Five on the Saints: New Orleans is No Brees
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Billy Davis seems to understand what he's in for Sunday when the Eagles will attempt to begin to salvage what is shaping up as a disappointing season against the 1-3 New Orleans Saints.
The Saints aren't what they once were but Drew Brees is still piloting things for Sean Payton and that means the team remains dangerous.
New Orleans finished the 2014 season with the top-ranked offense (411.4 yards per game) in all of football and is currently ranked No. 6 after a 438-yard output last Sunday in the team's overtime win over Dallas.
With two touchdown passes against the Cowboys, Brees reached the 400 plateau for his career and possibly saved his own team’s season with an 80-yard scoring pass on a wheel route to C.J. Spiller in overtime as he reached the rarified air inhabited by names like Manning, Favre, Marino and Brady.
(Listen to former Saints QB Bobby Hebert on the Warmup with Rich Quinones)
“I think the common theme for all the top five or 10 quarterbacks, however you want to rate them, is that they have the playbook at the line of scrimmage,” Davis admitted. “I think those are the hardest (quarterbacks) to defend. You show a blitz, they run a screen; you don’t show a blitz look, you open the box up to where you split the safeties, and they make their best run play. They are constantly moving off what your look is.”
And Brees is in that club.
“If you’re not ready, (the quarterback) snaps the ball, set hike; if you are ready on the line, he reads what you’re in and changes his play,” Davis said. “So I think (when you’re) facing the Drew Breeses of the world, (it’s an) operation where it really is like having a coordinator at quarterback. They can adjust from what you show. That is the biggest challenge. …I mean, he knows this offense as well as Sean (Saints Head Coach Sean Payton) does.”
The one positive for the Eagles is that Brees is not 100 percent healthy as he is dealing with a shoulder injury which caused him to miss his first start in New Orleans during Week 3. The film clearly shows Brees is compensating for the injury and he has lost something off his fastball so Davis would be wise to instruct his charges that the deep ball isn't going to be in play all that much.
After missing that start a few weeks ago, Brees connected on 33-of-41 passes for 359 yards and a 119.4 passer rating against Dallas as he spread the football around to nine different players, with little-known receiver Willie Snead being his favorite target with six catches for 89 yards.
"Offensively, obviously, it starts with the quarterback," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "(Brees has) been there for so long and has such a good grasp of what they're doing. They've changed a lot of parts around him, but Drew doesn't seem like he's missed a beat. He’s an extremely accurate passer, one of the more accurate passers to ever play in this league.
"There are a lot of times where you'll say, ‘Boy, that guy's covered,’ and he throws it exactly where-- a lot of quarterbacks, in those situations, will say, ‘He's covered’ and move on to another guy. And he'll say, ‘He's covered, but he's not covered on his back, left shoulder,’ and actually throw it to his back, left shoulder. You're dealing with a different type of quarterback than a lot of guys you see in the league. He's in that [Green Bay Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers category where you can say, ‘Hey we have pretty good coverage on this play, but we don't because of where exactly he can place the football.’"
Much like the Eagles, NOLA has a committee setup in the backfield with Mark Ingram as the bell cow, Khiry Robinson as his complement, and Spiller as the dual-threat, third-down option.
Spiller's emergence is important because Brees has missed the security blanket of Darren Sproles last season and Spiller gives him that check-down option that can turn a simple throw in the flat into big yardage.
"I think the addition of C.J. Spiller has really helped them," Kelly said. "He obviously had an 80-yard touchdown in overtime against (the Cowboys) in a wheel-route where they caught them in a match-up where a linebacker was on him and the linebacker couldn't run with him. I've always admired the way C.J. played because he is one of those tough match-ups. He's got a lot of Sproles characteristics to him."
Ingram, meanwhile, is quietly enjoying his most productive season, ranking 10th in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (407) and leading all NFL running backs in receiving with 22 grabs for 203 yards.
NO 'DEFENSE' OF ROB RYAN
Buddy's other son is struggling with the Saints as Rob Ryan just doesn't have the talent to put together a top-tier defensive unit. Even after a better-than-normal performance against a Dallas team without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, Ryan's defense is just 24th in the NFL and 27th against the run, providing yet another opportunity for DeMarco Murray and the banged-up Eagles offensive line to start moving in the right direction.
The unit is getting healthier, however, as safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe all returned from injuries against the Cowboys and the difference was apparent.
"Defensively, they give you so many different looks." Kelly said. "They're very multiple in what they do. You're going to see Tampa-2 on one play, then you are going to see a zero Blitz with everyone in press-man across the board on the next play. So, there is a lot of multiplicity in terms of what they're doing.
"They seem like they have a lot of guys role playing. So, on one play ‘this’ guy is the SAM linebacker, on the next play, he's playing defensive line. On the next play he's out in coverage. So you don't have a lot of keys, especially with only four games that you've got a chance to look at."
TIME OF POSSESSION TURNAROUND?
Considering Kelly stubbornly refuses to admit time of possession is an issue for the Eagles, don't expect an improvement in that category this week.
So far the Saints have demonstrated an ability to sustain drives and use the clock to their advantage, ranking seventh in the NFL by holding the football over 32 minutes a game (32:06 to be exact). Conversely, Philadelphia is dead last in TOP, keeping the football just 22:48 per contest.
The narrative on the Saints is that they are great at home inside the Superdome and awful on the road. Except for a short stretch, though, that's not necessarily true.
Since Payton arrived in 2006, the Saints actually have the sixth-best road record in the NFL at 39-35 and New Orleans finished last season with four straight wins away from home.
The Saints also won the last time they were at Lincoln Financial Field back in the 2013 Wild Card game where New Orleans edged Kelly in his only postseason game to date, a 26-24 victory fueled by a big Sproles kickoff return late.
Sproles, of course, spent three seasons with the Saints before being traded to the Birds and finished his time in NOLA with 1,067 rushing yards and 1,981 receiving yards.
973espn.com prediction: Eagles - 21, Saints 20
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JFMcMullen.