Monday, September 21, 2009

Brees' Saints Breeze Past Mistake Prone Eagles

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles

Just as last week, it was hard to tell where the Eagles performance started and the opponents performance ended. Unlike last week, it was the opposite scenario with Eagles fans wondering if their team was that bad or the Saints are simply that good after the 48-22 drubbing.

The Eagles failed yesterday in all three phases of the game, but were especially bad on special teams. The main culprits were Ellis Hobbs's costly fumble to open the second half as well as some shanked punts and multiple penalties that negatively affected field position all day long. It was going to be a difficult match-up anyway to contain the Saints high powered offense and take advantage of their somewhat vulnerable defense with an inexperienced QB behind center, so it was particularly damaging to have the special teams unit turn in a dismal performance.

Drew Brees wasted no time as he drove the Saints the length of the field with relative ease for a touchdown on the opening drive. Eagles faithful were hoping that after a few adjustments and shedding opening drive jitters, the defense would reverse course similar to a week ago. Unfortunately, the big pass rushing, turnover creating defense never appeared yesterday. Outside of some brief resistance in the second quarter, Brees and the Saints pretty much breezed all day.

Although they surely did not need help, Hobbs' fumble and Kevin Kolb's subsequent interception on the next possession meant the Saints only had to go a total of 46 yards to score 14 points. They barely had to break a sweat, taking only 7 plays to widen their lead to 31-13 and put the Eagles in a catch-up mode that was surely not going to bode well for them.

Kolb had some good moments throughout the day, completing over 60% of his passes, including 2 TD's and racking up 391 yards through the air. The highlight for the day was his 71 yard touchdown strike to a wide open DeSean Jackson on the Eagles first drive. Unfortunately, this performance was marred by three completions to the team in gold and black. The first two interceptions were similar mistakes to those that have haunted him in past outings, namely ill advised throws where he did not see the coverage underneath. And, like the Ravens game last season, the second one turned an attempted scoring pass into a long defensive return for a touchdown. His third interception was meaningless and closed the lopsided game, but it really had no chance as it was badly under thrown.

Besides Kolb, many of the Eagles offensive players played well, if that is possible in a 26 point route? Brent Celek and Jackson continued to look like stars in the making. The line provided time for Kolb to throw, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy looked good and Jason Avant made several nice catches working the middle of the field, including a touchdown.

One other aspect of the offense that was unappealing is the team's apparent infatuation with gadget plays. On the day, they ran nine "Wildcat" formations, including one with a three man line. Although these "creative" plays bring back memories of those back yard touch football games and might make the highlights on ESPN Sports Center, they do not seem like a recipe for a NFL championship team and would seem to be unnecessarily flirting with injury.

Flanking out QBs and putting slightly built receivers in exposed positions could very well end up with those players lying prone on the football field. It surely does not help the team develop rhythm or the air of confidence to execute in crunch time.

Perhaps the coaches felt they needed to resort to gadgetry to help out Kolb, but the suspicion is that we will see a lot more of this, especially now that the team needs to justify signing Michael Vick. Although they mostly did OK on those plays yesterday, this does not feel like a winning formula from this vantage point.

Another thought that went through my mind yesterday watching the defense was whether the dramatic reversal in performance relates to losing Brian Dawkins' leadership presence? Somehow you can imagine him forcefully reminding his teammates not to get too enamored with their performance against the Panthers and that it was not going to be that easy going forward, especially against the Saints. Who would be filling that role on this year's team?

Very few can tell which way the Eagles head from here. Is it the Dr Jekyll from week 1 or the Mr Hyde from week 2? What a difference a week makes. Lets hope that the Special Teams unit tightens up over the week, the defense summons their Buddy Ryan spirit again and the offense dumbs things down a little to focus on flawless execution. If so, the Eagles could slip by a weaker Chiefs team, heal Donovan's broken ribs over the bye week and come back ready to fulfill its promise in week 5.

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