Philadelphia Eagles vs. New Orleans Saints: ITB Scouting Report
The Eagles (3-8-1) will host the Saints (10-2) on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Saints enter Week 14 riding the wave of a nine-game win streak – the last three of which have come with quarterback Taysom Hill leading the offense. The NFC powerhouse boasts a lethal blend of elite-level offensive components and a swarming, tenacious defense.
All eyes will be fixated on the Eagles’ offense, which made a highly scrutinized switch at the quarterback position this week. It will be rookie Jalen Hurts’ turn to navigate the offense, as many wait to see if a lifeless unit can be revitalized with a different signal-caller commanding the offense.
Eagles Offense vs. Saints Defense
Eagles LT Jordan Mailata vs. Saints DE Trey Hendrickson: Perhaps the game’s most critical matchup will be between Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson and Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata, who has been remarkably steady in his seven starts and continues to improve. Hendrickson presents game-wrecking potential. The fourth-year edge rusher has enjoyed a breakout season, with10.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Hendrickson is an aggressive, albeit technically savvy, edge rusher who boasts an explosive burst, vast array of moves, and active hands. He often lives on the other side of the line of scrimmage, so a brighter spotlight will be placed on Mailata this week.
Eagles RB Miles Sanders vs. Saints LBs: Anytime a young quarterback is anointed a starter, the game plan almost always includes a heavier emphasis on the ground game to alleviate pressure and slow the game down. While the Saints feature a stingy group against the run, the Eagles must make a concerted effort to utilize Sanders in the screen game, often an extension of the running game. This tactic not only provides Hurts with easy completions, it capitalizes on Sanders’ ability to create in space.
Eagles Defense vs. Saints Offense
DE Derek Barnett vs. Saints LT James Hurst/Terron Armstead: Armstead was removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, but it remains to be seen if he will be ready to play a starter’s share of the snaps on Sunday. Should Armstead undertake a depth role in his return, the 28-year-old Hurst would log his second consecutive start. Regardless, Barnett, and Josh Sweat, must generate pressure off the edge because right tackle Ryan Ramczyk is among the best in the business at handling his weekly assignment. In turn, Brandon Graham may not be as active as usual, so it could be up to his cohorts to rattle Taysom Hill and flush him out of the pocket.
Eagles LBs vs. Saints QB Taysom Hill: Hill has averaged 181 passing yards and 59 rushing yards per contest in his three starts. Mobile quarterbacks have presented challenges for the Eagles’ defense this season, an aggressive unit which can often be victimized by misdirection and exploited in space. They must rekindle a once-formidable run defense and force an erratic Hill to win from the pocket.
The Saints feature my favorite all-purpose return specialist in the NFL in the electrifying Deonte Harris.
Harris, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2019 out of Assumption College, has been a field-flipping weapon for the Saints since returning a punt for a touchdown and recording a gaudy 26.8 kick return average as a rookie.
This season, the 5-foot-6, 170-pound wide receiver/return specialist has seen his role increase on offense, starting two of the nine contests in which he was available. However, Harris has averaged 27.3 yards per kick return this season (5th in the NFL) on 16 opportunities.
Harris possesses terrific short-area quickness, lateral agility, and game-breaking speed but has been a limited participant in practice due to a neck injury. If Harris can’t go, running back Alvin Kamara or wide receiver Marquez Callaway would likely fill the void.
Brandon Graham will appear in his 156th career regular-season game, surpassing Trent Cole (155, 2005-14) for the most games played by a defensive lineman in franchise history.
Fletcher Cox (53.5) is 1.0 sack shy of tying Hugh Douglas (54.5, 1998-2002, ’04) for the fifth-most sacks in team history.
Since Week 10, Javon Hargrave has registered 15 tackles (2.0 for loss), 1.5 sacks, and 8 combined QB pressures and hits.
Television (FOX): Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Pam Oliver (sideline)
Eagles WR Greg Ward: Last week, Ward reeled in a brilliant 32-yard touch pass for a score on 4th-and-18 from Hurts. The timing between the Texas natives will be something to watch moving forward, especially this week, especially as Saints No. 3 cornerback Patrick Robinson has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and may be unavailable. Whenever a new quarterback is inserted, they tend to establish -- and lean on -- safety valves when under duress. In less than a half of football, Ward has proven he can serve as that outlet for Hurts.
Saints LB Demario Davis: The rangy Davis has compiled 85 tackles (10 for loss) and four sacks through 12 games and serves as the team’s defensive signal-caller. Whether Davis is playing near the line of scrimmage or roaming in space, the 31-year-old is typically good for multiple impact plays each week, but perhaps the most underrated aspect of his game is his football intellect. Davis’ innate ability to rapidly diagnose plays could spell trouble for a bumbling offense with a rookie signal-caller at the controls.
Taysom Hill has been dropped for a sack eight times over his three starts. While that’s more of a product of Hill failing to facilitate the ball in a timely fashion rather than sheer protection blunders, there will be opportunities to take advantage of his indecisiveness.
The Saints feature a prolific pair of bookend tackles, but it remains unclear whether or not Armstead will return at full strength this week on the heels of coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list. His backup, James Hurst, could very well be pressed into duty once again, which presents a favorable matchup for defensive ends Barnett and Sweat.
Second-year center Erik McCoy is playing at an elite level, but it would be along the interior if there were an area to exploit. Left guard Andrus Peat and right guard Nick Easton have struggled, which bodes well for Fletcher Cox and the ascending Javon Hargrave.
The key will be balancing an aggressive pursuit with a more disciplined, reactionary approach. Over-pursuit will create running lanes and part the Red Sea for Hill.
On paper, this should be a convincing victory for the Saints. They have a superior team and momentum on their side. The return of beloved former Eagle Malcolm Jenkins to Lincoln Financial Field should also serve as added motivation against an otherwise irrelevant conference opponent.
That said, energy is contagious, and the Eagles undoubtedly played with a greater sense of urgency when Jalen Hurts was inserted into the lineup. Sure, the rookie will have his blatant misfires and commit turnovers, but Hurts’ poise, knack for keeping his eyes downfield, and ability to extend plays with his legs should make for an entertaining afternoon of football.
I believe this game will be a step in the right direction toward resurrecting a stagnant offense. Still, an inexperienced Eagles’ offense meets a buzzsaw in the fast-flowing, veteran-laden Saints’ defense.
Saints 24, Eagles 17
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com. For another comprehensive breakdown of Eagles-Saints, listen to the Inside The Birds podcast with Adam Caplan and Geoff Mosher: