In the NFL, teams more often than not are able to win games by determining what an opponent's weakness is, and then attacking it. When the red-hot (8-1) Saints host the (4-5) defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that scenario will undoubtedly be played out once again as New Orleans attempts to win its 9th straight game in a row.
In this particular instance, it's Philly who has the weakness; and it's one that could potentially tilt the game heavily in the Saints' favor.
The Eagles suffered a HUGE loss this past Sunday night, when their #1 CB Ronald Darby tore the ACL in his knee in their 27-20 defeat at home to Dallas.
Darby was the best corner that Philly had, for a secondary that's gotten repeatedly burned by opposing pass offenses this season. He had started all nine games this season, with 12 pass breakups and one interception.
The Eagles defense is currently ranked 23rd overall against the pass; yielding 265.8 yards per contest. And those numbers could make a HUGE jump upward this weekend now that they'll be matched up against the Saints high-powered offense.
With fellow CB's Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills also dealing with injuries, Philadelphia was forced to utilize undrafted rookie Chandon Sullivan; who replaced Darby at cornerback against the Cowboys but was unable to help the Eagles get a stop down the stretch.
Given the current situation, it would be more than reasonable to suspect that Brees and New Orleans will look to attack the Eagles via the air; and considering that the Saints' own secondary has been pretty shaky at times to say the least, this game potentially has all the makings of a "shootout".
Philly will find out this week if Jones — a former All-Pac12 CB at the University of Washington — will be ready to suit up this Sunday, and the Eagles 2nd Round draft pick from last season is said to be close to returning. Jones has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury.
Jones actually has been Philly's slot cornerback this season, but he can also play on the outside boundary if need be (as he did in college with the Huskies) to replace Darby.
The Eagles also have Rasul Douglas, their 3rd Round pick last year from the University of West Virginia, available as well. Douglas started in Mills' place Sunday Night in the loss to the Cowboys.
It's fair to say at this point based on the reporting out of Philadelphia that Jones and Douglas could be the starters on Sunday, though it won't be certain until Jones' status is ultimately determined.
"Right now, obviously, we'll see Sidney and where he's at this week," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said to reporters in his press conference yesterday. "We have a couple days to have some discussion, and then see where our players are after practice on Wednesday. But you'll probably know more probably Wednesday on the plan on that."
One thing that's for certain: this Eagles secondary is extremely vulnerable and has now been "exposed" with the loss of Darby — and it's very likely that the Saints passing attack led by Brees, will zero in on exploiting that weakness.
The Eagles clearly don't have much experience behind them, and as noted by nj.com Eagles beat writer Mike Kaye: the Philadelphia defensive coaching staff will need to figure out who to play in their nickel defense packages against the Saints, as well.
Kaye adds that the rookie Sullivan and 3rd year veteran journeyman Cre'Von LeBlanc (a former undrafted rookie with New England back in 2016) are the only other two cornerbacks left currently on the Eagles roster. LeBlanc was claimed off waivers from Detroit last week, but he didn't get a single snap against the Cowboys.
Philly originally drafted rookie and this year's 4th Round pick Avonte Maddox as a cornerback out of the University of Pittsburgh back in late April, but he has since moved to safety.
However, he was essentially FORCED to play as the slot cornerback against the Cowboys after Darby went down and the Eagles reshuffled their line-up.
The bottom line in this case for Philly is that they could be in for a real tough time trying to stop a Saints team that's won 8 games in a row, and are eviscerating opponents on a weekly basis.
New Orleans leads the NFL in scoring with 36.7 points per game; and the Black and Gold has scored nearly 100 points (96 to be exact) over the past two weeks in back-to-back wins; a 45-35 victory at home a week ago against the Rams and then this past Sunday in the 51-14 rout on the road at Cincinnati.
And Brees no doubt will be focused on getting the ball to Saints #1 receiver Michael Thomas, who been virtually "on fire" this season.
The 3rd year superstar is tied for the NFL lead with 78 catches through nine games, and you'll have a hard time finding a WR anywhere else in the League playing as well as he is right now.
In time, it isn't out of the question that Thomas could even become one of the League's all-tIme greats at the position. He's literally THAT good.
For any NFL team much less the defending World Champion Eagles, losing your top cornerback with your two other starting CB's still out hurt, is NOT the most favorable situation that you'd ever want to find yourself in.
It goes without saying that not having ANY of them available this Sunday against Brees and the red-hot Saints offense would seem like an invitation to a slaughterhouse.
If Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz ends up having no choice but to line-up two rookies and a below-average journeyman who's already been cut 3 different times in 3 years (Douglas, Sullivan and LeBlanc) at cornerback against the Saints, it could get downright UGLY for the visiting Eagles this weekend.