Saints’ Brees presents tough challenge for Eagles’ defense
PHILADELPHIA — If Kyle Orton threw for 358 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles, Drew Brees could set a record.
The Eagles (10-6) are facing quite a challenge against Brees and the New Orleans Saints (11-5) in their NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night. No team allowed more yards passing than Philadelphia this season and only four quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for more yards than Brees.
It sets up for an air show.
“Drew Brees has excellent numbers, blitz, no blitz, coverage, non-coverage,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Tuesday. “This offense is so efficient, and it is run on Drew Brees and his decision-making and quick release, and he really makes you defend the field both horizontally and vertically because all five of his eligible receivers are up and active.”
Orton, filling in for an injured Tony Romo, nearly led the Cowboys to an upset over the Eagles with the NFC East title on the line Sunday night in Dallas. But his 46th pass of the game was intercepted by Brandon Boykin to seal Philadelphia’s 24-22 victory.
Still, it was an impressive performance for a guy starting his first game in two years. On the other hand, Brees was just selected for his eighth Pro Bowl and threw for more than 5,000 yards for an NFL-record fourth time. He makes it difficult for top defenses, so the Eagles are going to need play their best to have a chance.
“He’s just so talented and has such a great command of what they’re doing,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He understands coverage and he understands how you’re playing them and he’s very, very difficult to fool. He’s been around for a long time. It’s a lot like the matchup when you’re playing Peyton Manning. They are so skilled in their offense and what they’re doing. You’ve got to present a lot of different looks to him and he’s got a lot of weapons to throw to, and I think that’s what makes them so diverse is you just can’t hone in and say, ‘Hey, we take away this one guy, we are going to be in pretty good shape.’”
Putting pressure on Brees will be vital to Philadelphia’s success. Brees was sacked a career-high 37 times this season, but he has a quick release and makes fast decisions so it’s tough to bring him down.
The Eagles had 37 sacks this season, but didn’t get to Orton once because he got rid of the ball quickly. Defensive linemen are stressing the importance of trying to knock down Brees’ passes if they don’t get to him.
“He’s a great quarterback, a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he’s shorter than most guys so we have to get our hands up,” defensive end Cedric Thornton said. “We have our hands full. We definitely are going to try to pass rush inside more because he stays in the pocket.”
Brees, who is 6-feet tall, has a way of getting the ball over taller linemen and perfectly on target to his receivers. Teams that beat the Saints did a better job getting in his face. Brees was sacked 14 times in five losses, and 23 times in the 11 wins.
He had only seven TD passes and seven interceptions along with a completion percentage of 61.8 and a passer rating of 77.6 in those losses. His numbers in the wins were 32 TDs, five picks, 72.2 completion percentage and a passer rating of 119.
“I think the key is to change up the type of coverage and it’s more about the quarterback than the actual coverage and what he’s looking at and what he sees and how quick he can read it,” Davis said. “He’s seen every coverage and he’s seen all kinds of different tactics, and then so has Sean (Payton) and they have got adjustments to everything. I think constantly kind of shifting it on them is the best way to go about it.”
Notes: Rookie safety Earl Wolff is optimistic he’ll play vs. the Saints. Wolff missed four games with a knee injury, returned to play briefly against Chicago and then sat out last week. The Eagles will need Wolff against the Saints’ prolific passing attack. ... Brees is 1-2 in wild-card games, but he has a passer rating of 107.9 in those games.