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Game preview from ESPN Insider

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; To preview the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, we tasked ESPN Insider's Gary Horton with reviewing the film of the teams involved. In this edition, he provides his keys to the game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia ...

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Old 01-04-2014, 07:52 AM   #1
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Game preview from ESPN Insider

To preview the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, we tasked ESPN Insider's Gary Horton with reviewing the film of the teams involved. In this edition, he provides his keys to the game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 4, including one big play that could change the game.

If you like creative offensive football, then this is your game (assuming the weather doesn't change everything). On a good day, these teams can spread the field and exploit favorable matchups. There are a lot of offensive weapons on both rosters.

Two average defenses should cancel each other out with no decided edge, so this game may come down to the run game of the Eagles with LeSean McCoy, especially if this is a sloppy field. The Eagles have a much better run game than most people realize, and the Saints have been vulnerable to good run offenses.

Can New Orleans win on the road in Philadelphia?

New Orleans' offense
Even though the Saints say they want to run more to provide offensive balance, the reality is that this offense continues to be a pass-first attack. When they do run the ball, they will use man and zone blocking schemes with a fullback or even an extra offensive lineman as a lead blocker. However, defenses don't really respect it and, as a result, the Drew Brees play-action package is not always effective.

The Saints spread the field as well as any team with a variety of personnel packages, shifts and motion, all of which are designed to find the matchups they can exploit. Brees will use his eyes to maneuver defenders; he will pump-fake; he is great in pre-snap recognition; and he will go through all of his progressions.

The play above is one of Brees' favorites, as it's designed to get the ball to TE Jimmy Graham down the seam. Brees loves to attack all three levels, and if the big play isn't there, he can drop the ball off to his backs and use their very successful screen play. Brees will face a Philly pass defense that gives up a lot of big plays, and New Orleans' multi-receiver sets will force the Eagles to go deeper into their subpackages than they would like.

Philadelphia's defense
The Eagles don't have an elite defense, but they play hard, create some turnovers and showed some improvement late in the season. This is also a defense with pretty good ball skills. They play a 4-3 under front, led by coordinator Billy Davis, but they can change up these looks very easily. Pre-snap, it can look like a 3-4, but it transitions to a 4-3 with a "Predator" rusher; Brees will work to recognize the rush before the snap. On the back end, we see combo coverages with man and zone looks, and the goal is to keep receivers in front of them and not give up big plays; they are not always successful at that, as evidenced by their league-worst ranking in pass defense.

The Eagles don't have great personnel, but they get by with decent discipline and the ability to play under control. One big adjustment they need to make against the Saints' passing game is to give them some "press" looks at the line of scrimmage, because when the Saints' receivers get a free release, they are really productive. Of course, if the Eagles do play press, look for the Saints to counter with bunch formations to get off the line cleanly.

Philadelphia's offense
This is the most versatile offense in the NFL, and a tough scheme to defend. Everybody sees this as a pass-happy Chip Kelly offense, but this is also the top-ranked NFL rush offense, led by McCoy. We see multi-TE sets, extra O-linemen and unbalanced formations that have helped them dominate on the ground. The Eagles also love outside zone runs with misdirection, and counter plays, screens and draws are all staples of this offense.

It is a fast-paced scheme with a large volume of plays run quickly with no-huddle looks, and they still use the read-option, even with Nick Foles at QB instead of Michael Vick. They feel they can adjust their offensive game plan to any defense that they see, and because of the fast pace, it puts pressure on a defense to substitute and get the right personnel on the field. That will be a real challenge for a Saints defense that likes to change things up to surprise the offense. The Eagles don't always allow that to happen because of their offensive pace.

The screen pass has never had more popularity in the NFL than in 2013, and it is a major staple of the Eagles' attack. Being really good at this play requires a gifted RB who is excellent in space, an O-line that is athletic and can get out and block on the second level, and receivers who make plays blocking downfield. The Eagles have the right people to get the job done, led by the versatile McCoy.

New Orleans' defense
Coordinator Rob Ryan gives an opposing offense a lot of varied looks to confuse the QB, and the Saints love to attack, which is always popular with the players. We will see 3-4, 4-3, 4-6 and 4-4-3 looks, and they also use an "Amoeba" defense (all 11 defenders standing up before the snap to create confusion). There is a big nickel scheme with three safeties, and even a five-LB look.

The Saints like to take chances with their pressure, but they can be vulnerable to play-action when they attack, and they don't always play with great gap discipline, which could lead to big McCoy runs. They love to play man schemes on the back end, but it doesn't really suit their personnel, and if the pass rush is not effective they are in trouble.

The dilemma for the Saints is that if they load up the box to stop the Eagles' run game, Foles goes outside to his WRs in single man coverages. On the other hand, if they play coverage schemes with a softer defensive box, the Eagles will simply come back and pound them with the run game.

Neither of these defenses is considered elite, so that leaves it up to two of the most exciting and creative offenses in the NFL. Both groups have the ability to put up big passing numbers, so moving the ball through the air should not be a problem. However, when it comes to the run game, the Eagles have a significant edge with McCoy, and that may mean Brees is on the sideline more than he would like. I think Philadelphia edges New Orleans and moves on.

Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 21

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.

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Old 01-04-2014, 09:02 AM   #2
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Re: Game preview from ESPN Insider

Saints have a Top 5 defense and we aren't elite?
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Old 01-04-2014, 09:18 AM   #3
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Re: Game preview from ESPN Insider

Originally Posted by WhoDat!656 View Post
Saints have a Top 5 defense and we aren't elite?
The only team with a top 5 defense and offense almost guarantees that, doesn't it?
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Old 01-04-2014, 09:49 AM   #4
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Re: Game preview from ESPN Insider

Settle down, that's Gary Horton and it does bode well if he picks the Eagles...

And if there ever was evidence of bias on ESPN's part, posting a scheme and presenting scouting specifically on the Saints - well, there you have it...
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