2012 has not been a good year for
Monday night will be the perfect chance to get the Eagles back on track. One game can make a huge difference. Back in 2003, the Eagles offense was struggling. After seven games, Donovan McNabb had only three touchdown passes and hadn't thrown for even 200 yards in a single game. In Week 8, the Eagles went to play a struggling Falcons team. McNabb only threw for one touchdown, but had 312 yards in the game. The team had 430 yards and seemed to wake up. From that point on, the Eagles averaged 29 points per game. McNabb threw for 239 yards per game and had 12 touchdown passes.
So what happens to get an offense going? I think a lot of it is confidence. Think about baseball. You see a good hitter go on a 2-for-20 streak, then have one good game and he suddenly gets hot. The hitter will talk to you about moving his hands or adjusting his stance or something technical, but often that is just something he's convinced himself of. The truth is he just started swinging with confidence. Something clicked. Instead of hoping to hit the ball, he swung the bat with purpose and expected to make contact.
When you watch the Eagles offense right now, you see too much guessing and hoping. Think about 2010. The only question in regard to the Eagles offense was, "How much will they score?" Many of the players are the same. The playbook is for the most part the same. The coaches by and large are the same. Execution is the big difference.
If the Eagles offense can have some success against the Saints, it could make all the difference in the world. I can't promise you the offense will suddenly average 29 points a game, but the potential is there for the group to start playing up to the level that was expected at the beginning of the season. A little success can go a long way.
So what is wrong with the Saints defense? In a word, everything. I watched the two previous games (against Tampa Bay and Denver). The Saints gave up more than 500 yards in each game. The Bucs scored 28 points and the Broncos had 34. It was ugly.
The defensive line gets some pressure, but doesn't do it consistently. In both games, the line was getting moved off the ball on run plays. This was really a problem in Denver. The Saints decided to play a lot of nickel defense and didn't even dress their best run defender, our old friend Brodrick Bunkley. Without him to anchor the middle, the Broncos ran for 225 yards. The problem is that if the Saints go with a bigger defensive line, they won't get as much pressure. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has to decide who he fears more - LeSean MCoy or Vick. If McCoy, play the bigger line. If Vick, go small again.
My guess is that Spagnuolo will go with the bigger group to try and limit the Eagles' ground game. He'll then use situational rushers and blitzing to get pressure on Vick. Spagnuolo coached the Rams last year and faced Vick in the opener. Vick struggled (only going 14-of-32) and was sacked three times, twice by defensive backs. You can bet both the Saints and Eagles will study that tape to see what worked and what didn't.
The Saints' biggest problem is their secondary. They don't cover well. They don't tackle well. They blow some assignments. Other than that, they're great. The funny thing is that they have talented players. For some reason, the guys are all struggling. I was a big fan of free safety Malcolm Jenkins, but he seems to have regressed. Strong safety Roman Harper is a good run defender and very good blitzer, but he can struggle in coverage. Corner Patrick Robinson gets a lot of balls thrown his way. I've seen him burned on deep balls. I've seen him give up short completions that turned into big plays. Robinson is very talented, but isn't getting the job done. Veteran Jabari Greer is also struggling.
In the past, the Saints gave up yards and even points, but made big plays and that was good enough. This year, the takeaways aren't there. The team only has three interceptions and seven forced fumbles. The Saints are middle of the pack as a third-down defense. The big problem is big plays. Opposing quarterbacks average 9.1 yards per pass attempt. Last year, the worst figure in the league was 8.4 yards per attempt. A 9.1 average is ridiculous. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 110.6. Again, this stat is so bad it is hard for casual fans to appreciate.
Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid have to decide the best way to attack the Saints. Go deep? Throw short and hope to create big plays? Run the ball? I think the wise thing is to throw the ball downfield. That doesn't mean 50 yards on every attempt. Attack 15 to 20 yards downfield and see if you can get the ball to
I do think McCoy can have a big night. The Saints struggled with outside runs and cutback runs. Both are McCoy specialties. Teams average 170 yards on the ground against New Orleans. Runners average 5 yards per carry. The Falcons had a porous run defense, but the Eagles failed to exploit it. This time out it is imperative that McCoy gets going and delivers some big plays on the ground.
Reid and Mornhinweg can draw up the perfect gameplan, but it is up to the line to block well and the skill players to execute the plan correctly. If the Eagles can get the ground game going, that will open up play-action passes. The Saints defensive backs are very aggressive and can be burned.
The Eagles have struggled to score in the first quarter this season. It is imperative that they get on the board early and get some confidence going. Drew Brees and the Saints average 27 points per game. Their defense might be awful, but the offense is as potent as ever. The Eagles must score points if they hope to win this game. The Saints had a terrible showing in Denver, scoring only 14 points. You cannot expect them to play anything like that tonight.
Todd Bowles has a big challenge in front of him. The Eagles are coming off their worst defensive showing of the year and now must face Brees and his juggernaut attack. I don't think you can expect to stop them. The defense should try to make things as difficult as possible and hope for some big plays. Brees has eight interceptions this year. He's human. He is only completing 59.7 percent of his passes. Normally, he's closer to the 70 percent range. Last year, the Saints punter only had to kick the ball away 46 times in 16 games. This year he's already got 33 punts and the season isn't even at the halfway point. The Saints remain explosive, but not as efficient.
There is a big mystery aspect to this game. Darren Sproles has a hand injury and will miss the game. He's scored four touchdowns and has five plays of 20 or more yards this year. You don't replace a guy like that easily. Some think the Saints will mix rookie runner Travaris Cadet into the lineup more. Others think this will mean more touches for slot receiver Lance Moore. Either way, it removes an explosive element from the Saints attack.
The Eagles must get pressure up the middle.
I'm curious to see how the Eagles cover tight end Jimmy Graham. Bowles could use
The Eagles are 3-4. The rest of the NFC East lost on Sunday so a win for the Eagles would be huge. It would keep them close to the Giants and create separation from Dallas and Washington. I hope the Eagles come out and play aggressive football. This is now the biggest game of the year. You can't play safe. You can't play scared. The theme for Monday night should be to attack. Go get the Saints.