There's no subterfuge here.
The New Orleans Saints (5-4) have the best run defense in the NFL – 72.9 yards per game allowed, including an iron-fisted 57 per game in the last three.
The Philadelphia Eagles (4-6) have the third-best rushing offense overall (144.3 yards per game) in the league, and have been unchallenged in the category over the last three games, a stratospheric 208.7.
There are other bells and whistles to be attentive of for the Saints as they attempt to end a two-game losing streak Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, but begin there for New Orleans' keys to victory.
1. MINIMIZE THE HURTS: Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has run for a team-leading 547 yards and five touchdowns on 97 carries. True, Hurts also can do damage in the passing game (62.2 percent completions for 2,159 yards and 13 touchdowns, with five interceptions). But the Philly ground game begins with him, and his big-play ability in the passing game filters off that. Hurts isn't just mobile, he's an extra ballcarrier and he has to be accounted for as such. New Orleans has fast, active linebackers (Demario Davis, Kwon Alexander, Pete Werner, Kaden Elliss) and they're going to have to be disciplined in their approach, as will the defensive line. If Hurts can be kept in the pocket, the hurts can best be limited from there.
2. STICK LIKE GLUE: The secondary will be taxed, also, because when Hurts buys time to throw, that's extra time in coverage. Tennessee had just 198 net passing yards against the Saints last Sunday, but a couple of explosive plays really stood out. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore has had better games than the one he had against the Titans, so expect him to get back on brand. That could put him in coverage against Eagles rookie receiver Devonta Smith (42 catches for 603 yards and four touchdowns), and the Saints need him to handle that detail – along with others in the secondary – in order to devote more eyes to Hurts.
3. PHYSICIAN HEAL THYSELF: New Orleans hasn't played its best and brightest brand of football the previous two games. Penalties have been debilitating (the roughing the passer penalty against Tennessee was more than a stretch, but there were other non-controversial penalties that were undercutting). Historically under Coach Sean Payton, the Saints have been a disciplined team when it comes to penalties. They need to get back to that; it's a big hill to climb when you're trying to defeat an opponent while overcoming your own mistakes.
4. FOOT FAULTS: Make the available kicks. Field goals, point-after attempts, dropkicks, whatever – just make the kicks. Brian Johnson's two missed PATs against Tennessee put New Orleans in a bind on the scoreboard, and that can't continue to happen. No team is in a position to give away points, and the Saints just need someone reliable on the routine stuff.
5. HELP THE HELPER: Nits can be picked but in all honesty, quarterback Trevor Siemian pretty much has done exactly what he has needed to do in order to put the Saints in position to win in his two starts. He needs a little more help from his teammates. We mentioned the kicking game already, but that also means the offensive line needs to hold up better than it did against the Titans, who sacked Siemian four times. That's asking a lot, because the Saints' offensive line has been in a constant state of transition this season; you probably can count on fingers and toes the number of game reps played by the projected five starters of left tackle Terron Armstead, left guard Andrus Peat, center Erik McCoy, right guard Cesar Ruiz and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Ramczyk (knee) is ailing and might miss this game, Peat already is out and Armstead could miss his second straight week. Still, Siemian has to be protected, especially from Philly's interior pass rush (defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been a thorn for NFL teams for years). And when he's protected, and his passes are on target, receivers have to do their part of the equation and catch the passes. This could be a major game for Deonte Harris, who has been the team’s most explosive offensive player.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
RED BEAN, CHICKEN AND CHEESE BURRITOS
Make it a Mexican night with this burrito recipe, made easily at home. Use Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice mix to liven up your chicken, salsa, cheese and tortillas – a hearty meal for the whole family.