Good morning, Eagles fans! The long wait is almost over. Divisional weekend starts tomorrow as the Eagles take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. Head coach Doug Pederson has his final press conference before the game today at 10:30 a.m. and practice begins just before noon. Don't forget, the Comcast Center becomes the Eagles Headquarters today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a playoff pep rally. Here's what you need to know in today's Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft leading off with the key for defensive success on Sunday.
1. Get To Brees
When the Eagles faced Drew Brees and the Saints earlier this season, the future Hall of Fame quarterback was barely touched and never sacked. The time in the pocket, and his ability to release the ball quickly, allowed him to complete 22 of 30 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns. Brees had a passer rating of 153.2 and averaged 12.1 yards per pass attempt.
Giving Brees time in the pocket is the Saints' go-to strategy for success. The Eagles on the defensive front know they have to get to Brees quickly if they want any hope of slowing down an offense that averages more than 30 points per game at home. Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro writes that it won't be easy but it's the key to victory:
"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."
2. Austin MVPs
Most fans know by now that Drew Brees and Nick Foles went to the same high school in Austin, Texas. It's a remarkable story now made even more historic. Sunday will be the first time two former Super Bowl MVPs from the same high school face off in the NFL playoffs and all of the Westlake High School community will be tuned in.
Steve Ramsey, a former member of Foles' offensive coaching staff and current Westlake principal, shared memories of the two star quarterbacks and talked about the significance of this game for the students that look up to two legends:
"I think it's just fantastic to see both of them still performing at that level," Ramsey said. "It confirms for our community that if you do things right in high school, good things will happen to you.
"Here's someone they (the students) can relate to, who walked the same halls, parked in the same parking lot, went to the same area for lunch, had the same teachers. That just resonates with our kids that, if you really put in the time and effort, and are really passionate about something, then good things will follow you."
3. Eagle Eye: Sunday Won't Be A Brees
The Saints' offense, which was humming at an historic pace when the Eagles came to New Orleans last time, has slowed down in recent weeks. Some think it's a sign of the Saints regressing and coming back to Earth. Fran Duffy begs to differ.
In his recent Eagle Eye column, Fran Duffy shows that the New Orleans offense is just as dangerous now as it was in Week 11. Although there were a couple tough games down the stretch, the Saints still have the necessary weapons to exploit the defense's holes and score quickly. The Eagles will have to rely on their pass rush and hope to disrupt Brees as much as possible in order to slow down a dynamic unit:
Head coach Sean Payton, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, and quarterback Drew Brees do a great job with their gameplanning and execution of attacking voids in coverage. The Eagles are a big Cover 3 team, but they play all forms of zone. They will need to mix things up and break some tendencies in this game to keep Brees on his toes. If he correctly predicts what you're running and they have a play dialed up to beat it, that will lead to big plays on the back end.
4. Marching In For A Different Result
The question that has been asked of players and pondered by fans all week is simple: Why should we believe that this week's Eagles-Saints matchup will be different than the 48-7 drubbing in Week 11? The Eagles will have to play a totally different game in order to win this week and seem poised to with a different look and feel to this team. Our writers give their take on why this game will be different and address other Eagles-Saints questions ahead of the big game:
Dave Spadaro: New Eagles team, much more at stake, and the fact that it's not always so cut and dried and decisive the second time around. Look, nobody is saying the Eagles were close back on November 18. It was a lopsided loss. New Orleans dominated the day and, honestly, could have had a lot more points than 48 had they chosen to really keep the pedal down in the previous meeting. More than anything, the Eagles are playing with a lot of confidence now, they've finally gotten some consistency going, and they know how to win in the postseason.
5. Scouting Report: Payton's Former Players
This week's matchup will be personal for a few Eagles. Safety Malcolm Jenkins had a difficult time accepting the loss during the regular season and his anger boiled over at times. But his respect for Saints head coach, his former head coach, Sean Payton never changed. Running back Darren Sproles was injured the last time the Eagles faced his former team and running back Boston Scott was on the Saints' practice squad when these two teams last met. Payton offered a scouting report of how his former players can hurt his current team on Sunday:
Payton on RB Darren Sproles: "He's one of the smartest players that we've ever coached here. What I mean by that is rarely on the field, does he ever do something that surprises the quarterback. He's got a great feel for the passing game. He's got very good instincts as a runner and I think his preparation – you might have a walkthrough but it isn't really a walkthrough for Darren. Just how he approaches each day, I think it's rare. He's had an amazing career. Again, he was fantastic for us."
6. Silence Is Key
The Eagles dealt with a loud crowd in Chicago. They felt the noise the last time they were in New Orleans. But Sunday will be a completely different experience.
The main reason for Brees and Payton's 5-0 record at home in the playoffs is the talent of their teams. However, their home field advantage is significant. The crowd is the Superdome will be at a totally different level when the Eagles come marching in on Sunday and the offense will have to prepare.
All week, the Eagles have practiced indoors with blaring noise. And on Sunday, they will need to utilize the silent count again to get plays communicated and make sure the offense is on the same page. Dave Spadaro spoke with the offensive players that use it the most and broke down how the Eagles make the silent count work in the toughest environments:
"On the road, getting off on the snap count is more important than anything. I'm always trying to get it just right," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "People say to me, 'Lane, it looks like you're jumping the count.' I'm not, but if it looks like I am, then I'm beating the guy across from me off the ball. He's looking in and trying to anticipate the snap count. That's something defensive ends always do. They want to beat me off the ball. That's a huge advantage. It's my job to make the first step and gain position."
Take a look at the best photos from Eagles practice heading into the Divisional Round matchup against the Saints.
7. The Unseen MVPs
Practice squad linebacker Joe Ostman has made front-page headlines in the past week for the work he's done to prepare the offense for some of the NFL's best pass rushers. And that is warranted. Teammates and coaches agree he's one of the hardest workers in the building and will one day make his mark on an active roster.
But Ostman himself said he's not the only one who makes a mark on the practice squad. The 10-man crew is filled with grinders who do their best in practice every day to help out the Eagles on Sunday. While Ostman has emulated Khalil Mack and J.J. Watt, tight end Will Tye was Trey Burton, wide receiver Dorren Miller was DeAndre Hopkins, and wide receiver Braxton Miller was Cam Newton. The practice squad guys have some great stories to tell and their work ethic is proven in the results each week:
"In practice, I work hard and when I see Rasul (Douglas) go out there on Sunday and get a pick or (Malcolm) Jenkins go out and make a big play, it's like they've seen that before because we did what we were supposed to do in practice," Miller said. "So, that's a good feeling. That's what it's about."
8. Where Are They Now? Mike Bartrum
Former Eagles tight end and long snapper Mike Bartrum was one of the most reliable and under-the-radar Eagles of the Andy Reid era. After playing under then tight ends coach Reid in Green Bay in 1995, he chose Philadelphia as a free agent and enjoyed the best years of his career. In 2005, he was selected to the Pro Bowl and flown out by Pro Bowl kicker David Akers. Bartrum is now the head football coach at his former high school and took time to reflect on his years with the Eagles.
Take a look at the best photos featuring the defense from the Eagles' win over the Bears.
9. Injury Report
The Eagles' injury report went unchanged yesterday from Wednesday. See the full details here.
10. Reserve/Future Contracts
The Eagles have begun signing players for next year's 90-man roster through reserve/future contracts. See the full running list of future Eagles and a bit about them here.