3TFO: Eagles @ Saints, Week 9
This week’s Monday night matchup may have been more appealing when the schedule was originally created, but there are still plenty of story lines surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is coming off yet another disastrous game, and his job may be on the line if he does not produce. The defense has struggled in recent weeks after an encouraging start and it looks like Philadelphia is in danger of putting itself into contention for the ‘most disappointing team’ award for the second year in a row.
Things have been even worse in New Orleans, as the Saints have been unable to recover from the ‘BountyGate’ controversy and the defense has been torched, both on the ground and through the air. They’ve failed to upgrade a sub-par pass rush for a few years now, and the back end of the defense has really suffered. Still, quarterback Drew Brees is one of the few players in the league capable of carrying a team and he may be able to lead the Saints back to respectability in the second half of the season.
Here are the matchups to watch this Monday night.
Saints Offensive Line vs. Eagles Pass Rush
It’s a classic battle of strengths as the Saints’ offensive line ranks eighth in the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) at 84.1, and the Eagles feature one of the deepest pass rushing defensive lines in the NFL. The fun will start in the middle with the Saints’ guard combination of LG Ben Grubbs and RG Jahri Evans, who boast PBEs of 98.5 and 98.4 respectively. Those marks rank within the top six at the position and they’ll be challenged by a quartet of Eagles interior pass rushers. While DTs Cullen Jenkins (+1.2 pass rush) and Fletcher Cox (-0.7) will get the start, it’s the reserves at the position who have shown the most consistency getting after the quarterback. DT Derek Landri has posted a Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) of 5.9 on his 119 rushes, while DT Cedric Thornton has a PRP of 6.1 on his 90 attempts.
The matchup between left tackle Jermon Bushrod and defensive end Trent Cole is another intriguing battle, as both players have underachieved compared to their 2011 performances. Bushrod has started to recover from a slow start, but his PBE of 93.8 is 42nd among offensive tackles and well below his 95.3 mark from last season. Cole was our top pass rushing 4-3 defensive end last season, and he’s seen his PRP drop from a league leading 14.9 to 8.7 this season.
LeSean McCoy vs. Saints Linebackers
Get your missed-tackle counter ready as running back LeSean McCoy goes up against a Saints defense that has missed 62 tackles on the season. That is, of course, assuming that McCoy gets the opportunity to run the ball. By way of a little hindsight-football analysis, the Eagles are 3-0 in games when he has at least 20 carries. Considering all the Eagles games have been relatively close, it’s not as if he was racking up the touches in order to run out the clock. It may be time for the Philadelphia fan cries of “run the ball, Andy!” to finally get some attention.
On the season, McCoy is eighth in the league in Elusive Rating at 39.1, and fifth in the league with 22 missed tackles forced in the running game. Perhaps even more important than simply feeding the ball to McCoy is putting the offensive line in a good position to create holes for him. The Eagles have been banging their heads against the wall with their ineffective zone running game in recent weeks, and finding more creative ways to get the ball into McCoy’s hands could help get the offense out of their funk.
On the other side, the Saints made some concerted offseason moves to shore up their run defense, and the addition of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was supposed to be a key part of that plan. While his run stop percentage of 10.5 ranks near the top of the league, his nine missed tackles are tied for fourth among inside linebackers. Outside linebacker Scott Shanle is too often controlled at the second level, as his -3.1 run grade attests. Finally, the return of LB Jonathan Vilma from suspension doesn’t appear to be the answer to the Saints’ woes. He’s playing a new position at weakside linebacker and, after grading at -18.2 against the run last year, he’s at -2.5 through two games this season.
Jason Avant vs. Corey White
No cornerback has given up more yards in the slot than CB Corey White, and he may be a frequent target on Monday. He’ll see a lot of wide receiver Jason Avant who has made the most of a mere 27 targets this season. He’s caught 20 of the balls thrown his way, with 19 of them coming out of the slot. His lack of production is likely a product of Vick’s poor play, but he’s always been a nice safety net in the middle of the field and he may be a key to bringing some consistency to the Philadelphia passing attack.
For White, it’s been a difficult rookie season after getting drafted in the fifth round out of Samford. In addition to giving up the most yards in the slot, he’s also at the bottom of the league with 2.42 Yards/Cover Snap and 144 yards after catch surrendered out of the slot. Quarterbacks have a rating of 143.0 on those throws.
If Vick has time to throw, Avant could be a nice move-the-chains option on Monday night.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve