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Saints at Eagles: five things to watch

Posted Jan 4, 2014

5 things to watch in tonight's New Orleans Saints vs Philadelphia Eagles NFC Wild Card game

1. PLAY CLEAN: The New Orleans Saints’ road troubles this season, and in the playoffs under Coach Sean Payton, directly can be traced to turnovers and penalties. In the five road losses during this regular season, the Saints have averaged two turnovers and seven penalties per game, and have committed at least one turnover and at least four penalties in each. In the three road playoff losses under Payton, the Saints have averaged 3.3 turnovers and three penalties per game; all 14 penalties were committed in two games (seven apiece) but in the one game in which New Orleans didn’t commit a penalty, it turned over the ball five times (against San Francisco). So not presenting extra possessions to the Philadelphia Eagles, and minimizing penalties, are high priorities.

2. SHADOW SHADY: Eagles running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy led the NFL with 1,607 rushing yards. He’s the key to Philadelphia’s fast-paced offense because he keeps defenses honest with the run, he can catch (52 receptions for 539 yards) and he has balletic feet, giving him the ability to make defenders miss, and to look silly while missing. Boxing in McCoy, and limiting his options in terms of running lanes, will be key. The player most responsible for that will be defensive signal caller Curtis Lofton, the inside linebacker who led the team with 139 tackles. If McCoy has tendencies, Lofton and Co. have to know what they are, and it also will be critical that Saints defenders properly retain their run fits. Over-pursuit against a player like McCoy can lead to big runs.

New Orleans Saints3. RATTLE NICK: Philly second-year quarterback Nick Foles has been a sensation this season – 203 of 317 (64 percent) for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns, with two interceptions, and a league-leading quarterback rating of 119.2. That said, the likely preference for the Saints' defense is to put the game on the shoulders of a young quarterback, playing in his first playoff game, than to allow McCoy to run wild. Foles has shown a maturity beyond his years while leading the Eagles to seven wins in their last eight games. The Saints have had a mixed bag of results against rookies and second-year quarterbacks this season – a 3-2 record, with both losses on the road. Still, they’ll probably want to see if Foles can stand up to the pressure that they’re sure to bring.

4. TAKE IT TO THE ROAD: The Saints believe they rediscovered their offensive groove in the regular-season finale, a 42-17 victory over Tampa Bay at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in which the offense had three touchdown drives of 80 yards, and one of 92. If they have, it’ll go a long way toward winning the first road playoff game in franchise history. The Saints had scored a total of 36 points in their previous three road losses but – on paper, at least – there should be opportunities to move the ball and to score against a Philly defense that allows 394 yards and 24 points per game. If the Saints get into a rhythm, they’ll be fun to watch.

5. SEIZE THE MOMENT: Not only have the Saints been bombarded this season with questions about their inability to win on the road during the regular season (3-5), they’ve had to spend this week talking about the fact that the franchise never has won a road playoff game (0-5 overall, 0-3 under Payton). At some point, the Saints are going to break through and win a playoff game away from the Superdome. This roster of players and coaching staff believes that time is now, and the Saints will enter the game with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Here’s a chance for them to make history.

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