ReFo: Eagles @ Saints, Week 9
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan stole the spotlight with three sacks while the Eagles self-destructed in the red zone on MNF.
ReFo: Eagles @ Saints, Week 9
In a matchup of two of this season’s most disappointing teams, it was the Saints who emerged victorious to draw level with the same 3-5 record as the sliding Eagles. When the Eagles muddled through September to a 3-1 record, some saw it as a good sign that they were winning in spite of poor play. After four straight defeats, that sloppy play has caught up with them. This team is staring down the barrel of the biggest upheaval Philadelphia has seen in more than a decade.
Once again the Eagles turned the ball over in costly situations and the defense could not make enough plays to keep the game within a score. With more poise and composure, the Eagles might have been far more competitive. But for whatever reason they simply couldn’t put the Saints defense to the sword. There were broken plays on both sides but in the end the Saints were able to capitalize on a depleted Eagles offensive line to disrupt their opponents whenever a play was needed.
Each of these teams will need a perfect run to be anything more than a spoiler by the end of the season. Did either team look capable? Here are some of the performances of note that might give us that indicator.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
When you’re stuck in a funk, losing games and in need of a big road win to get your fans and the media off your back, you need to take all of your opportunities. This is exactly what the Eagles did not do. Three times the Eagles set themselves up with goal-to-go situations, yet they were outscored by the Saints defense on those three drives. The New Orleans defense capitalized on a wayward and deflected throw with a pick-six for Patrick Robinson on the Eagles’ first trip to the shadow of the goal line. The Eagles then failed to match that score on their next two visits, losing a total of 14 yards from their goal-to-go offense, including a final turnover late in the fourth quarter. This lack of composure will be galling for the Eagles. They put themselves in situations to win this game but simply could not execute when it counted to finish drives.
Graham Continues to Shine
While the Eagles’ pass rush this season has been strangely absent for the most part, third-year defensive end Brandon Graham has been a persistent nuisance to the opposition in spite of his limited playing time. Graham recorded only his second sack of the season last night (single-handedly converted into a turnover) but has recorded 16 total pressures on only 66 pass rushes this season.
It is no surprise to see Graham limited in terms of snaps as he continues his road back from serious injury, but the Eagles may need to start looking at giving him some more snaps. More than anything they need to find out about Graham’s durability; can he stand up to a heavier workload? In his limited playing time he is comfortably the Eagles’ most productive pass rusher with a PRP of more than double (18.9) either Trent Cole or Jason Babin (both 9.0), who are both suffering mysteriously average seasons.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the play of Graham was a rare bright spot in an otherwise abject defensive performance, especially in run defense. Ten Eagle defenders earned a grade of -1.0 or worse and eight tackles were missed in run defense. All of this ensured the Saints were able to rotate their running backs while still gaining solid yardage on every carry. On their 23 designed backfield runs the Saints gained 5.9 yards per carry with only Fletcher Cox (+1.3 run defense) and Trent Cole (+1.4 run defense) offering any sort of resistance. It was all too easy for the Saints to collapse the edge of the Eagles’ defense with New Orleans gaining 97 yards on 13 carries off end.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
But for his sloppy ball security that wasted a goal-to-go drive, Drew Brees was almost faultless on Monday Night Football. Whether the Eagles chose to blitz and get pressure or sat back and played coverage, they couldn’t come close to disrupting his rhythm. Brees fired off first down after first down, focusing principally on the short and intermediate passes, not even needing to stretch and exploit the Eagles’ vulnerable deep coverage.
As always, Brees spread the ball around to both receivers and coverage defenders. The Eagles’ inadequacy finding a defender capable of staying with Jimmy Graham was the one area Brees did pick upon consistently. Both David Sims and Mychal Kendricks were found wanting in their coverage of Graham and more than one-third of Brees’ 25 targeted passes went to his athletic tight end. Brees has had some letdown games this season, but his performances in the past month have seen him rounding into form just in time for the visit of the undefeated Falcons.
Marking a Career Night
Entering this game Cameron Jordan had little to shout about as a pass rusher. Jordan had only graded above +1.0 as a pass rusher once in his career and recorded multiple pressures in only three of his seven games so far this season. After the Saints’ victory, he is now the youngest player to record three sacks in a game, perfectly timing a quality performance for the biggest possible audience.
To this point in the season Jordan has been more renowned as a run defender than a pass protector. And while he contributed another three run stops, extending his league lead to 20 among 4-3 defensive ends, it was his pass rushing that did all the talking. He got started early with a hit on the Eagles’ opening drive before completely derailing that drive with a sack that lost 22 yards a few plays later. He didn’t suffer much of a lull at any point, recording pressure in all four quarters. It was his sack that all but derailed the Eagles’ final drive, sending them back to the Saints’ 22-yard line for a third-and-goal play.
Jordan doesn’t get to face tackles like Demetress Bell every week, who was playing out of his comfort zone on an unfamiliar side of the line. Can Jordan maintain this sort of play against an established right tackle like Tyson Clabo next week? Or was this pass rushing performance merely a flash in the pan?
The Saints’ running game has long been the under appreciated part of their offense, which is hardly a surprise next to the high-flying passing game led by Brees. But once again the Saints’ ground game was able to shine in spite of their limited exposure. The Saints’ three running backs combined for a running grade of +2.7 on their 25 carries with none of them needing a dozen or more carries to warm up. In spite of how reps are split in games, and consequently must be in practice, these running backs do not struggle with a lack of chemistry with their offensive line. They each run with confidence and composure that they know exactly when and where their offensive line will open the running lanes and how to exploit them to maximum effect.
This week it was Chris Ivory who walked away with the glory of the rushing touchdown but all three topped 4.5 yards per carry and Mark Ingram (earning his first start of the season) recorded a season-high four missed tackles. Most teams would be pleased to have one runner of this caliber. That the Saints have three speaks volumes for an offense that would still be very competitive if it were to morph dramatically into a run-heavy offense.
– The Saints continue to tip their play calling with Chris Ivory on the field. Ivory was on the field for 15 snaps and ran 10 times. Last season he ran the ball on 101 of 156 snaps.
– Of his nine pass plays in this game Jonathan Vilma blitzed on four of them, recording one QB hurry.
– The six missed tackles forced by LeSean McCoy were his most since the Eagles’ Week 2 victory over the Ravens. He still fell short of his first 20-carry game since Week 4.
PFF Game Ball
He will wish he could play against him every week but Cameron Jordan will just have to settle for the career day going against Demetress Bell in this game. Can Jordan sustain this form moving forward?
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.