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November 13, 2017

Mailbag: Which NFC team is the biggest threat to the Eagles in the playoffs?

In our weekly Eagles chat last Thursday, there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, let's do a mailbag post to answer some of the overflow.

Question from #1EaglesFan: With the postseason pretty much locked up, which teams in the NFC do the Eagles need to be worried about? Who matches up well with us? 

Defensively, the Eagles' formula all season has been very simple. They shut down the run, they make teams one-dimensional, and then they get after the quarterback. My belief is that you have to have a balanced attack to beat this Eagles defense, and the team best equipped to do it is the Saints.

The Saints' offense is good every year. Here's where they have ranked in yards per game, passing yards per game, and rushing yard per game since Drew Brees got there:

 Saints offenseTotal yards Passing Rushing 
 2016 116 
 2015 124 
 2014 313 
 2013 225 
 2012 125 
 2011 1
 2010 328 
 2009 4
 2008 128 
 2007 328 
 2006 119 

As you can see, the Saints have typically put up a ton of passing yards, but haven't been able to run it effectively. The two years they finished in the top 10 in rushing, they had great teams. The 2009 team went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl, while the 2011 team went 13-3 and won a playoff game before eventually losing to a then-great 49ers team in a shootout.

This year, unlike other years, they are very balanced. They are third in rushing and fifth in passing. If they stay on that course, it would be the first time in the Brees era that they would be ranked higher in rushing than passing.

Oh, and also unlike other years, they're playing defense. They're tied for fifth in points allowed and they're eighth in yards allowed.

The Saints presently have a seven game winning streak, during which they are outscoring their opponents 229-100, and their two losses have come to a pair of 7-2 teams in the Vikings and Patriots. This team is for real, and one the Eagles would be lucky to avoid in January.

The Rams, meanwhile, are the No. 3 offense in the NFL (6th passing, 5th rushing), so they have good balance as well. However, I just tend to trust Brees a little more than Jared Goff, who is having a breakout season, but doesn't have Brees' consistent year-to-year greatness yet.

Question from Taco J: What is the weak spot on this Eagles team? Where do you attack? Joe Walker (whenever he's on the field)?

This question was asked before it was known that the Eagles are expected to sign veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on Monday. Apparently, the Eagles may share Taco's concerns about Joe Walker playing meaningful snaps.

If I were to add a concern of my own, it would be the running backs' collective ability to pass protect. The Eagles have faced the highest number of blitzes in the NFL, and my guess is that is the reason why. It obviously hasn't killed them yet, but at some point it may.

Question from Sheriff Hopper: Is there going to be a cornerback rotation with Ronald Darby coming back this week? The Eagles' corners have been playing well without him, although he's obviously better than all of them.

To begin, the assumption is that he'll be back this week, though I do think he'll play on Sunday, and it's a good question. Would it be in the Eagles' and Darby's best interests to just throw him back out there for 60 snaps, or would everyone be better served if he were eased back into the lineup? With Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, and Rasul Douglas having played well in Darby's absence, there's no rush in getting Darby on the field for an entire game.

I tend to lean toward the Eagles easing him back in, whenever that is (likely Sunday).

Question from AC3: Caleb Sturgis is presumably healthy. What will the Eagles do with him? I think that cutting him and letting a team like Seattle upgrade with him would be a mistake.

Sturgis is on IR, so they don't have to do anything with him, and I share your thinking that you don't want to help another playoff contender. One other thing to consider is that Sturgis is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after 2017. If the Eagles lose more free agents than they sign this offseason, they could be in line for compensatory picks for the first time in a long time. Sturgis could conceivably count toward that formula if he left for another team in free agency. If they cut him now, he would not.

Question from Sporran: How close were the Eagles to hiring Ben McAdoo instead of Peterson? If it was very close, that should temper any praise of Howie, no?

Howie wasn't the sole decision-maker on the head coach hiring. Obviously, Jeffrey Lurie had a major hand in that as well, along with some others.

To answer your question, and it's something that I noted once before (in our 2016 Eagles dumpster fire post), the Eagles wanted to hire McAdoo. They even had a gift basket with Tastykakes and all kinds of other Philly-themed stuff ready and waiting for McAdoo on the second floor of the NovaCare Complex, like this:

Ultimately, McAdoo chose the Giants, and now they're a 1-8 disaster. Sometimes you're better off being lucky than good.

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