The New Orleans Saints continued their hot streak yesterday, winning their 8th straight game in a row and moving 2 games ahead of their closest division rivals in the team's 51-14 annihilation of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Up next for Drew Brees and company: a date at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this upcoming Sunday against the visiting and defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Kickoff is at 3:25 p.m. Central time and the game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports.
The Eagles haven't actually played in NOLA since their former head coach Andy Reid (now in Kansas City) was still in charge, in a loss to the Saints during the 2012 regular season.
The last time that the Saints and Eagles have faced each other was back during the 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; in a game in which the Saints were whipped thoroughly by a score of 39-17. The Eagles had five sacks that day and forced four turnovers, led by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Since their arrival in the 2006 season, Brees and head coach Sean Payton are (3-3) against the Eagles in the regular season, but (2-0) in the NFC Playoffs.
While the (8-1) Saints will be coming into this match-up "on a roll", the same can't be said for the Eagles; who were beaten at home last night on NBC Sunday Night Football by a score of 27-20, to the Dallas Cowboys.
The loss dropped Philadelphia's overall record to (4-5), and they dropped two games back of the NFC East-leading Washington Redskins in the process.
You had better believe they'll be desperately seeking a way to leave the Superdome with a much-needed victory this coming Sunday; if they are to have any hope whatsoever at saving their season (and defending their World Title).
As noted by ESPN Eagles beat writer Tim McManus: Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and his staff had an extra week to devise a plan for the game against Dallas, who were coming off a short week since the Cowboys had played last Monday night.
Nevertheless: the Eagles' very notable struggles on offense continued last night; as they went 0-for-4 on third down in the first half and only tallied 132 total yards while falling behind by a score of 13-3.
It was only because of their still-stellar defensive unit, that Philadelphia managed to keep the score close. Led by a pair of sacks by veteran defensive end Michael Bennett, Philly managed to remain in the contest; but eventually they were done in by Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott — who ran over them with 151 yards on 19 carries (7.9 average) and a touchdown, as he hurdled (literally) several defenders along the way.
After the game's conclusion, Pederson accepted full blame for the Eagles' woes on both sides of the football.
"(The) message is pretty simple: Starting with myself, all of us, we need to just look at ourselves in the mirror — and are we doing enough, are we giving enough," Pederson said to McManus and other reporters at his post-game press conference..
"Each person, each coach, each player in that locker room — you have to really look out yourself, and decide every day you come to work that you're gonna give your best, and you're gonna do everything you can to get better and help this team win."
Pederson's words and sentiment were echoed by several players in the locker room afterwards.
"You've just got to believe despite the evidence," said tight end Zach Ertz, who finished last night's contest with a whopping 14 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
"That's the only message I think we can come up with — believe despite the evidence. The evidence says we're 4-5 and we're not as good as we thought we were going to be coming into this year, but we can't lose the faith of being brothers, playing for one another, being a family."
"This one hurt," said Eagles starting QB Carson Wentz. "We've got a lot of veterans in there, a lot of leadership. Like coach said, and I'm going to keep echoing the same thing, we've all got to look in the mirror. What can we do differently? Where can we be better? We realize a lot of people are going to want to write us off at this point. Now it's just time to play ball and try and go shock some people."
New Orleans has already opened as a 7-point favorite to beat Philly; but not by ANY MEANS should this be a game that the Saints can look past.
The Eagles were good enough to win a Super Bowl last year, and they'll be looking to give their very best performance of the entire season this Sunday; in a concerted effort to knock the Saints off of their current lofty perch at the top of the NFC standings.
Undoubtedly the Saints defense — in spite of how well they've performed in recent weeks — will be tested by an Eagles offense led by Wentz, who has completed 191 passes out of 269 attempts for 2,148 yards; to go along with 15 TD's and 3 interceptions and a completion percentage of 71%.
Wentz will no doubt look to challenge both the Saints linebackers and secondary, with a wide array of weapons at his disposal. Chief among them is Ertz, who has emerged as one of the best tight ends in all of Pro Football. In only 9 games played, Ertz already has a whopping 75 catches for 785 yards and 5 TD's.
Unfortunately for the Saints defense, the Eagles also have a few "elite-caliber" WR's, led by #1 WR Alshon Jeffery (33 catches, 389 yards and 4 TD's) and recently-acquired WR Golden Tate, whom they made a trade for with the Detroit Lions.
In his Eagles debut last night however, Tate was only in the line-up for 18 total plays from scrimmage; and given Tate's success against the Saints in the past, you can expect he'll get a lot more opportunities to get into the proverbial "flow" of things this coming Sunday.
The Eagles' main problem with their offense (and actually a STRENGTH of the Saints defense, which only gives up 80.1 yards per contest) is their lack of a running game — which took a big-time hit when starting RB Jay Ajayi tore his ACL earlier this season.
Philadelphia has attempted to replace Ajayi with a handful of back-ups, but none of whom have emerged as a competent replacement.
Against the Cowboys last night, Wendell Smallwood had two carries for 4 yards, Corey Clement had five rushes for 13 yards, and rookie Josh Adams led the team with seven rushes for 47 yards. Yet none of them have been able to make quite the same impact that Ajayi did.
Last night the Eagles only rushed for just three first downs; which forced them to become one-dimensional. That would seem to suggest that the game plan against the Saints will be to ATTACK the Saints secondary as early and as often as they possibly can.
As of this moment in spite of their improvement in recent weeks, the Saints pass defense is giving up 296.1 yards per game, which ranks them #31 overall out of the League's 32 teams.
Believe this much: Pederson will have Wentz "slinging the rock" in this contest next Sunday Night.
Additionally, the Eagles remain a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the football; and the Saints O-Line will once again have to face a stiff challenge against an "elite" Eagles D-Line led by Cox (4 sacks), Bennett (5.5 sacks), and Chris Long (3.5 sacks).
The Eagles also boast a solid set of linebackers, led by Jordan Hicks (78 tackles, 3 sacks); Nigel Bradham (51 tackles, 2 sacks) and Brandon Graham (27 tackles, 3 sacks).
If there is a true weakness on the Eagles defense, it would also be with their secondary as well; given that they are currently ranked 23rd overall against the pass; yielding 265.8 yards per contest.
The Eagles suffered a HUGE loss last night, when their #1 CB Ronald Darby tore the ACL in his knee. Darby was the best corner that Philly had, for a secondary that's gotten repeatedly burned by opposing pass offenses this season.
With fellow CB's Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills also dealing with injuries, Philadelphia has been forced to utilize undrafted rookie Chandon Sullivan; who replaced Darby at cornerback last night but was unable to help the Eagles get a stop down the stretch.
Given those numbers, it would be reasonable to suspect that the Saints will look to attack the Eagles via the air; and this game potentially has the makings of a "shootout".
But whether or not that will be the scenario that ends up playing out, won't be known until it actually happens.
The quintessential bottom line is that the Eagles now find themselves below .500 and are in clear desperation mode.
That should make for an interesting match-up this upcoming Sunday when the defending World Champions come down to NOLA....