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Eagles-Saints: First down could hold the key to an upset over the Saints

Here are some numbers that could hold the key to an upset for the Eagles Sunday against the Saints.

Catching the ball has been a problem for Eagles running back Miles Sanders.
Catching the ball has been a problem for Eagles running back Miles Sanders.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Sometimes you can find hope in statistics. Sometimes you can find a number or two that makes you think David can beat Goliath. Good luck finding it in this breakdown of Sunday’s game between the 10-2 Saints and the 3-8-1 Eagles.

Down and distance

  1. The Saints are averaging 6.0 yards per play on first down. That’s tied for the ninth highest average in the league. The Eagles defense is 18th in opponent yards-per-play on first down (4.8).

  2. The Saints are fifth in first-down rush average (5.0). The Eagles are 25th in opponent rush average on first down (4.6).

  3. Interestingly, the Saints are averaging more yards per play on first down the last 3 games with Taysom Hill at quarterback (6.3) than they did in the first 9 with Drew Brees (5.9). The fact that 2 of Hill’s 3 starts have come against the Atlanta Falcons, who have one of the league’s worst defenses, may have something to do with that.

  4. One hundred ninety-seven of the Saints’ 359 first-down plays (54.9%) have been run plays. In Hill’s 3 starts, the Saints have run the ball on 57 of 86 first-down plays (66.3%).

  5. Hill is averaging 10.3 yards per carry on first down (7 attempts) in his 3 starts. He has a 102.1 first-down passer rating, including a 67.9 completion percentage. Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas has 8 catches for 102 yards on first down in Hill’s 3 starts.

  6. Opponents have a 101.3 passer rating against the Eagles on first down, including a 71.4 completion percentage and 8.0 yards per attempt.

  7. The Saints haven’t been nearly as good on second down as they’ve been on first and third down. They are 24th in yards per play on second down (5.1). The Eagles are fifth in second-down defense (4.7 per play).

  8. In Hill’s 3 starts, the Saints have run the ball on second down on 40 of 67 plays (59.7%). In Brees’s 9 starts, the Saints’ second-down run percentage was just 45.6%.

  9. The Saints are fifth in third-down efficiency with a 46.9 success rate. The Eagles are 7th in third-down defense (37.3), though the Packers converted 5 of 12 third-down opportunities against them last week.

  10. The Saints have converted 79.4% of their third downs of 1-2 yards (27-34). The Eagles have converted 75.0% (21-28).

  11. The Saints have converted 34.0% of their third downs of 5 yards or more (33-97). The Eagles have converted just 20.4% (21-103). That percentage right there is a big reason why their season has gone south.

  12. The Eagles have gone for it on fourth down 23 times this season. That’s the third most fourth-down tries in the league, behind only the Colts (24) and Cowboys (29). But they’ve only converted 8 of those 23 fourth-down attempts. Their 34.8 success rate is the sixth lowest in the NFL.

The case of the lopsided offense

  1. The Eagles are averaging just 23.3 rushing attempts per game this season. That’s the fifth fewest in the league. Their 35.7 run-play percentage is the lowest in the league and the lowest in Doug Pederson’s 5 years as Eagles head coach. The Eagles haven’t had more than 26 carries in a game since Week 4.

  2. All of Duce Staley’s talk about Miles Sanders being a workhorse running back has turned into so much bluster. Sanders has just one 20-carry game this season. That was in Week 2 against the Rams. In the last 4 games, Sanders has averaged just 11.7 carries per game.

  3. In the Eagles’ last 2 games, Sanders has just 46 rushing yards on 16 carries.

  1. The Eagles have a 42.2 run-play percentage on first down. They’ve thrown the ball on 200 of 346 first-down plays. They’ve had more first-down run plays than pass plays just twice this season — in their Week 4 win against the 49ers (13-12) and in their Week 8 win over the Cowboys (16-10). In their loss to Seattle 2 weeks ago, 20 of their 24 first-down plays were pass plays.

Pass game problems

  1. Alshon Jeffery has played 88 snaps in the last 4 games since being activated. He’s been targeted 8 times and has 2 catches for 15 yards and a one first down.

  1. In his first 5 games this season after being promoted from the practice squad, Travis Fulgham had 29 catches for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns. In his last 4 games, he has 4 catches for 32 yards and no touchdowns. The last 3 weeks, his snaps have dropped from 65 to 37 to 25 against the Packers last week.

  2. Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts were a combined 3-for-3 for 107 yards on throws of 20 or more yards against the Packers. But they were a combined 5-for-15 for 33 yards on throws of 0 to 10 yards.

» READ MORE: The Eagles think of themselves as a ‘quarterback factory.’ Maybe they should consider a shutdown. | Mike Sielski

  1. Miles Sanders has been a train wreck in the passing game this season. He’s been targeted 39 times but has only 19 catches. His 8 drops are the most by any NFL running back. He’s averaging just 6.5 yards per catch, which is nearly 4 yards below his 2019 average. And his blocking and decision-making haven’t been very good, either. Last year, Sanders had 50 catches on 63 targets. His five 30-plus-yard catches were the second most among NFL running backs.

  2. Wentz has struggled mightily on 0-10-yard throws this season. It’s been his downfall. He has a career-low 66.4 completion percentage on 0-10-yard throws with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Last year, he completed 74.3% of his passes from that distance and had 18 touchdowns and just one interception. The year before: 75.8, 9 TDs, 3 INTs.

Some other stuff

  1. The Eagles have given up 17 touchdown passes this season. Seven of them have been to tight ends. They haven’t allowed a TD pass yet to a running back.

  2. The Eagles have just 3 interceptions this season. Along with Houston, that’s the fewest in the league. They haven’t had any in the last 5 games and just one in the last 8. They haven’t had any in 10 of their 12 games this season. The fewest interceptions in a season in franchise history was 8 (in 2012 and 1983). Their fewest takeaways in a season — 13 — was in 2012. The Eagles currently are tied for 31st in takeaways with 11.

» READ MORE: What should the Eagles do about Carson Wentz next season? The NFL weighs in | Jeff McLane

  1. The Eagles did not have any red-zone opportunities against the Packers. It’s the first time that’s happened this season, and only the fourth time in Doug Pederson’s 5 years as head coach.

  2. The Eagles’ 38 sacks are the second most in the league. They only had 2 sacks Sunday against Aaron Rodgers but had the second highest pressure percentage (36.1) of any team that’s faced him this season.