A New Orleans Saints team that’s lost two straight will try to get back on the winning track with a road trip to face the 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday. The 5-4 Saints are in second place in the NFC South, but have just a 4-3 conference record.
New Orleans has been plagued by injuries and inconsistencies on the offensive side this season. That’s put more pressure on their talented defense to win games. They rank 10th in total defense, surrendering an average of 338 yards and 19.8 points per game.
The Saints have had some breakdowns in their pass defense this year, leading to a ranking of just 26th in that category. However, they've remained one of the league's strongest units against the run over the last four seasons
New Orleans has allowed just two 100-yard rushers in their last 69 games and have held opponents to under 100 yards on the ground in 44 of the last 62 outings.
Only one opponent has gained over 200 yards rushing against the New Orleans in the last 93 contests. That opponent also broke a 55-game streak for the Saints without a 100-yard rusher with two players eclipsing the mark last year: The Philadelphia Eagles.
In a 24-21 loss at Philadelphia last December, the Eagles ravaged the Saints defense with 246 yards on the ground. It was the first time New Orleans had given up over 200 yards rushing since week three of the 2016 season and the most rushing yardage against them since December 14, 2014. Eagles RB Miles Sanders (115) and QB Jalen Hurts (106) both rushed for over 100 yards in the game.
Philadelphia comes into this contest with the league's 16th ranked offense. They've averaged 350 yards and 25.7 points per game. Hurts quarterbacks a passing attack that ranks just 27th, but also spearheads a running game that’s been on a rampage after a slow start.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE VS. EAGLES RUSHING ATTACK
New Orleans leads the league in rush defense again, allowing only 72.8 yards/game and 3.1 per carry. Only one opponent has gained over 100 yards on the ground against them this season.
A powerful defensive line has won battle at the point of attack to stymie opposing rushers. Defensive tackles Shy Tuttle and David Onyemata get great interior push and shut off inside rushing lanes.
Defensive ends Marcus Davenport, Cam Jordan, and Tanoh Kpassagnon are terrific pass rushers, but also extremely underrated against the run. They close off the edge and crash down on rushers to close off cutbacks.
The Saints are among the league leaders with 47 tackles for loss. Defensive Player of Year candidate LB Demario Davis has a team-high 10 stops for loss and leads the team in total tackles. Davis is a fierce run defender and one of the league's best all-around defensive players.
Complementing Davis at linebacker are athletic veteran Kwon Alexander, spectacular rookie Pete Werner, and a solid run-stopper in Kaden Elliss. Davis, Alexander, and Werner are terrific in traffic and have the athleticism to track down ball carriers before they turn the corner outside.
New Orleans has a defensive backfield that swarms to the run better than any in the NFL. Veteran SS Malcolm Jenkins, behind only Davis in tackles, is a physical defender and plays like an extra linebacker near the line of scrimmage.
Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Bradley Roby, P.J. Williams, and rookie Paulson Adebo are outstanding open field tacklers who are aggressive in run support.
The Saints have had problems against mobile quarterbacks, something that bears watching against Hurts and the Philadelphia attack.
Philadelphia Running Game
After a slow start to the year, the Eagles rank 3rd in rushing offense with an average of 144.3 yards/game and five yards/carry. Philadelphia has averaged nearly 209 yards on the ground in their last three games, eclipsing 200 yards twice.
Hurts leads the Eagles with 97 carries for 547 yards and five rushing touchdowns. He’s an explosive ball carrier when scrambling from pressure, but also has several designed runs and option plays every week.
Sanders, who has 300 yards rushing and gashed the Saints last season, is on injured reserve. Veteran RB Jordan Howard has 211 yards and 3 scores in the last three games since replacing Sanders. Howard is a hard-nosed runner between the tackles with excellent balance and vision.
Former Saint Boston Scott has been an underrated contributor for the Eagles in his three years with the team. Scott has 205 rushing yards and 3 scores, all in the last four weeks while sharing backfield duties with Howard.
Rookie RB Kenneth Gainwell has been a versatile weapon all around Philadelphia's offensive formation. Gainwell has 155 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, along with 20 receptions for 173 yards and another score.
The Eagles have an athletic offensive line that looks to create cutback lanes, rather than blow defenders off the ball. Rookie LG Landon Dickerson shows promise, while RT Lane Johnson and C Jason Kelce are among the league's best at their positions.
What to Watch
Jordan Howard is a solid inside runner, but Hurts, Scott, and Gainwell are athletic and slashing runners who attack outside the tackles. They are undersized, but expertly read blocks and explode through lanes.
The Saints must play with discipline in pursuit against the Eagles cutback scheme. They can't afford to miss any tackles, especially against the elusive Hurts.
New Orleans will be challenged by the Eagles athleticism in space. It’s a challenge they lost in last seasons matchup. The Saints defensive linemen need to tie up blockers and dominate the line of scrimmage.
Their ability to do that will allow linebackers Davis, Werner, Alexander, and S Jenkins open pursuit to the Philadelphia runners in open space.