The Eagles (3-8-1) are hosting the Saints (10-2) at the Linc on Sunday afternoon.
Here are five matchups to watch:
Jalen Hurts vs. top NFL defense
Welcome to the NFL, Jalen Hurts. Now go face the No. 1 defense in the league. Yeah, it’s a tough ask.
The Saints this season have allowed just 20.8 points per game (fourth in the NFL) and just 288.8 yards per game (first). You might still think of the Saints as just this high-flying offense but their defense has really led the way this year. The Saints are riding a nine-game win streak into this game and they haven’t given up more than 16 points in their last five wins. In fact, since their overtime win over the Bears in Week 8, the Saints have allowed just 8.8 points per game. It’s a tough unit.
“They have a lot of great players. Fast, physical football team. They play really hard,” Hurts said. “We’re playing against a great defense and we need to do what we can to control the controllables. Control our effort. Control our execution. Control our mindset and go into it the right way and play a hard-fought game.”
It’ll be up to the Eagles’ offensive coaches to devise a game plan to make things easier on Hurts, which is something they failed to do for Carson Wentz in 12 games. A good start would be relying on the run game, which should include Miles Sanders and Hurts himself.
The Saints aren’t afraid to blitz and you can bet they’ll try to confuse Hurts as much as possible on Sunday. Hurts looked very poised when he entered the Packers game in the third quarter but that will be put to the test this weekend.
Doug Pederson vs. Malcolm Jenkins
Sure, the Saints don’t have much tape on Hurts but Jenkins has a great understanding of this Eagles offense after his four years playing under Pederson. That will probably help the Saints on Sunday.
After all, Jim Schwartz just called Jenkins the smartest player he’s ever coached, citing an example of Jenkins’ understanding of something the Seahawks said about the Eagles’ defensive look last year and relaying that information. So he told Schwartz what to call and the Eagles got a sack. Now, if Jenkins had that deep of an understanding about the Seahawks’ defense, think about how much he knows about the Eagles’ offense after seeing it up close and personal for four years.
Jenkins, 32, has had a pretty good season this year. He’s had his rough patches, sure, but he has 62 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 interceptions and 9 pass breakups. The Eagles, as a team, have just one more interception than him.
Eagles’ tackles vs. Saints’ defensive ends
The Saints’ defense is really propelled by two great edge rushers: The aging veteran Cam Jordan and the fourth-year player Trey Hendrickson. Jordan is now 31 but the five-time Pro Bowler has played at a high level again in 2020. He has 43 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks and 14 quarterback hits.
But Hendrickson actually leads the team in sacks with 10 1/2. The only two players in the league with more are T.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. Hendrickson had just 6 1/2 sacks in his first three years in the NFL but the 2017 third-round pick has exploded in his contract season.
For the most part, Hendrickson plays on the right side of the line and Jordan plays on the left. So that means Hendrickson will be facing Jordan Mailata and Jordan will be facing rookie Jack Driscoll. With all the talk about quarterbacks this week, Mailata has really gone under the radar. He’s had tremendous games in back-to-back weeks.
Taysom Hill vs. Eagles’ run defense
Last week against the Falcons, Hill completed 27 of 37 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He looked like a real drop-back passer. Oh yeah, but he also ran for 83 yards, which is really where the Eagles have to be careful.
With Drew Brees still out, the Eagles are going to have to slow down Hill through the air but also on the ground. And stopping quarterbacks from running the ball this season hasn’t been easy.
Of the six top rushing performances against the Eagles this season, three have come from quarterbacks:
Aaron Jones: 130 yards, 1 TD
Nick Chubb: 114 yards
Lamar Jackson: 108 yards, 1 TD
Daniel Jones: 92 yards
Darrell Henderson: 81 yards, 1 TD
Daniel Jones: 64 yards, 1 TD
“He's very strong,” Rodney McLeod said of Hill. “We know what type of runner he is and his ability to escape the pocket but also does make some good throws down the field. And you see growth from him as well. It's a different type of quarterback from when he first took over when Drew Brees left until now. So we're going to have our hands full again."
Alvin Kamara vs. Eagles’ linebackers and safeties
Sure, Hill is a good player and Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in the NFL. But when defensive coordinators play the Saints, they first try to figure out how the heck to stop Kamara.
Earlier this season, Schwartz praised Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt before the Browns game, saying those were the two best running backs the Eagles had faced. That won’t be true after this week. Because Kamara is flat-out one of the most dynamic players in the entire league.
This season, Kamara has 673 rushing yards on 143 attempts (4.7) with 9 touchdowns and 70 catches for 655 yards (9.4) with another four touchdowns.
In the last 10 years, here are the only players to have 1,300 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns through 12 games: Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, James Conner, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster.
That’s elite company for Kamara, who is on his way to starting his career with four straight Pro Bowl bids.
This is going to be a tough task for Eagles’ linebackers and safeties, who haven’t had great seasons.
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