3 things to watch for when Eagles take on Saints in the Big Easy

Philadelphia Eagles NFL Carson Wentz

After losing a very winnable game against division rival, the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, the Eagles (4-5) find themselves in another must-win game this week. However, unlike previous games, where Philly was the favorite, they have the tough task of facing the high-powered New Orleans Saints (8-1) on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, FOX).

This season, the Eagles are 2-2 on the road, while the Saints have a record of 3-1 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Surprisingly, New Orleans’ only loss this season happened at home in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-40. 

Since falling to the Bucs in that high scoring affair, the Saints have ripped off eight-straight wins, including a dominating 37-point victory last week on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Can the Eagles’ defense, which is battered and bruised, slow down this Drew Brees-led offense? Or will Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense finally wake up?

To answer these questions and more, here are three things to watch out for in this Week 11 contest:

1. Secondary under fire

When the Eagles take the field on Sunday, they will be running out an inexperienced and banged up secondary.

Heading into last week’s game against Dallas, the Eagles were already without both Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones, who were nursing hamstring and foot injuries. And if things could not get worse, it was then announced on Monday that starting cornerback Ronald Darby would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

With all that being said, it’s a strong possibility that undrafted free agent Chandon Sullivan or Cre’von LeBlanc will see extended snaps against New Orleans. However, all hope is not lost for the secondary as Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is optimistic that Jones will be able to play.

If that is the case, then that is a huge addition. Jones has experience playing on the outside in college and could fill in Darby’s spot, while Rasul Douglas plays on the opposite side with rookie Avonte Maddox handling the slot duties.

Obviously, this is not a dream scenario for the Eagles, but that trio gives them the best chance to keep up with the Saints explosive wide receiver unit.

2. Wentz and the offense need to start games faster

Through the first ten weeks of the 2018 season, the Eagles’ offense has not looked like the same team that put up points in bunches last season en route to a Super Bowl LII victory. Now there are various reasons for this noticeable decline, but none larger than the lack of scoring points in the first quarter.

In fact, Philly is only averaging 2.3 first-quarter points per game, which is the worst in the NFL. This is a complete 360 from last season, where the Eagles averaged 6.4 points per game in the opening frame.

Here is something else to wrap your mind around, the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, and New York Jets have all scored more first-quarter points (2.4) than the Eagles. This recurring issue reared its ugly head last Sunday as quarterback Carson Wentz threw an interception on the team’s second offensive possession.

In addition to the interception, Wentz just looked erratic, missing throws to his wide receivers and didn’t get into a rhythm until the second half. At his postgame press conference on Sunday, the third-year quarterback acknowledged that they started games better last season.

“I don’t want to talk about last year, but it is something we did really well last year. It is really hard to put your finger on why it is the way it is this year,” he said.

“A lot of it is just little execution things that are a great deal. We have to get back and look and see what teams are doing to us early in the game and why are we having these slow starts.”

If the Eagles want to beat the Saints, who are averaging 6.0 first-quarter points themselves, Wentz has to lock in on other players outside of tight end Zach Ertz and Pederson has to do a better job with play calling. Those two factors alone will make a huge difference.

3. Slowing down the duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram

As we all know with New Orleans, they will put up a ton of points and yards in the air thanks to the arm of Brees. However, this season they have also shown the ability to run the ball successfully. 

The Saints are averaging 126.8 yards per game on the ground, which is good for ninth in the NFL. The two reasons for their success falls on the shoulders of second-year running back Alvin Kamara and veteran Mark Ingram. Kamara is a dynamic playmaker, especially in the receiving game. 

But this season as a runner, the former University of Tennessee Volunteer has rushed for 546 yards on 123 carries and a career-high 11 touchdowns. This is a drastic improvement from last season, where Kamara only had 728 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Despite only having one 100-yard rushing game this season (Week 4 vs. Giants), Kamara is still a nightmare for opposing defenses on a weekly basis and is the perfect compliment to Ingram. Speaking of Ingram, the veteran running back missed the first four games of the season due to a suspension for PEDs.

However, since making his return to the field in Week 5, he has been a solid No. 2 back for the Saints. Last week against the Bengals, Ingram ran for 104 yards on 13 carries and had a receiving touchdown.

With a fairly fresh Ingram and an electrifying Kamara in the backfield, the Eagles’ defense will have its hands full on Sunday. Therefore, they cannot repeat their performance from last week against the Cowboys, where Ezekiel Elliott carved them up for 151 yards.

Philly must be careful about stacking the box with eight players and has to tackle better. One-arm tackles will not cut it against this dynamic rushing duo.

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