The Saints haven’t lost since Week 3, which was a while ago. They have 109 rushing first downs, and have allowed 46. They are outgaining opponents by a measly 984 yards in 12 games, second best in the NFL. Their point differential is 106.
I guess their offense is less dynamic with Taysom Hill; obviously, he is not the passer Drew Brees is. Maybe a month ago, I could have talked myself into the Eagles’ stuffing the run and keeping the score down, but watching the Packers’ Aaron Jones scoot like a greased pig through the entire Eagles team last Sunday, at the worst possible time, made it hard to stick up for that scenario.
The Saints defense was kind of hit-and-miss early in the season — 34 points allowed in a Week 2 loss to the Raiders, 37 the next week in that most recent loss, to the Packers — but it suddenly caught hold and now gives up the fewest yards (288.1) and the fourth-fewest points (20.1) per game in the NFL. In three of New Orleans’ last five games, the opponent has failed to reach double figures. The Eagles, meanwhile, haven’t scored more than 17 points in a game since their bye week.
Oh, and if there is any opposing defensive player in the NFL who knows what Doug Pederson likes to do, it would be Malcolm Jenkins, who has three interceptions this season, equal to the entire Eagles team total.
So, hey, welcome, Jalen Hurts. Have fun.
Will the team rally around the rookie quarterback? Maybe. But if you can’t block, tackle, cover, or get separation on pass routes, having a quarterback who might break some tackles and run for a first down here and there, or find a receiver after scrambling around on third-and-19, is unlikely to flip the matchup.
This team’s emperors have no clothes. That’s what will be driven home over these final four games, for anyone who hasn’t gotten the message.
Prediction: Saints 27, Eagles 16
This could be ugly.
Even with Drew Brees sitting this one out to give his 150 broken ribs another week to mend, this still could be ugly.
If you’ve read my column, then you know I think Doug Pederson’s decision to bench Carson Wentz and start Jalen Hurts this week is the single dumbest thing he’s done since firing offensive coordinator Mike Groh last January and replacing him with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
I’m the one guy in Philadelphia who thought drafting Hurts in the second round in April was a good idea. Still think it was. But sending him out for his first start against the No. 1-rated defense in the NFL? That’s certifiably crazy.
The Saints are fourth in points allowed (20.1). The Eagles are 26th in points scored (21.1). The Saints have given up a total of 44 points in their last five games. The Eagles haven’t scored more than 17 points in any of their last four games.
Turnovers are the great equalizer in football. Only trouble is, the Eagles can’t force takeaways to save their life. They have just 11 of them in 12 games, including a league-low three interceptions.
Even without Brees, I’m not seeing the Eagles defense stopping the Saints either through the air or on the ground. Darius Slay has been limited in practice with a knee injury. I’m not sure how he’s going to be able to stay with Michael Thomas, who has two 100-yard receiving performances in the last three games. And the Eagles linebackers don’t have a chance in hell of stopping Alvin Kamara in the passing game. Alex Singleton on Kamara in space? Really?
Prediction: Saints 31, Eagles 13
Jalen Hurts’ first career NFL start doesn’t look inviting. He’ll be facing the No. 1-ranked defense, a unit that has allowed only an average of 8.8 points over its last five games, and a scorned Malcolm Jenkins who might know the Eagles offense as well as any defender. A Hurts-run offense will look different from a Carson Wentz one, but let’s face it, Doug Pederson’s scheme hasn’t evolved much over the last three years.
All that being said, Hurts will present some challenges for the Saints. There isn’t much NFL film on the rookie, and quarterbacks who can scramble out of harm’s way and create on the ground are always among the least welcomed by defenders, no matter how well they throw the football. I imagine there will also be some opportunities on the ground for Miles Sanders and the Eagles’ other running backs, particularly on the zone read.
But the Eagles offensive line is still in shambles and the Saints have many rushers, such as edge guys Trey Hendrickson and Cam Jordan, who won’t likely give Hurts much time in the pocket. His mobility will help, but he’s going to have to throw at times, and if he can’t make it to Reads 2 or 3, he could be in trouble. Hurts has a nice touch on fade routes, but tight-window throws will be challenge. It’s on Pederson to give him easy throws. If he couldn’t for Wentz, what’s to say he will for his backup?
The Saints have weathered the loss of quarterback Drew Brees. Taysom Hill is nowhere near the pocket passer, but he, too, is a dual threat. He’s big and fast, and the Eagles might need to spy him. The Saints, though, have other skill-position weapons, and I see a number of mismatches — Michael Thomas vs. Avonte Maddox or Alvin Kamara vs. Alex Singleton — that will make it hard for Jim Schwartz’s group to keep the score under 24.
I think Hurts will give the Eagles a little jolt, but it won’t be enough. This team has much more wrong with it than just the quarterback.
Prediction: Saints 27, Eagles 15
The Eagles can’t just keep getting blown out every week, right?
Maybe I’m getting caught up in the intrigue of Hurts starting at quarterback, but I don’t expect the Eagles offense to look completely and utterly inept the same way it has for much of the last several weeks. New Orleans is one of the best defenses in the league and the Eagles offense has struggled against far lesser defenses, but I get the sense actual schematic changes could be coming.
Hurts will likely struggle at times considering the circumstances, but at least it sounds like Doug Pederson is planning on making some changes to his general approach to the Eagles offense. This might be the week the team becomes a run-first operation, which could help take some pressure off the quarterback.
Taysom Hill hasn’t lost a game as the Saints’ starting quarterback, but two of those three games have been against the Falcons. Sure, the Falcons are better than the Eagles, but there’s reason to believe the Eagles defense could have success getting to Hill, who holds the ball longer than 2.5 seconds more frequently than any other quarterback in the NFL. The Saints offense has been good this year, but not quite as good as the Packers or the Seahawks. Weird stuff happens every week in the league, and I’m not typically in the business of predicting when it will happen, but I’ll take that chance this week and predict a close game.
Prediction: Saints 27, Eagles 21