New Orleans may not make the playoffs this year, especially since the Saints are three games behind Carolina and Atlanta in the suddenly strong NFC South, but if they do somehow sneak into the postseason, Drew Brees’s 80-yard TD pass to C.J. Spiller in overtime that gave the Saints a 26-20 win over Dallas could well be seen as a turning point. After struggling in its first three games, New Orleans will try to continue its climb back to contention in Philadelphia when it takes on the reeling Eagles.
Not much has gone right for the Birds this season, and last Sunday’s loss at Washington was a perfect example of the team’s problems. Philadelphia struggled to run the ball — again — and was slammed in the time-of-possession department. Even though QB Sam Bradford showed some life, the team’s offense remains at sea, and thanks to its considerable workload (the unit was on the field for 41:08 against Washington), the defense faltered at the end, allowing a 90-yard game-winning TD drive.
New Orleans at Philadelphia
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
Point Spread: Eagles -5
Three Things to Watch
1. On the Run
The Eagles are ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing, and it’s hard to imagine they aren’t dead last. Thirty-two of the team’s 89 ground attempts have resulted in no gain or negative yards, and 47 have gained two or fewer yards. Despite a star-studded backfield that includes DeMarco Murray (29 rushes, 47 yards), Ryan Mathews (33 for 132) and Darren Sproles (21 for 80), the Eagles have floundered on the ground, thanks to shaky offensive line play and a scheme that has been well defended. The Saints aren’t getting a whole lot from their backs either. Main man Mark Ingram is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, a big reason New Orleans is just 28th in the league on the ground.
2. Make Plays
When confronted by the media Monday afternoon about the team’s 1-3 start, Eagles coach Chip Kelly repeatedly said that his team had to “make plays” in order to correct its problems. He didn’t mention that fatigue from overwork could have caused the defense to make mistakes. He didn’t want to say that the NFL has caught up to his college offense. Nope, if people just “make plays,” the Eagles will be fine.
“So it's a matter of making one more play than your opponent,” Kelly said. “We had a touchdown called back because we lined up wrong. That's the difference in a football game. We missed an extra point. We missed a field goal; that's the difference in a football game. We get a completion on third down, we allow a completion on the third down; that's the difference in the football game. It's just one play here or there and it's a different story when we are standing here today.”
3. (Not So) Easy Pickings
It’s bad enough that the Saints are 24th in the NFL in yards allowed, but what may be worse is that New Orleans isn’t creating the turnovers necessary to give its offense some help. The Saints have gone four games without intercepting a pass, something that must change if they want to make a run at the postseason. There’s a chance to register some picks against Sam Bradford, who has been inconsistent this year. If the Saints can’t start forcing more turnovers, they are going to have a tough road the rest of the season.
Both teams need this game a lot, but the Saints have a more desperate situation than the Eagles. Atlanta and Carolina have raced to 4-0 starts, and should New Orleans fall to 1-4, it’s as good as eliminated from division title consideration. To beat Philadelphia, the Saints’ ground attack must get rolling, and it has to force some turnovers on defense, the better to set up some easier scoring opportunities.
As for Philadelphia, the key is to execute better and create a tempo that allows the offense to find a rhythm that has been absent for most of the year. The Eagles are at a crossroads and must prove that the rest of the league hasn’t figured out their schemes. If they can find a way to “make plays,” the Eagles can get rolling.
Prediction: Eagles 23, Saints 21
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.