Here's the equation the Eagles' defense must solve on Sunday in New Orleans: How do you put quarterback Drew Brees on the ground when the veteran is the master of the quick release and the in-the-pocket avoidance of defensive pressure?
"It's not easy at all," defensive end Chris Long said. "Drew feels pressure and he knows where it's coming from. He has a different sense. He has that quick release. It's very hard to get to him."
And yet, the Eagles must reach Brees or else they could pay some painful consequences, as they've already experienced this season. When the Eagles lost to New Orleans on November 18, Brees was barely touched, wasn't sacked a single time, and completed 22 of 30 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns. Brees compiled a near-perfect 153.2 passer rating that afternoon, tied for his highest of the season. He averaged a whopping 12.1 yards per pass attempt, his second-highest total of the season.
As he did for most of the Saints' 13-3 regular season, Brees had his way with the defense.
The challenge, then, is to turn the tables on Sunday afternoon.
"You don't see him get hit a lot," All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "He does a good job. He's one of those quarterbacks who knows where to go with the ball before the ball is even snapped, so we need to do a good job of staying in our rush lanes and doing what we've been doing, rushing the quarterback."
There are other ways to disrupt Brees. He's only 6-feet tall, so getting up into his face helps. Brees is 39 years old, so he's not going to run away from defenders. But these are drawbacks that critics have talked about with Brees for years, and he's had answers. Someday, Brees will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There is no question about that.
The Eagles are only worried about Sunday and how they can take him off his superstar game.
"Put pressure up in his face, around him, that's any quarterback," Cox said. "Quarterbacks don't like people around them when they're throwing the ball. It messes up their timing. The biggest challenge for us is their O-line against our D-line."
Brees has been sacked just 17 times in his 15 games played, so he knows how to step around the pressure. He isn't going to be flustered by any blitz packages – although the Eagles rarely bring extra pass rushers, instead relying on their front four to generate pressure – and Brees is one of the most accurate throwers in the history of the game. He's completed a career-best 74.4 percent of his passes this season.
"A lot has changed since we played them the first time," Cox said. "We've got some guys back that didn't play the first time. We're playing our best ball of the season. We're excited to play in this game. We know it's a tough task, but that's the playoffs. That's what it's all about. We know they're a really good team and that they don't turn the football over, but we're making this game about us. Everything counts. We have to play our best game to win."