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#1 KEY TO VICTORY: Can Saints Secondary “Bend But Not Break” vs. Dangerous Eagles Passing Attack?

While some people might have actually believed Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson yesterday when he told reporters that their team plans on utilizing back-up rookie RB Josh Adams a lot more this week in an attempt to run the ball against the Saints when the two teams meet head-to-head this Sunday, do NOT be fooled: the Eagles are coming in to "sling the rock" — and to attack the still-shaky-Saints secondary with their extremely dangerous passing attack.

That obviously means that the #1 key to victory for the Saints without any doubt whatsoever, is whether or not the Saints pass defense can "bend but not break" against Eagles QB Carson Wentz and his elite-caliber pass-catchers at both the tight end and wide receiver positions.

Pederson was asked by reporters yesterday if Philly would try to establish the running game against the #1-ranked Saints run defense, which took a huge hit a few weeks back when they lost #1 RB Jay Ajayi to a torn ACL injury for the rest of the season. 

The Eagles have been using a "RB by committee" approach at  the position in Ajayi's absence with back-ups Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clements, and Adams; but it's Adams— an undrafted free agent from the University of Notre Dame — who the team has singled out this week to carry more of the load.

Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Do I think he can have a few more touches?” Pederson was asked by reporters yesterday with regard to Adams. “I do. So that will answer everybody's questions right there. I do feel like he could touch the ball a few more times.”

But while Philly may in fact attempt to establish the run against a stout Saints D-Line, make no mistake about it: the Eagles are coming in with the plan of ATTACKING the Saints secondary early and often via the air, with the 25-year old Wentz leading the way forward.

Wentz, the Eagles' top pick (#1 overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft out of North Dakota State University, is currently rated 7th in the NFL in passing with a 108.5 rating, numbers that are actually even better than a year ago (101.9) prior to his injury which forced him to miss the remainder of the 2017 season and Philly's eventual run to a Super Bowl title.

His only one true weakness guiding the still-dangerous Eagles passing attack are on 3rd Downs and inside the red zone; where his numbers slip down to slightly-below average.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Wentz as of this moment has a 3rd Down passer rating of (99.5), which is 24.1 points lower than a year ago (123.6). Additionally, his (56.1) red-zone completion percentage is nearly 10 points lower than it was last season (66.0).

But he has been "money" in most other passing situations, which doesn't necessarily bode all that well for a Saints secondary that despite the team's lofty (8-1) record, still struggles at times against the pass.

The Saints through 9 games are allowing opponents a 108.8 opponent passer rating, which is the 4th worst in the league. They've given up a whopping 19 touchdown passes this season already, and even worse: they've allowed 37 passes of 20 yards or longer.

That's just simply not going to cut it against this very capable array of weapons that Wentz has available at his disposal; and it begins and ends with his "go-to" receiver, All-Pro TE Zach Ertz.

Source: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America

Ertz's 75 receptions are the 3rd most in the entire NFL. and he currently has 16 more receptions than any other Eagles receiver.

Essentially, he's a wide receiver in a tight end's body; and the Saints linebackers and safeties will have to keep a constant tab on his whereabouts at all times.

But the TRUE TEST will come with the Eagles WR's going up against the Saints CB's

Specifically, the Eagles WR corps has an entire collection of elite-caliber wide receivers led by veterans Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Golden Tate, and Jordan Matthews.

Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Saints likely will have #1 CB Marshon Lattimore on Jeffrey, the Eagles #1 WR who has caught 33 passes for 389 yards and 4 TD's.

On the opposite side, Saints #2 CB Eli Apple is likely to draw the assignment against Philly #2 WR Nelson Agholor, who has caught 46 passes for 455 yards and 1 TD.

But the match-ups that clearly will have Saints fans worried will be when Philadelphia utilizes their 3 and 4 WR sets; and how Saints CB's PJ Williams and Ken Crawley will hold up in nickel and dime pass coverage.

Willians most likely will draw the assignment of covering Tate, whom the Eagles just acquired in a trade a few weeks ago from the Detroit Lions. Tate is yet to make a significant impact for Philadelphia, and he only saw (18) total snaps in their loss last week against Dallas at home.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

But the Eagles plan on getting him much more heavily involved in this contest, which doesn't favor a Saints secondary that has been burned by Tate more than once when he was still in Detroit.

Tate has five career touchdowns in five games against New Orleans, including the contest two years ago at the Superdome when he shredded the Saints secondary for 145 yards and a touchdown in the 2016 season.

Then he came to the Superdome last year and "toasted" three Saints defenders (Lattimore, Marcus Williams, and former safety Rafael Bush) for a 45-yard touchdown.

And should the Eagles go "4-wide", chances are pretty good that we'll see Crawley — who very notably has been "burned" badly at times this season (like in the photo right below) — matched up most often against Matthews, who has 13 receptions for 240 yards and a TD,

Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune

Just how well (or not) the Saints secondary manages to hold up this Sunday against this talented array of Eagles pass-catchers will ultimately determine if New Orleans leaves the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with their 9th consecutive win a row, or suffers only their 2nd loss of the entire year.

Bottom line: the Saints secondary can "bend but not break" — and it's the #1 key to victory for New Orleans against the dangerous Eagles passing attack....


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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