Richard Moore previews one of the most intriguing match-ups of the NFL play-offs.
So, a ‘three-peat of fail’ it was for the Dallas Cowboys as Philadelphia edged out ‘America’s Team for the final post season berth, ensuring Jerry (Jones) and his Cowboys spend the coming months pondering what might have been.
For Nick Foles however, the outlook (at least for the time being) looks markedly different, as victory over Dallas allows the man who followed in the footsteps of his hero Drew Brees, by treading the path from Westlake High School (via Arizona State) to the NFL, the opportunity to improve upon their last post-season appearance, when the Eagles, with the man Foles replaced, Michael Vick, bowed out at the wild card stage with defeat to eventual Super Bowl Champions, Green Bay.
The man affectionately referred to as ‘Breesus’ down South has already experienced the ecstasy of triumph on the biggest of all stages, but his young counterpart in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ will be contesting his very first post-season showdown.
That being said, with the Saints yet to register a road win in the payoffs, it will be interesting to see how Brees and the Saints greater post season experience will factor into the equation.
"He's a guy I've watched and learned from," Foles said. "He's done a lot of great things throughout his career, on and off the field, and he's a great role model for fellow players, kids and adults."
Foles, 10 years younger than his fellow number 9, led the 10-6 Eagles, who won four of their last five by a combined 166-122 points to make the playoffs for the first time since the aforementioned 21-16 wild-card round defeat in 2010-11.
The second-year quarterback went 8-2 as the starter and appeared in 13 games, throwing 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Foles 0.6 interception percentage ranks as the most impressive in the NFL amongst quarterbacks who’ve played in more than half of their team's games.
Playing in first-year coach Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, Foles’ performances at the business end of the season can only be described as imperious.
He completed a highly impressive 74.5 percent of his passes over the final two regular season games; passing for 263-yards and two touchdowns in the winner takes all showdown at ‘Jerry World’
Also part of the all-star cast in Chip Kelly’s seat of your pants offense is the league’s leading Rusher LeSean McCoy, who topped the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards while catching 52 passes for 539-yards for a league-best 2,146 scrimmage yards. DeSean Jackson also played his part with 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
The aforementioned three rendered Kelly (Chip) and his offense a puzzle the rest of the league struggle to figure out. Philadelphia were the most proficient team in the National Football Conference when it came to registering plays of 10 or more yards, chalking up with 247 in total.
Regardless, the Eagles offensive fireworks will be kept honest by a Saints defense that was efficient in limiting big plays, allowing only five touchdowns of 20-yards or more to rank second in the conference.
"They're a talented group," said Foles whilst addressing the associated press "They're going to mix it up with their coverage’s. They're going to try to put pressure on you at times and they're going to try to get to you.
"I think the key to that is that we have to recognize as a team when they're trying to put pressure on. As the quarterback, I have to recognize which coverage they want to play and what pressure [they're going to bring], and that's what this week of preparation is all about. We're trying to figure out what they're going to do, and I'm sure they'll have new things ready to go for us."
Brees has had another exceptional season in leading the Saints (11-5) to a wild-card berth, ranking only behind Denver's Peyton Manning (5,477-yards, and 55 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions) with 5,162 yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
An issue for the team, though, was its troubles away from New Orleans. Brees and the Saints were a perfect 8-0 at the Super Dome averaging 34.0 points, however when removed from the comforts of home, New Orleans are a decidedly un-impressive 3-5 while scoring 17.8 per game on the road.
Brees drop off in QBR rating from 126.3 at home to 84.8 away from home only serve to highlight struggles on the road, especially outdoors as there is a significant drop off in QBR rating from 119.0 to 81.7.
Bizarrely, there is no direct correlation between whether types and Brees outdoors. For example his (Brees) worst QBR ratings occur in temperatures upwards of 61-80 degrees Fahrenheit, where his rating lies around the 74.1 mark, decreasing still further to 67.5 when temperatures go beyond 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, when throwing into the wind, his rating ranks at a more impressive 76.8. So, with the teams set to experience highs of 29 degrees, and lows of 21 degrees, who know what to expect?
The Saints lost their final three road games, getting outscored 78-36, and are 0-5 all-time in play-off contests away from home.
"We're in the postseason. That's all that matters," opined outside linebacker Junior Galette, who had 12 sacks. "It gives us a chance to go get a ring, so that's it."
Brees will almost certainly need to take the Saints offense on his back, due to the Eagles strength against the run. Philadelphia allowed just 3.77 yards per carry, the lowest average among playoff teams.
New Orleans rushing attack ranked a lowly 25th in the league with 92.1-yards-per-game and 26th with 3.8 per carry. Pierre Thomas led the team with 549-yards on the ground, while tight end Jimmy Graham caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and a league-best 16 touchdowns, despite playing most of the season with a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
"We're going to watch film and really study these guys and get ready for a tough, physical game because we already know that when it comes to playoff time, all games are going to be tough, all games are going to be physical," Thomas told ESPN.com. "So we know we're going to have our hands full with these guys coming after us, and we're definitely going to come after them."
Brees is 5-3 in the playoffs with New Orleans, completing 66.2 percent of his passes while throwing 20 touchdowns to only three interceptions. His first postseason victory with the Saints was 27-24 over Philadelphia on Jan. 13, 2007.
In his only game in Philadelphia as a member of the Saints, Brees threw for 311-yards and three touchdowns in a 48-22 win Sept. 20, 2009.
The Eagles won their last four at home this season and are 3-1 in their past four playoff games at Lincoln Financial Field.
The saints may have finished the season 3-5 on the road, boast an all-time record of 0-5 in road playoff games, and in their last two last two road trips, they famously (or infamously, depending where your allegiances lie) went down 41-36 to a 7-9 Seahawks outfit, and two years ago lost a close fought encounter to the San Francisco 49ers in agonizing fashion, courtesy of Vernon Davis touchdown with 9 seconds remaining.
Despite evident improvement’s in both Philly’s run and pass games, I expect New Orleans and Drew Brees’ playoff record and experience coupled with the weapons (Graham, Thomas, Mechum, Colston, Moore et all) at his disposal to take advantage of the Eagles suspect secondary, and march on to Seattle to take on the ‘Legion of Boom’.
Predicted Score: New Orleans 34-28 Philadelphia Eagles
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