Malcolm Jenkins has a laundry list of reasons why he's excited for Sunday's battle in New Orleans against the Saints.
First and foremost, it's the next game on the docket as the Eagles look to bounce back from Sunday's defeat to the Dallas Cowboys. Second, Jenkins acknowledges that the seasons is "kind of in the balance" with a 4-5 record, two games behind Washington in the division.
As usual, Jenkins puts the team first as Sunday will mark his return to the place where his NFL career started. A first-round pick of the Saints in 2009, Jenkins helped New Orleans win the Super Bowl as a rookie before joining Philadelphia as a free agent following the 2013 campaign. Jenkins has won a Super Bowl with the Eagles, earned Pro Bowl honors twice, and entrenched himself as a leader in the locker room and the community. He's quite simply one of the best safeties in Eagles history not named Brian Dawkins.
Jenkins has been the rock in the Eagles' secondary not just because of his play but, quite honestly, he's the one who has been available for every game. Jenkins' tag-team partner at safety, Rodney McLeod, is done for the year with a knee injury. Same goes for starting cornerback Ronald Darby. Cornerback Jalen Mills is likely out for Sunday's game with a foot injury. Sidney Jones was limited in practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury but the Eagles are optimistic that he can play. That means young players like Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Chandon Sullivan, and Tre Sullivan could see significant playing time against an offense that is threatening the NFL record book.
"It's an opportunity for young players to make a name for themselves, and what better week than against the No. 1 offense," Jenkins said.
Jenkins knows that the Saints will win their share of plays. The two keys are communication, to make sure that all of the young players are on the same page, and red zone defense. The Saints rank fifth in the league in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns as a rate of 72.7 percent. Jenkins stressed the need to generate takeaways, something that the Eagles have struggled to do with only seven on the year.
There will be a lot of pressure on the secondary. The Saints' offense is well-balanced with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram powering the rushing attack and MVP candidate Drew Brees guiding the passing game. Brees has been sacked a league-low nine times this season. According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Brees gets rid of the ball faster than any quarterback in the league, at an average of 2.57 seconds. Tackling and limiting the yards after the catch will be at a premium.
"At the end of the day, you have to go compete," Jenkins said.
Jenkins watched Brees up close and personal during his five seasons in New Orleans. He recalled the first time he watched Brees go through a routine where he throws a pass to a receiver then still goes through the rest of his reads even without the ball. Jenkins said that he's not surprised Brees is still thriving in his 18th NFL season because of his work ethic and attention to detail.
"Drew is still Drew. A guy that's an elite quarterback in this league, will be a Hall of Fame quarterback at some point whenever he decides to stop playing, and it doesn't seem like he's slowing down a bit. He's getting better as he gets older," Jenkins said.