Beating the New Orleans Saints is an arduous task. Doing so without your starting quarterback is all the more challenging. Here’s what the Eagles will need to accomplish in order to knock off the Saints and their high-flying offense.
Keys to an Eagles Victory (assuming Donovan McNabb does not play)
1. Pressure quarterback Drew Brees. The Eagles will be in this game about as long as the New York Mets lasted in the NL East if they can’t get consistent pressure on the Saints signal caller. Yes, Brees is a phenomenal quarterback, but getting in his face all game long will negatively influence his production. Keeping Brees uncomfortable in the pocket is the team’s primary objective on Sunday. A combination of 3 sacks, 7 hits, and multiple hurries should do the trick for Sean McDermott and his defense.
2. Establishing and committing to the running game (I cringed as I typed this). Eagles fans know all too well that this is the equivalent of asking Andy Reid to switch to fruits, vegetables, and soy milk. As unlikely as this may be, it would certainly improve their chances of winning. A successful running game would milk the clock, control the tempo of the game, and keep the Saints’ offense off the field and out of rhythm. With McNabb, the offense could contend with the Saints pace, but Kolb should not be asked to win a shoot-out with Brees in his first NFL start.
3. Red Zone efficiency. When the Eagles get within the Saints 20 yard line, they’ll need touchdowns. Field goals will not beat Brees and Co. The Saints offense will still get its share of points, so it is important that the Eagles give their defense an opportunity to win the game. Scoring 17 points is unlikely to suffice; 24-31 would be ideal. It’s important to note that the Saints defense is as intimidating as Andre Iquodala’s, “I just hit a game winning shot and think this looks cool,” face. The Eagles, even without McNabb, should manage some offense.
4. Contain Jeremy Shockey. If there is one thing the Eagles defense has struggled to figure out over the past two years it is opponents’ tight ends. Shockey’s prime is behind him, but as the Detroit Lions learned last week (2 TD’s), he can still burn you. The Eagles will need to contain him with a linebacker as often as possible to allow their safeties to cover/double cover receivers.
5. Special Teams. With McNabb out, the Eagles are already handicapped. Avoiding missed field goals, blocked punts, fumbled kickoffs, etc, etc…is critical. Winning the field position battle and forcing Brees to drive the whole field would be helpful as well.
6. Turnovers. The Eagles cannot afford to give the Saints offense additional possessions. Conversely, the Eagles defense will need to take the ball away to give their own offense more chances as they’ll require reps to gel with Kolb. Brees will give the Eagles some opportunities for interceptions. It’s important they take advantage. Three or more turnovers might be necessary to compensate for Kolb’s inexperience as a starter.
Let’s hope McNabb is healthy enough to go on Sunday.