Eagles-Saints scouting report, prediction | Paul Domowitch
The Eagles will face the hottest quarterback and highest-scoring offense in the league with an injury-ravaged secondary. Is there any way they can a win?
The Eagles will take their 4-5 record to New Orleans to face the hot Saints (8-1) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. Here are a scouting report, prediction, and keys to the game.
When the Eagles run the ball
Since losing Jay Ajayi to a knee injury in Week 5, the Eagles' ground game has floundered. They've averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in the last four games and are averaging 30 yards per game and four-tenths of a yard per carry less than last year.
Rookie Josh Adams, who was on the practice squad when the season opened, has leaped over Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood after solid performances against the Jaguars and Cowboys (108 yards on 16 carries). Adams is averaging 5.7 yards per carry overall, and 6.7 on first down. Clement has averaged just 1.5 yards per carry the last three games since returning from a quad injury. Smallwood has averaged 3.0 yards per carry the last four games.
The Saints are first against the run (80.1 yards per game) and fifth in rush average (3.7). The Saints are second in opponent rush average on first down (3.38). Since most games against them turn into track meets, opponents have averaged just 19.3 rushing attempts since Week 3.
When the Eagles throw the ball
Carson Wentz is seventh in the NFL in passing with a 108.5 rating, which is better than a year ago (101.9). But his situational numbers — third down and the red zone — have dipped. His third-down passer rating is 24.1 points lower than a year ago (from 123.6 to 99.5). His percentage of third-down attempts that have produced first downs has fallen from 50 percent last year to 41.5. The Eagles, first in red-zone TD production last season (65.4 percent), are 17th (55.9) this year. Wentz's 56.1 red-zone completion percentage is nearly 10 points lower than it was last season.
Tight end Zach Ertz has been Wentz's go-to receiver. His 75 receptions are the third most in the league. His 41 catches for first downs are the seventh most, and 16 more than any other Eagles receiver. The Eagles added Golden Tate before the trade deadline, but he played just 18 snaps Sunday in his Eagles debut. The Saints have struggled against the pass. Their 108.8 opponent passer rating is the fourth worst in the league. They've already given up 19 touchdown passes and 37 passes of 20 yards or longer.
When the Saints run the ball
The Saints are second in the NFL in rushing attempts per game (30.6), but a good many of those have come in the second half of games after they've jumped out to a lead. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are a dangerous tandem. Kamara is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has 11 rushing touchdowns. Ingram is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The Saints have one of the league's top offensive lines, anchored by veteran center Max Unger and left tackle Terron Armstead.
The Eagles' run defense hasn't been nearly as good as it was last year. They are 23rd in opponent rush average (4.7) and gave up 151 yards to the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday and 130 to Giants rookie Saquon Barkley in Week 6. The Cowboys had nine rushing first downs, the most against the Eagles since 2016. The Eagles have allowed 4.75 yards per carry on first down, eighth highest in the league. In the last four games, they've given up 7.6 yards per carry on first down.
When the Saints throw the ball
Just two months shy of his 40th birthday, Drew Brees is having an MVP-worthy season. He leads the league in passing (123.8 rating). He has thrown 21 touchdown passes and just one interception. He is flirting with an unheard-of 80.0 completion percentage. He leads the league in passing on third down (118.8) and in the fourth quarter (128.9). He has a 69.7 completion percentage in the red zone, where the Saints have converted 72.7 percent of their opportunities into touchdowns. Oh, and he's next to impossible to sack. He's been sacked just nine times this season.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas, who caught 104 passes last season, already has 78 this season, including 50 for first downs. The Eagles lost their best corner, Ronald Darby, to a season-ending knee injury last week. They probably will get Sidney Jones (hamstring) back this week, and that will help. But they will need to tackle well Sunday and limit yards after the catch. Eagles linebackers will have their hands full with Kamara in the passing game. He has 55 catches and three TDs.
Jake Elliott has made 14 of 18 field-goal attempts, including a 56-yarder last week. Golden Tate took over the punt-return duties last week in his Eagles debut. He averaged 5.5 yards on two returns. P Cam Johnston is first in gross average (49.6) and tied for first in net (43.8).
Thomas Morstead is the league's most rested punter. Morstead, the Saints punter since 2009, has a league-low 19 attempts this season. He has a 45.9-yard gross average and a 42.6 net. Just eight of his 19 punts have been returned, for a puny 5.4-yard average. Kicker Wil Lutz has made 19 of 20 field-goal attempts. His only miss was a 44-yarder in Week 2. Since then, he's made 17 in a row, including 52- and 54-yarders.
Taysom Hill, the Saints' Swiss-army-knife No. 3 quarterback, is their primary kick returner. He is averaging 24.5 yards on returns, though he probably won't get many, if any, opportunities against Elliott, who has the league's fifth-best touchback percentage (79.1) on kickoffs.
The crazy-loud crowd noise in the Superdome just adds to the long list of seemingly impossible challenges awaiting the 7½-point-underdog Eagles on Sunday. The Saints have scored 40 or more points in three of their four home games this season, including 45 against the Rams and 43 against the Redskins.
Saints 45, Eagles 31
— Eagles CBs Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Chandon Sullivan vs. Saints WR Michael Thomas: No Ronald Darby. No Jalen Mills. The Eagles have to find a way to cover Thomas and his league-high 78 receptions with Jones, who is coming off a hamstring injury, and the Pips.
— Eagles RT Lane Johnson or Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Saints LDE Cameron Jordan: Jordan has a rare combination of strength and speed. He had 13 sacks last year and has a team-high six this year. Johnson missed Sunday's game with a Grade II MCL knee sprain. He probably won't be anywhere near 100 percent. But even at 70 percent, he probably gives them a better chance against Jordan than Vaitai.
— Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Golden Tate, and Jordan Matthews vs. Saints CBs Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, P.J. Williams (nickel), and Ken Crawley (dime): Aside from Lattimore, the Saints secondary is no great shakes. Carson Wentz probably is looking at a 350-plus-yard, three-touchdown game. The Eagles need to get Tate more involved in the offense this week than he was last Sunday.
Brother, can you spare a takeaway?: The Eagles this season have forced just seven turnovers, third fewest in the NFL. They will need some Sunday to slow the Saints offense and shorten the field for their own offense. Problem is, Saints have just eight giveaways, fifth fewest in the league.
Better tackling: The Eagles likely will play a lot of off-coverage Sunday and try to limit Michael Thomas' and Alvin Kamara's yards after the catch. But if they tackle as horribly as they did last week, fugedaboudit.
More Golden: Golden Tate needs to be a much more significant part of the offense than he was against the Cowboys, when he played just 18 snaps and caught two passes for 19 yards.