The New Orleans Saints enter this Sunday's road contest at the 3-8-1 Philadelphia Eagles with a 10-2 record and looking to record their tenth consecutive victory. New Orleans has taken control of first place in the NFC South and the top spot in the conference with a dominant effort on both sides of the ball. They own the league's top-ranked defense and complement that with an offense that ranks 12th averaging 371 yards and 28.9 points per game.
We’re used to seeing a prolific offense from coach Sean Payton's Saints, but the team has pulled it off despite several injuries to their receiving corps early in the year and the absence of quarterback Drew Brees for the last three games. Brees will miss his fourth straight contest today with a serious rib injury and will again be replaced by Taysom Hill at quarterback. The team's passing attack has dipped to 21st in the league since Hill has taken over, averaging 231 yards per outing on the year, but Hill has made plays as a passer. He’s shown surprising composure in the pocket and has completed 71% of his throws for an average of 181 yards through the air in his three starts with 2 touchdowns and an interception.
New Orleans takes on a Philadelphia defense that has given up 25.6 points per game and ranks 13th in total yardage, allowing 347 yards per outing. The Eagles have the league's 7th best percentage on 3rd downs defensively, but just 23rd in the red zone and have forced only 11 turnovers, third fewest in the NFL. Philadelphia's defense ranks 7th in pass defense, surrendering an average of 217 yards per game. They've allowed opposing quarterbacks a 67% completion rate and have intercepted only 3 passes, second worst in the league.
The Eagles don't blitz a lot, among the fewest in the NFL, but they don't have to. Philadelphia has 38 sacks this season, second in the league. Most of those come from their formidable front line. Defensive end Brandon Graham leads the team with 7 sacks and 23 QB pressures. Fourth-year DE Derek Barnett is an outstanding complement to Graham and has 5.5 takedowns and 14 pressures. Josh Sweat and Vinny Curry supply adequate depth along the edge and have a combined six sacks and 15 QB hits.
Philadelphia DT Fletcher Cox is one of the league's most respected defensive players. A five-time Pro Bowler, Cox has 5.5 sacks and 19 pressures this season and can single-handedly wreck an offensive line. Veterans Javon Hargrave and Malik Jackson, who’ve combined for five sacks and 16 QB hits, and form a lethal trio of interior pressure.
Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay is one of the league's better cover corners but has been a disappointment his first season in Philadelphia. Slay has yet to record an interception and has surrendered a 74.4% completion rate and 3 touchdowns when targeted. Fellow corner Avonte Maddox has allowed a 67% completion rate when targeted and also does not have an interception. Former Ram CB Nickell Robey-Coleman has been targeted with an 80.6% success rate.
The Eagles have a pair of athletic safeties in Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod who have two of the team’s three interceptions on the year. Mills, a converted cornerback, also shares slot coverage duties with Robey-Coleman. Second-year LB Alex Singleton has been outstanding in coverage, although the defense will be without injured LB T.J. Edwards.
Taysom Hill has an array of talented weapons to attack the Philadelphia defense. Michael Thomas looks back to his All-Pro form after missing five of the first six games with injuries. Thomas has surpassed the 100-Yd barrier twice in the last three games and hauling in 22 of his 29 targets in those three contests. Veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders has been a terrific complement to Thomas and is second on the team with 41 receptions for 456 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Saints should get All-Pro kick returner Deonte Harris back on the field after a two-game absence. Harris has been a bigger part of the offense in his second season and has 20 receptions for 186 yards and a score. Third-year wideout Tre'Quan Smith, who has 30 catches for 363 yards and 4 scores, has finally become a consistent target. The Saints would like better consistency from Pro Bowl TE Jared Cook, who has been their best downfield threat. Cook has only 25 receptions for 313 yards, but has a team-high 5 touchdowns and 12.5 yards per catch.
All-purpose running back Alvin Kamara leads the Saints with 70 receptions for 655 yards, best among all NFL running backs. Kamara has been used sparingly as a receiver since Hill took over at quarterback, getting targeted just six times in the last three games. They may use him more in that capacity this week against a Philadelphia defense that has struggled with backs in the open field.
The Saints have allowed just 21 sacks to their quarterbacks this season. Left tackle Terron Armstead returns to the lineup after missing the last two games while on the Reserve-Covid list. He and RT Ryan Ramczyk have shut down some of the NFL's best edge rushers and face another test in Graham and Barnett. Second-year center Erik McCoy is an outstanding technician as a pass blocker in the middle. He has expert recognition of stunts and will help on double-teams with guards Andrus Peat, Nick Easton, and Cesar Ruiz to set up a strong interior pocket. They have a crucial matchup against Fletcher Cox and the Eagle defensive tackles to allow Hill the time to go through his progressions.
Taysom Hill has surprised several experts with his pocket presence and accuracy, but now takes on the best pass defense he’s faced yet. Now that Thomas is healthy he’s again a huge part of the offense, but the team must get Hill and the multi-talented Kamara on the same page. The Saints look to have an enormous advantage against the Eagles with their rushing game, but will have to make plays through the air to win this road matchup.