The New Orleans Saints will present a big challenge offensively. In my column previewing the Eagles' defense, I explain how there may be one specific path that the Eagles can attack Drew Brees. I do think, however, it's important to note that this New Orleans defense is pretty talented as well. I broke down this scheme and the personnel pretty in-depth a few weeks ago, so check that out. I'll follow up on that with a couple of thoughts here.
With this defense, it starts up front. Sheldon Rankins is an extremely talented defensive tackle, displaying the quickness, power, and effort to consistently make plays on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage and impact the quarterback. Rankins is one of the best tackles in the NFL, and he will often line up on the same side as Cam Jordan, the left defensive end. Jordan is a big-bodied edge rusher with a high motor, impressive closing burst, and the ability to win with speed off the edge and technique. Those two guys are the two best football players on defense, in my opinion, and they're tough to block. What's also impressive is how well they play off each other as pass rushers.
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Rankins spent a lot of time at defensive end last year. That's why I wasn't all that surprised to see the team trade up in the first round to select the talented but raw defensive end Marcus Davenport in the 2018 NFL Draft. Davenport, who missed the game the last time these two teams met, is big, athletic, and powerful. His highlights this year have been extremely impressive. Having Davenport (and Alex Okafor) allow Rankins to play at his more natural position of defensive tackle more often. This relegates David Onyemata to more of a backup role as the first man off the bench. It creates a really deep, talented defensive line.
When you look at this New Orleans pressure scheme, you have to take into account the fact that they play a lot of aggressive, press man coverage. The Saints' corners want to come up and disrupt at the line of scrimmage, ruining the timing of passing plays between the quarterback and his receivers. This will be something I fully expect to see from New Orleans in this game with how the Eagles play with Nick Foles under center.
With man coverage, you also often see what is referred to as a Green Dog Blitz. What's a Green Dog? A lot of coaches refer to some kinds of blitzes as "dogs." Some are referred to as "cats" as well, hence the nickname "corner cat" for a cornerback blitz. With that in mind, here's the strategy of a Green Dog Blitz. When a linebacker or a safety is in man coverage against a running back or a tight end, and they're up close to the line of scrimmage, the defender can be given permission to "read" the opponent. If their assignment in man coverage doesn't release out into space to catch a pass, and instead stays in to block, then the defender can take off after the quarterback. They are essentially, given the "green light," which is where the term "Green Dog" comes from.
The Saints utilize the Green Dog Blitz often, with linebackers and safeties inserting themselves into the pressure. Greg Cosell broke it down this week on Eagles Game Plan.
There's not really a way to block up a Green Dog Blitz, because the goal of it is to bring one more rusher than you're able to defend. It will be very important for the Eagles' receivers to get off press coverage in this game, and the Eagles will have to have their "man beaters" ready to attack New Orleans' press man coverage concepts. Second-year cornerback Marshon Lattimore gets a ton of love, and rightfully so. He's one of the most gifted corners in football, but the team traded for another former first-round pick in Eli Apple midway through the season.
They have started to put a lot on Apple's plate, as he has been matched up on big receivers outside the numbers throughout the second half of the year. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Saints have Apple cover Alshon Jeffery along with Lattimore because of the faith they've shown in the young cover man. Can the Eagles make them pay for that? That will be something to watch early in this game.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.