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Spadaro: Defense needs to be 'on the scent' against Saints

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

Every game is a learning experience and win or lose, there's no time to dwell on what happened in the last game. You have to learn from the good and bad and then quickly shift your preparations to the upcoming game. That's the case with Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who knows the team has to bounce back from Saturday's loss at Dallas to play inhospitable host to New Orleans on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

New Orleans deploys some of its offensive weapons in a variety of ways – specifically dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara and jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill – so the Eagles are preparing for that right now. What's the Saints' biggest threat on Sunday?

"Versatility," Gannon said. "They have some weapons that they deploy people different ways, and you have to be on with Taysom, Kamara, the quarterback (Andy Dalton) is playing pretty good. They have a lot of versatility, and they use a lot of different tools at their disposal to put stress on a defense. We have to get lined up. We have to know where to put our eyes, and we have to execute at a high level. That's like any game you have to do that, but with these guys, they try to kind of get you off the scent, so to speak, so we have to be on it."

The Eagles were, um, "on the scent" in a lot of ways on Saturday against Dallas. They recorded six quarterback sacks to push their NFL-best total to 61 for the season. They had a takeaway that defensive end Josh Sweat turned into a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown. They limited a high-powered running game to 115 yards on 31 carries, a 3.7-yard-per-carry average.

But the Eagles also allowed Dallas to convert 8 of 15 third downs and a fourth down and that has Gannon looking to grow from the experience.

"Anytime you give up explosive passes and situationally conversions on 3rd down like we did, it always falls on me to coach that a little bit better and put our guys in better spots," he said on Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "Then for our guys to know exactly where their eyes have to be, what technique, what calls they have to make pre-snap and post-snap, and just function at a little bit better level to do what we've been doing and really playing good pass defense in known pass (situations). It was a good learning experience for us."

New Orleans is 6-9, still alive for the postseason and winners of two straight games. The Saints have employed a ball-control, run-heavy offense that relies a lot on Kamara – who has 717 rushing yards and 480 receiving yards for a total of 1,197 yards from scrimmage on 239 touches this season – and maybe even more on Hill because he lines up at so many spots – quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver.

Hill's numbers are all over the place this season – he has 505 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns on 77 carries, he has 2 touchdowns on 7 receptions, and as a quarterback Hill has completed 11 of 17 passes for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Eagles need to be aware of Hill at all times. Gannon's defense did a good job against New Orleans last season – the Saints scored 22 points in the fourth quarter after the Eagles worked up a huge lead in a 40-29 victory – but Hill was injured.

This week, he's a focus of the defensive approach.

"It's different because he didn't play against us I think last year," Gannon said. "He plays a lot of positions; we were just talking about it. He plays quarterback, tight end, receiver, running back. He does it all ... when he's playing certain spots, we have to know that, 'Hey, this is what they like to do with him.' This is why he's a matchup issue for defenses if you allow it to be, and we have to have a good plan for him when they deploy him in different ways. It makes this offense hard to defend because of how they use certain players that they have at their disposal. We have a big-time challenge, and we have to be on it."

Onward and upward for the Eagles, who know that a win on Sunday clinches the NFC East and the No. 1 seed, a bye week, and home-field advantage in the NFC postseason. A lot is riding on this game, and the defense is ready to learn from the plays that didn't go its way at Dallas and move forward in Week 17 of this 2022 regular season.

Take an exclusive look at moments from Saturday's game in Dallas through team photographer Kiel Leggere's lens.

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