Eagles vs. Saints: 4 stats that matter

Eagles vs. Saints: 4 stats that matter

Drew Brees: home vs. away

It’s been such an amazing year for quarterbacks in the NFL that Drew Brees is almost flying under the radar. 2013 was the fourth time the Super Bowl XLIV MVP threw for over 5,000 yards in a season, but the first it wasn’t good enough to lead the league. In fact, this was the first year since Brees joined the New Orleans Saints in ’06 that he wasn’t was No. 1 in either pass attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, touchdowns or passer rating.

The two-time Offensive Player of the Year remains one of the most prolific signal-callers in the league though, finishing no lower than sixth in any of those categories. Now, just imagine the kind of numbers he would’ve put up had the 13-year veteran played on his home turf every week.

Brees has always been better within the confines of the Superdome, but this year the splits took a turn for the worse. I mean, they are ugly. His passer rating drops by over 40 full points on the road.

Brees is nearly flawless in his own building. This year, he completed 73.6 percent of his passes for 2,835 yards, 9.1 yards per attempt, and an incredible 27-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home—good for a 126.3 rating.

When the Saints were the away team, Brees’ numbers fell to 64.0 completion percentage, 2,327 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt, and 12-9 TD:INT ratio—mustering a very ordinary 84.8 efficiency score.

Not surprisingly, New Orleans was unbeaten at home this year, and below .500 (3-5) on the road. Nobody is exactly sure why the discrepancy is so great though. Brees makes a lot of changes at the line of scrimmage, so noise could certainly be a factor. The offense undoubtedly plays much faster on turf too, and dome teams generally perform better indoors than out, especially when the elements have an impact.

And, of course, it’s simply more difficult to win on the road. The 12 teams that reached the playoffs this year had a combined record of 75-20-1 at home.

All of which spells good news for the Philadelphia Eagles at the Linc on Saturday night. The Birds are riding a four-game home winning streak, whereas the Brees is 0-4 all-time at outdoor venues during the playoffs. You always have to worry that something so seemingly intangible as home-away splits will hold up for a great player like Brees, but it’s been an ongoing problem for New Orleans all season.

Jimmy Graham: the X-factor

While Brees is still the first name that comes to mind when the Saints come up, Jimmy Graham has quickly become one of the most dominant players in the league as well and may soon supplant him. With New England’s Rob Gronkowski battling injuries all season, Graham easily led all tight ends this season with 86 receptions and 1,215 yards, while his 16 touchdown receptions was No. 1 in the entire NFL.

Graham is putting up wide receiver numbers, which is essentially what he is. At 6’7”, 265 pounds with 4.5 speed and 38.5-inch vert, the former University of Miami basketball player has the power and quickness to run through or past defenders, but the size and athletic ability to catch passes in places puny mortals can’t reach. As if matching up on Graham wasn’t impossible enough, the Saints line him up all over the formation—split wide, in the slot, or as a regular ol’ inline tight end.

The Eagles don’t have any one player who matches up with Graham perfectly, but then nobody does. It takes a village to defend against that kind of versatility and pure talent. Drawing up the right game plan to contain this monster is essential though.

This will probably come as no surprise, but these days, the Saints go as Graham does. The difference in the 2010 third-round pick’s numbers when New Orleans wins as opposed to when they lose is staggering. Graham averaged 6.1 receptions and 87.2 yards per game with 12 touchdowns in the club’s 11 victories compared to just 3.8 catches, 51.2 yards and four touchdowns in five losses.

The numbers certainly suggest he is vital to the outcome, which even though it seemed kind of obvious, now we know. Then again, Graham is still averaging roughly a touchdown per game no matter what, so if he gets into the end zone once, that’s not necessarily the end of the world. If the Eagles are going to have any chance at stopping the Saints offense, what they need to limit the number of balls Graham gets in the open field and the damage he does after the catch.

Saints Run Defense

As long as Brees keeps doing his thing, the Saints are always going to be known for their offense. This season, they just happen to have a defense, too.

Hired to replace Steve Spagnuolo in the offseason, well-traveled defensive coordinator Rob Ryan managed to transform the league’s 32nd-ranked defense into a top-five unit in one short year. New Orleans finished 2013 fourth in total defense and points allowed, second against the pass. The improvement on the back end starts with pressure up front though, as the Saints finished fourth with 49 sacks.

There’s no question the unit is vastly improved as a whole, but Ryan couldn’t cover up all their weaknesses in one season. New Orleans’s defense is vulnerable on the ground, coming in 19th in rushing yards allowed—and to be honest, that figure probably could've been a lot worse.

The nice thing about having Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and a slew of other offensive weapons is that from time-to-time the offense builds up a big enough lead, it forces opponents to abandon the run. The Saints may have only surrendered the 19th-most yards, but they only faced 24.2 attempts per game, which was 27th. Yards per attempt indicate they’re worse off than their ranking.

In actuality, only three teams allowed higher than New Orleans’ 4.6 yards per carry or more gains of 20 yards this season. Simply put, the Saints can be gashed in the running game, which could spell trouble against the Eagles and the league’s No. 1-ranked rushing offense.

LeSean McCoy in the Fourth Quarter

The Saints won’t be able to stop Philadelphia’s running game, that much is almost certain. The key will be having access to LeSean McCoy for all 60 minutes.

The Eagles can’t allow Drew Brees to get ahead by too much, or that will force Chip Kelly to go away from the run while they try to mount a comeback or just keep pace. Obviously, it’s New Orleans’ biggest weakness, and you would like them to be able to take advantage, but it’s more than that. McCoy actually gets better as the game wears on.

Shady’s numbers improve measurably by quarter, and he is at his best by far in the last frame. The All-Pro back has three first-half touchdowns on the ground compared to six in the second half, while his average increases gradually from 4.4 yards per carry in quarter one until it's a whopping 6.0 in the fourth. And as CSNPhilly.com’s Reuben Frank often likes to point out, no back in NFL history has more 40-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter than McCoy.

There isn’t a better finisher in the league, but the Eagles can only lean on No. 25 down the stretch if they’re in the driver’s seat, or at least within one possession. As long as they can contain Brees and Graham though, Philadelphia has what it needs to exploit New Orleans’ one glaring hole.

As long as they are in the lead or the score is close coming down the fourth quarter, I like Shady and the Birds' chances.

NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

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NBC Sports Philadelphia Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: NBC Sports Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

This position will work closely with the Vice President of Sales in generating revenue through commercial advertisements and sponsorship sales. The intern will gain first-hand sales experience through working with Sales Assistants and AEs on pitches, sales-calls and recapping material.

Duties and Responsibilities

• Assist Account Executive on preparation of Sales Presentations
• Cultivate new account leads for local sales
• Track sponsorships in specified programs
• Assist as point of contact with sponsors on game night set up and pre-game hospitality elements.
• Assist with collection of all proof of performance materials.
• Perform Competitive Network Analysis
• Update Customer database
• Other various projects as assigned

Requirements

1. Good oral and written communication skills.
2. Knowledge of sports.
3. Ability to work non-traditional hours, weekends & holidays
4. Ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment
5. Must be 19 years of age or older
6. Must be a student in pursuit of an Associate, Bachelor, Master or Juris Doctor degree
7. Must have unrestricted authorization to work in the US
8. Must have sophomore standing or above
9. Must have a 3.0 GPA

Interested students should apply here and specify they're interested in the ad/sales internship.

About NBC internships

Underdog, huh? Eagles headed to Super Bowl

Underdog, huh? Eagles headed to Super Bowl

BOX SCORE

The Eagles have been dead for weeks, right? The only problem is that no one ever told them. 

They're more alive than ever. 

And now, without their franchise quarterback, their Hall of Fame left tackle, their starting middle linebacker, their most dynamic offensive weapon, their special teams captain and their original kicker, the Eagles did it again. 

As improbable as it sounds … the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. 

The Birds got off to a rough start, but clamped down and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7, at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday in the NFC Championship Game (see Roob's observations). They'll see the Patriots in Minnesota in two weeks for Super Bowl LII (see story).  

The fourth quarter became a party as fans were doing the Skol chant — they changed it to "Foles" — mockingly and the entire Eagles' sideline danced along to a Meek Mill song. 

This is the Eagles' first trip back to the Super Bowl since the 2004 season, when they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. 

They'll get another crack at Tom Brady and the Patriots, who beat the Jaguars, 24-20, earlier in the day. The Patriots won the game but didn't look invincible. They needed to stage a late comeback to take down the Jaguars. 

Nick Foles claimed he was calm and confident all week and he certainly looked like it in the NFC Championship Game. Sure, the play-calling helped, but Foles had a simply incredible game. He played loose and demolished the best defense in the NFL. 

Foles turned in an all-time performance. He completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He had a passer rating of 141.4. 

With the loss, the Vikings missed a chance to become the first team to ever play in a Super Bowl it's hosting. Oh well. 

The Eagles actually got off to a terrible start Sunday. All three phases chipped in. First, the defense gave up a touchdown drive to start the game. Then the offense missed chances and had to punt. Then, they got a fair catch interference call on special teams. 

Things were going badly until that Patrick Robinson pick-six. Chris Long forced the pressure and during the 50-yard return, the Linc got so loud the press box shook. 

After last week's divisional round win over the Falcons, head coach Doug Pederson called another masterful game. He put on a clinic against the Vikings, pushing all the right buttons as the Eagles began to push around the NFL's best defense. 

Turning point
Long turned that corner and affected Case Keenum's throw enough to allow the ball to hang in the air for Robinson. After Robinson picked off the pass, he took it 50 yards to the house and momentum had officially swung the other way. 

Key stat
The Eagles' 38 points are their second most in playoff history and their margin of victory (31 points) is the biggest in franchise history. 

The 38 points the Eagles scored are the most the Vikings have allowed all season. They had allowed 34 in their last three games combined. 

Offensive stud
For all the questions about Foles over the last few weeks, he answered them Sunday. Foles was incredible. He got into a rhythm early and is now leading the Eagles into the Super Bowl (see report card)

Offensive dud
This was about to go to Torrey Smith for dropping a deep pass early, but he totally redeemed himself when he caught that deep touchdown pass on the flea flicker. 

Defensive stud
Long is 32 years old, but he isn't playing like it. He's rejuvenated and made some huge plays Sunday. None were bigger than the one that led to Robinson's pick-six. 

Defensive dud
Najee Goode gave up that early touchdown to Kyle Rudolph that gave the Vikings an early lead. It looked like he didn't know what was going on. 

Key plays 
• Foles threw his third touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to cap off a 92-yard drive and give the Eagles a 38-7 lead. 

• On 4th-and-goal in the third quarter, it looked like Adam Thielen caught a ball in the end zone, but the replay showed it clearly hit the ground. The Vikings turned the ball over on downs. 

• Pederson dialed up a flea flicker on his first drive of the second half and it worked perfectly. Corey Clement took the handoff, tossed it back to Foles, who hit Smith down the field for a 41-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 31-7 lead. 

• The Eagles got the ball back with just 29 seconds in the half, but Pederson didn't play it scared. Instead, the Eagles attacked and were able to get down the field and kick a 38-yarder to take a 24-7 lead into the locker room. 

• On 3rd-and-10 from their own 47-yard line with under two minutes left in the first half, Foles avoided pressure and threw a 53-yard bomb for a touchdown to Alshon Jeffery to give the Eagles a 21-7 lead. 

• In the second quarter, the Vikings took the ball from their own 15-yard line and got all the way down to the Eagles' 16 before rookie Derek Barnett came around the left tackle and stripped the ball from Keenum. The Vikings' six-minute drive didn't get them any points. 

• Jim Schwartz dialed up a safety blitz on 3rd-and-2 and Malcolm Jenkins came free to force a quick throw from Keenum, who seemed bothered by the pressure. 

• LeGarrette Blount ran over safety Andrew Sendejo on an 11-yard run to get into the end zone early in the second quarter. That gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead. Just before that, Pederson dialed up a little quick pass to Zach Ertz on 3rd-and-short to convert. The Blount touchdown capped off a 75-yard drive. 

• Long got to Keenum to provide pressure and alter his throw that hung up in the air. Robinson picked it off and had an incredible return of 50 yards for a pick-six to tie the game at 7-7. It was the second-longest pick-six in Eagles postseason history. 

• On the Eagles' first drive, Smith dropped a ball he should have had deep and then Trey Burton couldn't get his feet down on a key third-down pass. For some reason, Burton left his feet and jumped to make the catch. 

• Keenum hit Rudolph for a 25-yard touchdown to cap the opening drive of the game. Goode, starting in place of Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), looked lost before the play and didn't seem ready. Rudolph blew past him and was wide open for a touchdown.

Injuries
Linebacker Ellerbe (hamstring) was inactive after being listed as questionable coming into the weekend. Ellerbe was questionable last week, too, but was able to play against the Falcons. Goode started in his place Sunday. 

Up next
The Eagles are heading to Minnesota. They'll face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII in two weeks.