The stakes are clear for all: The 3-4 Eagles need a win to reach the midway point of this season in position to make a legitimate run in the NFC East. It's all about positioning at this point, and the Eagles want to position themselves out of a three-game losing streak, away from a season-long offensive malaise and into a stretch run to make the 2012 campaign memorable.
To do so, the Eagles must play a complete game. Todd Bowles' defense has to contend with quarterback Drew Brees, who has a talented group even without running back and key receiver Darren Sproles? How will Bowles scheme against Brees? How will the Eagles get pressure on Brees, a quarterback who rarely works his way into pressure. Sacks are hard to come back against Brees, the master of the quick drop and fast release. He works the pocket brilliantly and throws the ball accurately.
Bowles is emphasizing coverage with his defensive backs, and he wants them to concentrate on their man, their technique and playing the ball in the air. Brees is going to throw the ball 45 times tonight; that's just the way the Saints run this offense. The running game has struggled, which makes me think New Orleans will do something out of the ordinary and look to establish the ground game.
My belief is that Nate Allen will play tonight, barring any setback. He's in New Orleans and has prepared to play. The Saints have to make sure Brees doesn't go up top and put this defense on its heels.
Covering tight end Jimmy Graham is a difficult challenge, and the Eagles could very well bracket him and try to minimize his impact. He's a game-breaking player, and the deep threat for the offense.
Otherwise, Brees tries to break down a defense with timing throws and pinpoint accuracy. He's one of the best. The Eagles have to be sound in their assignments and they have to tackle much better than they did against Atlanta last Sunday.
It would help the defense if the offense came out hot. The early-game scoring has been a huge problem all season. What can the Eagles do to come out like gangbusters tonight? Will they play with urgency and great efficiency? Michael Vick vows to be sudden in his decisions and that means, what, exactly? Does he run more than he has this season? How do the Eagles expose the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL?
Look, it's been an extraordinarily long week. A lot is going on with this football team. There was the poor game against Atlanta, then Hurricane Sandy, which disrupted the routine and then a players-only meeting and above all of that a lot of talk about Vick and whether or not he was still the starting quarterback and doubters saying some really nasty things about this football team.
So this is the chance for the team to prove that it is better than it has shown so far this season, and that 2012 is far from over. The task at hand is not an easy one, not at all. The Saints have their own hurdles, but there is no denying the talent on that football team, led by Brees and the offense.
It is true that the Eagles need to "put up" tonight. They need a win. They need to be as urgent about this game as we all feel about the 60 minutes ahead.
A season doesn't necessarily come down to a win over the Saints, but it's a huge, huge game and a chance for the Eagles to get to 4-4 and head into the second half of the season with a smidgen of momentum.
Big game, guys. The time is now for the Eagles to show up and play 60 minutes of good football.