‘Different’ Eagles Believe Revenge Will be Best Served in Seven Weeks
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In the aftermath of the Eagles 41-point loss in New Orleans earlier this season, the toe tag for the reigning Super Bowl champions wasn't actually applied but the more practical of us certainly prepared it for what looked like an inevitable final act.
Fast forward seven weeks and 4-6 has turned into 10-7 for Philadelphia with Nick Foles performing his now annual Lazarus routine by winning four straight games after taking over for the injured Carson Wentz, including last Sunday's 16-15 Wild Card Weekend upset win in Chicago.
Now it's off to the Big Easy for the rematch of Philadelphia's low point but this time Drew Brees and Co. will not be exposing Chandon Sullivan and De'Vante Bausby while Foles, like Brees, an Austin, Texas Westlake High School product, brings his own brand of Voodoo to the Bayou.
Sunday's game will mark the first time Super Bowl MVPs from the same high school meet in the NFL playoffs but it's actually the second time the two have squared off in the postseason. During Chip Kelly's first season in Philadelphia Brees' Saints beat Foles and the Eagles although the latter exited the Lincoln Financial Field playing surface with the lead. And that, by the way, is the last [and only] postseason game Foles has lost.
While Foles vs. Brees will get the headlines, however, the bigger shift from the first game is in Philadelphia's secondary where Jim Schwartz has been able to settle things down since the last trip to New Orleans despite being without three of his four opening day starters -- cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby as well as safety Rodney McLeod.
Rookie Avonte Maddox, despite some double-move troubles during the second half in Chicago, and physical second-year corner Rasul Douglas have solidified the outside while Cre'Von LeBlanc has given the team a scrappy option in the slot.
The improvement has been so great that Schwartz felt confident in playing his big nickel defense [six defensive backs] the majority of the game in Chicago to combat the dynamic Tarik Cohen.
Talk about fluid. In less than two months Schwartz has gone from not having enough competent DBs to put on the field in NOLA to choosing to play the three aforementioned CBs along with first-year safety Tre Sullivan, pairing them with the two players he always trusted, veteran safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham, over a proven linebacker like Jordan Hicks.
Conversely, the Saints have slowed down quite a bit since that blowout of the Eagles with defenses trying to force someone other than RB Alvin Kamara (1,592 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns) or wide receiver Michael Thomas (125 catches, 1,405 yards, nine touchdowns) to beat them.
From Week 1 through that Eagles game, New Orleans scored over 40 points six times. The high point since is 31 points on two occasions with the low-water mark being 10 at Dallas and another 12-point effort at Carolina.
If you throw out a meaningless Week 17 game also against the Panthers in which the Saints rested their starters the New Orleans offense has been averaging only 22.4 points per game since routing the Eagles. Meanwhile, since Foles has entered the lineup for the Eagles, Philadelphia is 4-0 and averaging 25.5 points per game, including the low mark of 16 against the Bears' top-tier defense.
"This team believes. This team believes in everything that we're doing, and you saw it yesterday [in Chicago] and we're different," coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "It's a different mindset. It's a different football team. And we're a different group than when we played New Orleans the first time, and we're learning from it and obviously have been better since."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen