This one has the look of two teams sprinting in opposite directions.
The New Orleans Saints (10-2) have won nine straight, including three straight with Taysom Hill filling in at quarterback for injured Drew Brees, have clinched a playoff spot and are angling for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1) have lost four straight to sink in an NFC East Division where the leaders (the Giants and Washington) are 5-7, and changed quarterbacks from Carson Wentz to rookie Jalen Hurts not because of injury, but because of offensive ineffectiveness.
That's what it says on paper. Here are a few things the Saints need to accomplish on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday:
- APPLY SOME HURT: Hurts will be making his first NFL start. He'll be making it against a Saints defense that has been fantastic over the last five games and, yes, that includes the Denver game, where the Broncos had no quarterbacks. Denver was lacking, but the overall numbers in the last five games – 9.6 points, 233.4 total yards and 55.8 rushing yards per game allowed, with 17 sacks and 11 forced turnovers (plus two fumbles recovered on special teams) – align the Denver game with what New Orleans has done in the other four. The Saints will want to keep Hurts in the pocket, because he's a dangerous runner. But when he holds the ball, the pressure supplied by Trey Hendrickson (10.5 sacks), Cam Jordan (6.5) and David Onyemata (six) should help make Hurts uncomfortable. Plus, Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport are back to help, making the Saints one of the league's deepest defensive line rotations. Opponents have totaled 53 sacks against the Eagles; Hurts, who only has attempted 15 passes, has been sacked three times. So New Orleans should be able to apply some pressure. And when Hurts does throw, the secondary has been up to the challenge. Jackrabbit Jenkins is back (although Patrick Robinson is out), so he and Marshon Lattimore will look to do what they do best at corner.
- ON A RUN: The Eagles allow 130 rushing yards per game. That's right in the Saints' current wheelhouse; New Orleans has averaged 201 rushing yards in the last three games (the first time since 2017 that the Saints had a 200-plus yard rushing average over three games) and 153 during its nine-game winning streak. Alvin Kamara (673 rushing yards, nine touchdowns), Latavius Murray (568 yards, four touchdowns) and Hill (362 yards, five touchdowns) should find some daylight against the Eagles.
- ANOTHER EXAM: So far, Hill has passed every game day test as a starting NFL quarterback for the Saints. This one may be a little different, because the Eagles apply pressure (38 sacks) better than most. Three Philadelphia players – Brandon Graham with seven, and Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett with 5.5 each – can take advantage of a mismatch, so the Saints have to be solid up front. But, too, Hill has to be willing to take what Philly gives and show the patience from the pocket that he exhibited against Atlanta. And he absolutely, positively, MUST protect the football. He was credited with three fumbles against Atlanta and has nine fumbles this season, with four lost, and has five fumbles (two lost) in his three starts. That's an alarmingly high number for a player who handles the ball as often as does Hill. He knows what to do; he has to do it.
- CLOG IT UP: The Eagles might not run a lot, but they've been successful when they have. Miles Sanders has 631 yards and averages 5.4 yards per carry, and Boston Scott (remember him?) has 286 yard and averages 4.8 per carry. The last thing the Saints need to have happen is for the Eagles to effectively run and take the pressure off Hurts. Also worth noting is that tight end Zach Ertz is scheduled to play; he's a great security blanket for a young quarterback, so safeties Malcolm Jenkins and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and linebacker Kwon Alexander, probably will have the responsibility of dealing with him in the passing game.
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