Eagles vs. Saints: 3 key matchups to watch

The Philadelphia Eagles enter Week 11 with a huge opportunity in front of them. If they’re able to defeat the New Orleans Saints at home, they’ll hold three tiebreakers against teams in the NFC playoff race, New Orleans, Carolina, and Atlanta.

It’s the biggest game of the season for the Eagles and it’s arguably their toughest matchup remaining on the schedule.

As we do every week, let’s breakdown the key matchups heading into this contest.

Eagles rushing attack vs. Saints run defense

This is the main event of this heavy weight matchup.

Philadelphia has dominated the ground game recently. The Eagles offense has averaged 208.6 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks. Because of Nick Sirianni’s newfound appreciation for the running game, his offense has been one of the most efficient units in the NFL. Over the past three games, the Eagles are first in EPA (expected points added) per drive, points per drive (3.23), touchdown percentage per drive (34.6%), and they’re second in points per game (28.0).

After dominating a top tier Denver defense last week, it feels like nothing will be able to slow down this Eagles attack. But the Saints may have the strongest defensive unit the Eagles have faced all season, coming into this week with the sixth ranked defense in terms of DVOA.

New Orleans is fifth in total yardage allowed and first against the run, allowing an average of just 3.1 yards per carry this season. They are susceptible to the pass, coming in at 23rd in passing yardage allowed this year. But the first ranked run defense against the second overall rushing offense is the real key here.

It’ll start up front for both teams. Per Pro Football Focus, New Orleans’ defensive linemen all rank inside the top-20 at their respective positions. Defensive end Marcus Davenport comes in as the highest graded lineman on the team, posting a, 86.5 defensive grade, fifth among 110 qualifying edge rushers.

The Eagles offensive line has been just as stout in recent weeks. They’re coming off a game in which they only allowed four pressures on Jalen Hurts and posted a team pass blocking grade of 86.0.

The Eagles offensive line has paved the way for their recent dominance on the ground and they’ll have their work cut out for them this weekend. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage in this matchup will control the game and more than likely the outcome.

Darius Slay vs. Deonte Harris

New Orleans wideout Deonte Harris is having a career year in 2021. His numbers aren’t eye popping, 24 receptions for 407 yards and two touchdowns, but his 17 YPC average stands out. He’s the Saints lone big play threat at wide receiver.

He’s also currently the second ranked receiver out of 127 qualifying wideouts on Pro Football Focus.

Harris will more than likely get to face Darius Slay for most of the contest. Slay is also in the midst of a very good year for the Birds. In coverage, he’s allowing a 66.7 completion percentage and a passer rating of 84.6 when targeted. Slay has also lived up to his Big Play monicker over the past few weeks, returning two fumbles for a touchdown in three weeks.

Aside from Harris, the Saints don’t have any other legitimate pass catchers on the outside they can rely on. Expect Sean Payton to dial up Harris’ number several times throughout this game. Slay has done a nice job covering some of the best wideouts in the league, and while Harris has posted an impressive PFF grade this year, Slay is more than capable of sticking with him in coverage.

Eagles defense vs. Alvin Kamara

By his standards, Alvin Kamara isn’t having the ultra productive season he’s used to. But by NFL standards, he’s still one of the most productive players in the game today. He’s posted a seven total touchdowns in eight games this season.

It’s still unclear if he’ll play this weekend after missing last week’s game with knee soreness, but in such a pivotal game for New Orleans, I’d expect the All-Pro back to suit up.

It’ll take an entire team effort to limit Kamara. Whether it’s in the running game or defending him out of the backfield, he presents matchup problems for every defense he faces. The Eagles have been pretty good against the run in recent weeks. They haven’t allowed 100 rushing yards in their last three contests, they’ve given up an average of 80.6 rushing yards per game during that time.

The real threat Kamara poses for this Eagles defense is in the passing game. The starting linebacking duo of T.J. Edwards and Davion Taylor have been stout in the run game, but they’ve struggled to cover tight ends and running backs. Edwards has posted a coverage grade of 61.7 this season, 24th among linebackers. Taylor has been a bit worse in that regard, posting a coverage grade of 44.3, which ranks him 66th among 80 qualifying backers.

If Kamara can’t go in this one, then problem solved. But again, it’s unlikely he’ll miss a second straight game with knee soreness, unless it’s more serious than the team is letting on.

He’s easily the biggest offensive weapon at Payton’s disposal. Limiting him will be the defensive key to victory.

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