Putting Nick Foles on the ground is hard.
The Washington Redskins sacked him three times a couple of weeks ago, but other than that, defensive linemen have had trouble getting their hands on him. Some good ones have tried and failed, including Los Angeles’ Aaron Donald, Houston’s J.J. Watt and Chicago’s Khalil Mack.
To get after a quarterback who isn’t holding the ball long enough to get anywhere is hard. Donald had 2.1 seconds to get after Foles, Watt was afforded 2.3 seconds and Mack faced the same issue as Donald. It is hard to generate pressure, let alone pick up a sack, against a guy throwing the ball so quickly.
“It’s fast, for sure. He’s really keyed in on what his first read is, and if he’s open or not,” Saints defensive tackle Tyeler Davison said. “More times than not, he believes he can fit that in even if he isn’t open. There’s that, he gets that ball out quick, and if that first guy isn’t there, he is going to move on to the next read or check it down real quick.”
How Foles’ quick trigger impacts defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s game plan will be interesting to see. The Saints have played in some other games, Baltimore being one, where they used more guys in coverage at various points throughout the game instead of making a significant effort to create pressure against teams that favor shorter routes.
New Orleans should pick its spots and be smart when dialing up blitzes. If the Eagles are running a lot of shorter routes and giving Foles the option of getting the ball out quickly, then the Saints need time for their pressures to work.
While it might just be the result of a small sample, it is worth noting that Foles has thrown 41 passes to the right side of the field against 20 the left side since taking back over as the starter. There could be a tendency to exploit.
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NICKLE AND DIMED
The Eagles might roll out the same package they used to slow down Bears running back Tarik Cohen in the passing game last week.
The team showed a lot of dime looks and put an extra safety on the field while Malcolm Jenkins stuck with the running back. Jenkins also covered Alvin Kamara during the first game and did a good job right up until he got beat for a long touchdown during the second half.
It will be a surprise if someone other than Jenkins is the primary man on Kamara. Using this dime look in some situations would help limit some of the advantages New Orleans had in the passing game against the Eagles during the first meeting.
An extra defensive back could allow the defense to pay some extra attention to Michael Thomas while covering some of the vulnerabilities that existed against the other players. But Brees was 44 of 63 for 573 yards against dime looks this season.
The other concern for Philadelphia: Having extra defensive backs on the field means linebackers come off, which could leave Philadelphia susceptible to running plays.
NEW PLAN OR OLD PLAN
The Saints were surprised with how the Eagles approached them on defense during the November meeting, which the Saints won 48-7.
New Orleans watched endless amounts of video ahead of that Week 11 game, dating to last season’s Super Bowl, and was prepared to face a lot of zone coverages. Instead, the Eagles came out playing man. The Saints quickly adjusted.
“They probably did the most different thing when we went against them Week 11 when they doubled me and Alvin,” Thomas said. “They tried to take us away. Whatever they do, we have answers. We’ve executed it.”
It seems unfathomable that the Eagles would use the same plan that surrendered 48 points. They’ll have to pick their poison on whom to double this week, and if there are times when they try to take both guys away on a play, they certainly can’t blitz on 33 percent of the plays like last time.
The Saints need to be ready for both outcomes. If the Eagles play man and don’t put another defensive back on the field while using Jenkins on Kamara, there should be plenty of opportunities for the other players to take advantage of one-on-one coverage.
Tre'Quan Smith certainly did that last time by catching 10 passes for 157 yards, and Ted Ginn Jr. will be ready to take advantage this time.
TEST THE CORNERS
The Philadelphia secondary is much like it was here a few years ago when multiple players were battling injuries, and the team was starting players like B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore.
And much like Webb and Moore, the guys the Eagles are using are doing a serviceable job, and sometimes even playing well. But that doesn’t mean Brees can't take advantage of them.
The best one of the bunch has been Avonte Maddox, who has played some solid games, but he has a ways to go before being a guy who shows promise. Still, he’ll be the toughest matchup of the lot.
New Orleans needs to do a heat check early on Rasul Douglas. According to Sports Info Solutions, since Week 11, he has allowed seven receptions for 201 yards on passes traveling 15 or more yards. If the Saints want to create some big plays, his direction might be the way to look.
These guys might be up for the test. The group is playing better than it was the first time Philadelphia was here and dropped an injured Sidney Jones on the field for the first half, but New Orleans needs to find out what the Eagles are capable of and exploit any weaknesses.
PLAY THE HITS
New Orleans could have a significant advantage with its running backs this week.
As Pro Football Focus recently pointed out, only the Falcons allowed more than the 108 receptions the Eagles surrendered to running backs. Now, Jenkins did do a good job against Kamara during the first game, save for one play, and Ingram did not have a catch, but that should likely change this week.
The other thing to know is that the Eagles allowed 3.19 yards per carry after initial contact, which is the second-worst mark in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. New Orleans exploited this during the last game, running for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.
The Saints will almost certainly look to set the same tone this week. The Eagles have some vulnerabilities on defense, and if New Orleans is in sync, it should have the weapons to take advantage.