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Inside Week 11: Saints Passing Attack vs. Eagles Pass Defense

It looks like another shorthanded week for the New Orleans offense as they travel to Philadelphia.  Will the Saints aerial attack be able to move the ball against a disruptive Eagles pass rush?
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The New Orleans Saints have lost two straight games to fall to 5-4. They're still in second place in the NFC South, just one game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the Saints face a must-win situation this weekend when they travel to play the 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles.

New Orleans has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness on offense all season. The Saints have scored 24.7 points per game, but rank just 26th in total offense with an average of 321 yards/game. They've been more effective with their running game, thanks to the talents of backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.

Coach Sean Payton's passing attack, typically one of the league's best, has had by far the lowest production in his 16-year tenure with the franchise.

All-Pro WR Michael Thomas will not play a down this year thanks to offseason ankle surgery, leaving the team with a receiving corps short on talent and experience. QB Jameis Winston will be out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

The Saints take on an Eagles defense that ranks 14th in the league, giving up 350 yards and 23 points per outing. Philadelphia has played much better after a rocky start to the year. However, they still rank in the league's bottom third in turnovers forced, third down percentage, and red-zone defense.

SAINTS PASSING ATTACK VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE

New Orleans Passing Game

New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) attempts a pass against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) attempts a pass against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With QB Jameis Winston out for the season with a knee injury, the Saints have turned to journeyman QB Trevor Siemian the last two games. Siemian has played well, but has been plagued by the same drops, poor routes, and protection breakdowns that hampered Winston.

The Saints sit at 31st in the league with an average of 202 yards per game through the air. Siemian, who has completed 57.7% of his attempts, is averaging over 273 yards in his two starts. In both outings the Saints were facing large second half deficits, forcing them to throw more.

Neither quarterback has had the luxury of production from their receivers. It's been a group that has struggled with drops and consistent separation. Versatile RB Alvin Kamara leads the team in receptions, with 32 catches for 310 yards and 4 touchdowns. Kamara missed last week's loss at Tennessee with a knee injury that will also sideline him this Sunday. 

Veteran RB Mark Ingram isn't as explosive as Kamara, but has 11 catches for 107 yards in three games and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. Without the dangerous Kamara, the Saints receiving corps is even more limited.

Third-year WR Deonte Harris has been the most consistent weapon out of this group. Harris has 24 receptions for a team-high 407 yards and two scores despite missing a game. His blazing speed makes him a deadly deep threat, but he’s also shown underrated route precision underneath.

Second-year WR Marquez Callaway hasn't made the huge jump in production many projected after a strong training camp. Callaway has caught 24 passes for 346 yards and a team-best 5 touchdowns.

Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith (10) beats Eagles CB Avonte Maddox (22) during a 2018 game in New Orleans. Credit: USA TODAY 

Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith (10) beats Eagles CB Avonte Maddox (22) during a 2018 game in New Orleans. Credit: USA TODAY 

Fourth-year WR Tre'Quan Smith continues his inconsistent play. Smith has two scores in four games, but just 11 receptions for 141 yards. Fellow wideouts Kenny Stills, Kevin White, Ty Montgomery, and Lil'Jordan Humphrey have provided little production for the struggling passing attack.. they have a collective 13 catches for 183 yards.

The Saints tight ends have been an even bigger letdown than the wideouts. Starter Adam Trautman has been the biggest disappointment on the entire team. Trautman, who has 20 receptions for 183 yards, leads the team in dropped passes and has been an ineffective route runner.

Siemian and Winston have been sacked 17 times this year. The offensive line has provided much better protection in recent weeks after early season struggles. However, the unit has still had concerning breakdowns in crucial moments.

Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead will miss his second straight game with shoulder and knee injuries. James Hurst played well in place of Armstead, as did Calvin Throckmorton when stepping into Hurts’s left guard spot.

Even more concerning is a knee injury to Pro Bowl RT Ryan Ramczyk that will sideline him this week. With Ramczyk and Armstead both out Sunday, the Saints will have to press untested rookie sixth-round pick Landon Young into duty.

C Erik McCoy has played at an elite level this year. Second-year RG Cesar Ruiz has had major struggles, however, especially in pass protection. The entire interior line must be better at cutting down rushers. Siemian has a low release that leaves him susceptible to deflected passes.

Philadelphia Pass Defense

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) is pressured by Philadelphia Eagles nose tackle Javon Hargrave (93). Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) is pressured by Philadelphia Eagles nose tackle Javon Hargrave (93). Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles rank 13th against the pass, allowing an average of 233 yards/game. While their run defense has improved since the beginning of the year, they've given up over 295 yards passing in three of the last five contests.

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Opposing quarterbacks have feasted on soft coverage by the Eagles secondary, completing an eye-popping 74% of their attempts. Veteran CB Darius Slay is the most accomplished of their defensive backs. Slay has a team-high 2 of the Eagles 6 interceptions, but has allowed 68% completion percentage when targeted in man coverage.

Steven Nelson starts opposite Slay at corner. Nelson has good fundamentals, but is better in off-ball coverage than man. Avonte Maddox is their top option in the slot. All three corners sacrifice completions in front of them to avoid getting beat over the top.

Ball-hawking FS Anthony Harris was signed away from Minnesota as a free-agent this offseason. Harris, who had a league-best 6 interceptions in 2019, has just one pick and one pass broken up so far this season. K'Von Wallace, Rodney McLeod, and Marcus Epps round out a safety unit that’s difficult to beat with deep throws.

Philadelphia blitzes little, but possess a defensive line capable of dominating a game. The Eagles have just 18 sacks, but 49 QB hits this season. 16.5 of those sacks have come from the defensive line, with a team-high 6 takedowns from DT Javon Hargrave.

Perennial Pro Bowl DT Fletcher Cox (1 sack, 10 pressures) still has the ability to destroy double-team blocking. His disruption often leaves Hargrave, Hassan Ridgeway, and rookie DT Milton Williams with open interior opportunities.

Even without injured DE Brandon Graham, the Eagles have a group of ends able to create chaos on the edge. 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett has 2 sacks, but 17 pressures from one edge. Underrated DE Josh Sweat has 3.5 takedowns and 15 pressures from the other side. Quality depth is provided by veteran pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Tarron Jackson.

The Eagles linebackers are an undersized and under publicized group, but active all over the field. Versatile LB Alex Singleton leads the defense in tackles. Singleton, T.J. Edwards, and Genard Avery are all athletic in either man or zone responsibilities.

What to Watch

Saints' Taysom Hill (7) throws against the Eagles on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. © JOE LAMBERTI/USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Saints' Taysom Hill (7) throws against the Eagles on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. © JOE LAMBERTI/USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

These teams met last December in Philadelphia, resulting in a 24-21 Eagles victory. Taysom Hill started for an injured Drew Brees in that game, throwing for a career-high 291 yards while completing 28 of 38 passes, but was sacked five times.

Trevor Siemian will get the start this time around. Hill may not be available at all, thanks to a foot injury suffered against Tennessee last week. Siemian has proven that he can run the offense, but the Saints will have avoid the slow starts that plagued them in each of the last two games.

Look for New Orleans to establish a quick rhythm passing attack to take advantage of loose Philadelphia coverage. If the Eagles creep up to play man, Siemian has the ability to beat them over the top. However, his receivers have to show that they can consistently make plays.

It’s imperative for the offensive line, without both their elite tackles, to hold up against a physical Philadelphia pass rush. The Saints must also establish a running game to slow that rush, even if without Alvin Kamara.

New Orleans simply doesn't have enough offensive talent to overcome the penalties and mistakes in execution that have plagued them once getting across the 50-yard line. This is especially true with all the injuries on that side of the ball.

Look for the Saints to come out with a game plan heavy on short, quick passes to get Siemian into a rhythm; hopefully loosening up Philadelphia's front for their running game and a balanced attack. 

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