

Joel A. Erickson: Saints 27, Eagles 20

An inability to protect Drew Brees has been the Saints’ biggest offensive weakness, but the Eagles, who have just seven sacks, seem Ill-equipped to take advantage. More importantly, New Orleans has hit on the solution to the problem by completing high-percentage passes quickly. Chip Kelly’s offense, bluntly, is a mess right now, and the Saints defense should make enough plays to win.

Scott Rabalais: Saints 24, Eagles 20

This is a tough pick, but it’s time to play a hunch. Both teams have struggled, but the Saints may be able to parlay their win over the Cowboys into some momentum now that they’ve regained some key pieces on both sides of the ball. The Eagles by comparison are a mess, and their surly fans could easily turn on them. It’s a thin thread, but the Saints may be onto something positive.