5 matchups to watch as Eagles visit Saints

5 matchups to watch as Eagles visit Saints

The Eagles (4-5) head on the road this weekend to face the Saints (8-1), who just might be the best team in all of football. 

After losing to the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, the Eagles have gone from having Super Bowl aspirations to being firmly on the outside of the playoff picture. Meanwhile, the Saints have rattled off eight wins in a row and are scoring more points than any other team in the NFL. 

It’s not going to be an easy game for the Birds. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Drew Brees vs. Eagles’ depleted secondary
We already mentioned it, but the Saints are averaging 36.7 points per game, which is absurd. They’re averaging 14.7 points per game more than the Eagles. And it all starts with Brees. There are a ton of Brees stats we could throw out, but you get it. He’s really good. He was already a Hall of Famer, but at age 39 he’s putting together his best season yet. 

And now he’ll go against a secondary that has been decimated by injuries. The Eagles hope to have Sidney Jones back, but even if they do, they’re down other bodies. Rodney McLeod and Ronald Darby are both done for the season with knee injuries and Jalen Mills (foot) won’t be back this week. That means a lot of Jones and Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Corey Graham. This isn’t ideal. 

Saints’ RBs vs. Eagles’ run D 
The Eagles gave up 187 total yards to Zeke Elliott last week and let him go for 151 yards on the ground. Even with that, the Eagles still have the NFL’s seventh-best run defense. But thanks to some shabby tackling last week, they certainly look more susceptible. For all the focus on Brees, the Saints use a two-headed monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Kamara has blossomed into an absolute star in this league, averaging over 100 total yards per game. He’s as dangerous as a receiver as he is a runner. 

While Elliott was really good last week, the Eagles also failed to tackle him several times. That seemed to bother Jim Schwartz more than anything. These two backs have a chance to do some damage. 

Jermon Bushrod vs. Michael Bennett
Saints left tackle Terron Armstead will reportedly miss a few games with a shoulder injury, which means the Saints will be turning to an old familiar face. Bushrod was once a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Saints in 2011 and 2012. He’s back this season as a backup but filled in nicely last week. The Saints will need that to continue against the Eagles and Michael Bennett this week. 

After failing to get a sack in the first three games of this season, Bennett has 5 1/2 in the last six games, including a two-sack performance against the Cowboys on Sunday. Without Derek Barnett, who hit IR, Bennett has been a starter and has easily become the Eagles’ best defensive end. 

Lane Johnson vs. Cameron Jordan 
Johnson wasn’t able to play last week because of a sprained MCL, so Halapoulivaati Vaitai played in his place. Vaitai wasn’t bad, but the Eagles clearly helped him more than they normally would help Johnson — and that can change things offensively. Even if Johnson is back, he’s worth keeping an eye on. 

Jordan is 29 now, but he still leads the Saints with six sacks this season after a career-high 13-sack season last year. He can be a handful. 

Carson Wentz vs. Saints pass defense 
In each of the last five games, Wentz has had a passer rating of over 100. Now, that doesn’t tell the whole story, but it does indicate he’s at least playing pretty well. The Eagles need more production out of him and the whole offense though. Against Drew Brees, 22 points ain’t gonna cut it. 

The good news for the Eagles is that the Saints have given up a 296 passing yards per game, making them the second-worst pass defense in the league. Some of that is misleading though. The Saints offense is so good, they get up on teams and force them to throw. And the Saints are still giving up just 25.8 points per game, which isn’t great, but it’s been more than enough for their explosive offene. If the Eagles have any shot on Sunday, Wentz is going to have to be incredible. 

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

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Are the 2019 Eagles better or worse at linebacker?

The Eagles let a promising-yet-oft-injured potential star walk in the offseason, though the team was not idle, adding two quality players to mix. Will the linebackers be better off as a result in 2019?

Key additions: L.J. Fort (free agent, Steelers), Zach Brown (free agent, Redskins) 

Key departures: Jordan Hicks (free agent, Cardinals)

Why they could be better: Depth

Last summer, the battle for the Eagles’ third linebacker job was between Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry, neither of whom played much up to that point, and Corey Nelson, who didn’t even make the team. Grugier-Hill and Gerry are still in the mix here, though the competition for spots two through seven behind Nigel Bradham will be much stiffer.

Jordan Hicks’ departure does create another hole in the starting lineup, one likely to be filled by either L.J. Fort, Zach Brown or Grugier-Hill. But that trio all bring experience to the table — Brown has been to a Pro Bowl — plus Paul Worrilow returns from a torn ACL, offering another veteran presence. Gerry got some opportunities last year, and even he’ll be pushed by CFL star Alex Singleton and undrafted rookie/ All-American T.J. Edwards. How much deeper is this group? In 2018, the guys behind LB4 Gerry were all exclusively special teamers.

Why they could be worse: Down a playmaker

How much will the Eagles miss Hicks? Hard to say. They won a Super Bowl without him in 2017, and after missing more time last season, he eventually returned to find Bradham had taken over as the defense’s No. 1 linebacker. Can’t blame the club for its unwillingness to match $36 million over four years for somebody who’s injured so frequently.

That being said, there’s no denying Hicks seemingly has a nose for the football. He played only 43 games over four seasons, yet managed to amass 19 pass breakups, 7 interceptions, 5.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, six fumble recoveries and 12 tackles for loss. Only a small handful of players even come close to matching that big play production during the same span – none with at least as many of each, and all in at least 10 more games. When he’s on the field, Hicks is a difference-maker, an ability as difficult to replace as it can be to quantify.

The X-factor: Who takes Hicks’ spot?

It was kind of surprising Brown was still on the street in May. Sure, he turns 30 this year, coming off a season in which he lost his starting job in Washington and is nowhere near the impact player he was earlier in his career. He still posted over 200 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 22 tackles for loss over the last two years.

Brown may be best suited for LB3 snaps in the Eagles’ defense. There’s not a lot of blitzing, minimizing one of his best attributes of rushing the passer, and as he’s aged, his coverage ability has seemingly diminished. Yet, he’s still stout against the run, and who else is it going to be? This could wind up becoming more of a platoon role, with Brown seeing first- and second-down snaps, then either Fort or Grugier-Hill in the nickel. There’s potential in such an arrangement. The question is whether opponents will be able to attack the shortcomings of Hicks’ part-time replacements.

Are the Eagles’ linebackers better or worse?

There’s a chance the Eagles let a special one go in Hicks, but the bottom line is he’s seldom available anyway — an issue that issue dates back to college, by the way. On paper, you probably take Hicks over the field, including Bradham. However, in reality, having a bunch of competent, experienced players who will actually be in uniform might be the safer route at this point. BETTER

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

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The real reason this Kansas City radio host's attack on Andy Reid was out of line

I get why people are so outraged by the comments made Monday by a Kansas City radio host who linked Tyreek Hill’s off-the-field issues with the death seven years ago of Andy Reid’s son Garrett.

The guy tried to make a case that Big Red’s inability to be a strict disciplinarian as both a parent and a coach was responsible for both. 

“It did not work out particularly well in his family life,“ is what Kevin Kietzman of Sports Radio 810 WHB said. “He’s had a lot of things go bad on him, family and players. He is not good at fixing people. He is not good at discipline.”

Of course, these sort of remarks are irresponsible, hurtful and off-base. But you consider the source and they're probably not all that surprising.

And let's be honest. We all understand you don’t record the eighth-most wins of any NFL head coach in history and the seventh-most playoff wins without being able to discipline players when it’s necessary. We’ve all seen coaches who truly are bad at this stuff, and they don’t have three losing seasons in 20 years. They don’t last three years.

So yeah, this isn’t about that. Andy doesn’t need to be defended. Not about this.

And outrage distracts us from the real point. The real shame of Kietzman’s comments is that he connects a lack of discipline with heroin addiction.

Garrett Reid, Andy’s oldest son, died during training camp in Bethlehem seven years ago from a heroin overdose after a long battle with addiction, and the notion that his death somehow was the result of his father not disciplining him enough shows such a lack of understanding of addiction and substance abuse.

Addiction is a mental health disorder. It’s a disease.

It’s not a weakness. It’s not a character flaw. It’s not a lack of discipline.

Treatment can help, but it’s a long and difficult process. The changes substance abuse cause in a person’s brain, the addictive traits of heroin and other opioids, make recovery difficult and in some cases impossible.

Garrett was a good kid, a smart kid, and he and his family battled his addiction for years.

Here’s part of Andy’s statement the evening Garrett died:

“We understood that Garrett's long-standing battle with addiction was going to be difficult. He will, however, always have our family's love and respect for the courage he showed in trying to overcome it.”

This guy doesn’t know Andy and the battle he and his family fought to try and help Garrett through that battle.

Addiction and substance abuse have become such an epidemic in our communities. Big city. Small town. Everywhere. All of us know someone who’s lost a family member. All of us have either directly or indirectly felt that pain.

What Kietzman said is wrong in so many ways, but worst of all is how he trivializes addiction by implying that a little parental discipline would have saved Garrett Reid’s life.

This was a horrible thing to say for a lot of reasons, and it’s been nice to see so many of Andy’s former players rallying behind him on social media.

No parents should have to go through what Andy and his family went through seven summers ago at Lehigh. No parents should have to go through this either.

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