By Kevin McGuire
For the second week in a row, the Philadelphia Eagles will be facing a quarterback product of Purdue, but this weekend the Eagles cannot afford to let the former Boilermaker quarterback expose the open field as much as they did in Dallas. Kyle Orton substituted admirably for an injured Tony Romo last weekend for the Dallas Cowboys, and nearly led them to a division championship before throwing the football to Brandon Boykin, who stepped in front of a pass to pick off the late pass and begin the celebration for the Eagles. This week the Eagles take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card playoff round, Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Brees and Orton may have come out of Purdue’s football program at a time when the program was playing on a different level it is today, but the similarities tend to stop there. Brees is a Super Bowl champion with numbers Orton may only dream of having. Orton would not be alone, of course. The majority of quarterbacks in the NFL would be envious of the production Brees puts together, outside of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and perhaps Aaron Rogers. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis needs no education on just how valuable Brees is to the New Orleans offense.
“Drew Brees has excellent numbers, Blitz, no blitz, coverage, non‑coverage,” 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 like a lot of the younger quarterbacks cannot pull that off and a lot of the older quarterbacks can’t but he’s been in the system and been with Sean [Payton] for a while and they just really stretch you, again, both vertically and horizontally.”
Brees can be patient behind a steady offensive line. The Eagles struggled to bring a pass rush on Orton many times on Sunday night, so look for the defensive line to try and correct that this week against New Orleans. Easier said than done of course. Brees is most effective when he can sit in the pocket, scan the field and find the open receiver. That task becomes much more cumbersome when he has to be forced to move around, not that he is not dangerous then either though. If the Eagles can force him to feel uncomfortable under center, the rest of the Saints offense may struggle to pick up the slack.
“I think the key is to change up that 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 and they have got adjustments to everything. I think constantly kind of shifting it on them is the best way to go about it.”
That makes preparing for Brees difficult. The first task for the defense should be to prepare the coverage plans as best as possible. As Davis said, it will be nothing Brees has not seen before, but staying on the receivers and not allowing any open space will be critical. The better covered the field is, the more likely it will be for the defensive front to crack in to the backfield and bring pressure on the confident Brees.
Again, easier said than done.
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Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.