The New Orleans Saints' offense is as complete as any in the NFL, featuring Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, a double-threat tandem in the backfield with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and a slew of dangerous pass-catching threats. As Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz puts his game plan together, he knows one thing: He can't do the same thing on every snap of the football and think it will work against the experience of Brees and the variety of the Saints' playmakers.
Schwartz, then, plans to provide some variety of his own on Sunday as the Eagles hope to slow down an offense that averages 34 points per game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"I think you have to mix it up," Schwartz said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "You have to tackle well. There are some things that you can't defend every single pass. If you do, you're going to give up too many plays down the field. I think there are some that you just have to tackle. There are others that you have to pick and choose your times to be aggressive. I don't know that this is a game that you can just stick with one thing and stay with it over the course of the game. He's seen just about everything known to mankind. He has good playmakers at all the different positions. So there's picking and choosing times. There are sometimes where you have to play zone and sometimes you have to play man.
"Bottom line is you have to defend, tackle, and you have to keep the mistakes down."
Just the basics, then, but performed to as close to perfect as you can have in an NFL game. That's how good the Saints' offense is at home, as the Eagles know very well after experiencing the season's low point in the November 18 48-7 loss to the Saints, a game in which Brees threw four touchdown passes and the Saints rolled up more than 500 total net yards of offense.
"It also shows you how one play here and there, the tide can turn really quickly in this league and provide that urgency," Schwartz said. "When it's all said and done, neither team is going to start this game with a lead and neither team is going to start with an advantage because of something that happened. It seems like another season ago, at least to us. Each game is going to start out new and we're going to have to play good for 60 minutes in this game, not make up for anything that happened eight weeks ago, and not get down about anything that happened."
The Eagles are a different defense from then. The remodeled secondary has held up well and largely improved week over week. Jordan Hicks, injured late in that loss, is healthy now at middle linebacker. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is playing his best football. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is healthy after missing much of the season. The pass rush has been great.
Statistically, the Eagles are getting off the field on third down and they have the NFL's best red zone defense, the latest example holding Chicago to zero touchdowns in three trips inside the Philadelphia 20-yard line on Sunday.
At the end of the day, though, Schwartz knows it's a tough assignment against Brees, a future Hall of Famer, in a hostile environment in New Orleans.
"You can probably start with Brees. All places are tough to play in," Schwartz said. "It's playoff time. Not only do the players know what time it is, the fans know what time it is. Every place is going to be difficult to play, but also has a lot to do with the quarterbacks that you play and we have a lot of respect for him and we're going to have to play our very best."