By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—After beating the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC East and surviving the rigors of an elimination game, the Eagles open their playoff run at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night against Drew Brees and the potent New Orleans Saints offense.
While Eagles fans can take comfort in the fact that the Saints have never won a playoff game on the road, were 3-5 on the road in the regular season and that dome teams are 3-25 in road playoff games when the temperature dips below 35 degrees, the Birds players and coaches can’t.
The Eagles are expecting the Saints come out to come out on all cylinders and then some.
“They’re a good football and like any good team, they don’t let those outside factors get to them,” said Eagles inside linebacker Mychal Kendrick. “They’re going to come in here, they’re going to try and play a really good game no matter what the situation is and that’s just what it is.”
On the defensive side of the football, the Eagles will be facing the league’s No. 2 passing offense, led by Brees and a host of playmakers including tight end Jimmy Graham, who has 16 touchdown passes.
“This offense is so efficient and it is run on Drew Brees and his decision-making and quick release,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “He really makes you defend the field both horizontally and vertically because all five of his eligible receivers are up and active. …they stretch you horizontally and vertically.”
For an Eagles secondary that’s had to go up against some of the league’s best receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant, it’s another monumental challenge. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams said he nor the Eagles secondary is fazed by the caliber of talent lined up against him.
“I’m going to play my game, regardless,” Williams said. “I could care less what Drew Brees does with his release. I’m going to be in the guy’s (receiver’s) face, I’m going to disrupt the timing and I’m going to try my best to play 60 minutes as tough as I possibly can.”
What makes this Saints team a difficult challenge for the Eagles is their array of weapons from Graham to wide receiver Marques Colston or even speedy running back Darren Sproles, who caught 71 passes coming out of the backfield during the regular season.
So how do you cover those guys, especially when you have a quarterback like Brees who gets the ball out to his playmakers with the blink of an eye? Do you man up one-on-one and get physical? Should you lay back and play zone?
“I think the key is to change up that type of coverage and it’s more about the quarterback than the actual coverage and what he’s looking at, what he sees and how quick he can read it,” Davis said. “He’s seen every coverage and he’s seen all kinds of different tactics and then so has Sean (Payton, Saints head coach).
“They’ve got adjustments to everything.”
The Eagles are going to have to figure out a way to disrupt Brees timing in the passing game even if they can’t get physically close to touching him. That means pass rushers are going to have to be like basketball shot-blockers and put their hands in the air.
“It’s definitely one of those things where you have to get after him and try to rattle him a little bit,” said Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham. “That’s one of the challenges we have every week is who’s going to get to the quarterback and how many times. I think it will definitely change the game if we can get there a couple of times.”
If there’s a weakness in the Saints offense is that they don’t run the football very well. They are averaging 91 yards per game running the football with backs like Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Sproles.
Considering what Brees can do in the passing game, the Eagles seemed to be more concerned about the Saints backs as receivers.
“That’s going to be our task at hand to handle them coming out of the backfield,” Kendrick said. “Those guys are quick, agile and they can get into small spaces.”