November 6, 2012

Saints Turn Back Eagles, 28-13

The New Orleans Saints defense had a clear purpose on Monday night against Philadelphia - pressure Michael Vick.  A blitz-happy, physical and aggressive defense matched the explosive Eagles offense and their elusive quarterback punch for punch and delivered a knockout of its own.  Second year defensive end Cam Jordan led the parade for the defense, collecting three sacks, two tackles for a loss, five quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.

Five trips into the Saints' red zone netted six points for the visitors, while Drew Brees led a balanced attack that suddenly found its teeth in a run game.

Three different Saints runningbacks found 44 yards of rushing or more, and a fourth had a 45-yard run called back.  Chris Ivory, seeing his first significant playing time of the season, led the team with 10 carries for 48 yards including graceful 22-yard touchdown run that gave the Saints a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.  Mark Ingram (seven carries) and Pierre Thomas (six carries) each found 44 yards while Cadet was credited with one rush for 5 yards - though a 45-yard run down to the goal line was nullified by penalty.

The 140 yard rushing output by the Saints helped set up a deadly passing attack for Brees (21/27, 239, 2 TD), who was 10/12 off the play action fake, including both touchdowns.  Brees' short scoring passes to Colston in the second quarter and Jimmy Graham in the third quarter helped seal the victory that the defense ultimately won.  Graham led Saint receivers with eight catches for 72 yards, with Colston collecting four catches for 46 yards.  WR Lance Moore had two timely receptions for 61 yards, both on third down, and also served as the team's punt returner with RB Darren Sproles injured.

The Saints defense harassed Vick all night, and it was the pass rush that helped turn away a promising Eagles drive to start the game.  The Eagles came away with nothing at the end of a 14-play, 6:56 drive thanks to sacks on three straight plays, the last on a blindside wipeout of Vick by DE Cameron Jordan that forced a fumble, recovered after a 22 yard loss by the Eagles.  Once with 1st and 10 from the Saint 27, the Eagles punted on 4th and 29.

On the Eagles' second drive, following a Garrett Hartley wide left attempt from 52 yards out, CB Patrick Robinson intercepted a deflected short pass over the middle intended for TE Brent Celek, harassed by LB Jonathan Casillas, and returned it up the right sideline for a 99-yard touchdown, tying the second longest interception return in Saints history (Darren Sharper).  Vick was penalized for a low block during the return, yardage that was added to the kickoff.

With the ball back after the defensive score, the Eagles drove to the Saint 4 on another long drive, extended by a 34-yard run by McCoy on 4th and 1. The 11-play, 76 yard drive stalled after Vick tossed two incomplete passes inside the Saint 5.  The Saints defense had been gashed by long rushing gains by LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, but stiffened to force the field goal from 22 yards out at the 12:07 mark of the game. The Saints, with a 7-3 lead, had run just 8 offensive plays through the first 18 minutes of the game.

With Sproles out, the Saints gave RB Chris Ivory his first carries since the playoff loss in San Francisco last season.  Ivory picked up nine hard-fought, pile-dragging yards on his first carry of the season.  Even Mark Ingram, who has rarely been effective this season, got into the action, ripping off a 23-yard, tackler-bouncing gain three plays later.  Ivory capped that drive by bouncing outside, speed-stepping around a tackler and scoring from 22 yards out on his second carry of the season.

Near the end of the first half on the next drive, Brees moved the Saints efficiently, hitting TE Jimmy Graham for gains of 13 and 17 yards while Pierre Thomas ripped off gains of 19 and 9 yards.  Brees rolled right on the next play and hit WR Marques Colston at the back of the end zone, rolling up a 21-3 lead on shell-shocked visitors.

The Eagles found some momentum at the beginning of the third quarter with a trio of big plays.  On the 11th play of a drive that had reached the Eagle 9, Brees was stripped of the ball by DE Brandon Graham, who fell on it for the recovery back at the Eagle 17.  Two plays later, Vick found WR DeSean Jackson wide open down the right sideline. Jackson avoided two Saint tacklers in the open field to bring the Eagles within 21-10.  On the ensuing kickoff rookie RB Travares Cadet, the star of the Saints 2012 preseason, fumbled the ball and the Eagles took over at the Saint 22.

After a 14-yard scramble by Vick to the 8, Vick fired incomplete passes wrapped around an 11-yard loss on a sack by DE Will Smith, his first of two sacks on the day.  DE Martez Wilson, former Eagle DT Brodrick Bunkley, Smith and Jordan combined for seven sacks of Vick for a total of 46 yards lost.  Helping the Saints' cause was an injury to Eagles RT Todd Herremans, whose loss was the fourth of five starters on the offensive line for Philadelphia.

The Eagles got a field goal out of Cadet's fumble, but were done scoring for the night, down 21-13.

The Saints tacked on another touchdown with a 10-play, 70 yard drive.  Brees faked a wide receiver screen  left, pumped and found Jimmy Graham in the right flat.  Graham stiff-armed a would-be tackler and walked into the end zone.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Saints fell victim to a high-school trick play, with WR Riley Cooper lying down flat in the end zone as the ball was kicked.  Returner Brandon Boykin advanced the kickoff out of the end zone then threw a pass across the field to a racing Cooper, who ran down the left sideline past confused Saints coverage for a would-be touchdown.  But Boykin's pass was an illegal forward pass - not a lateral by almost two yards, and was called back.  The Eagles would punt after Will Smith's second sack helped snuff out the drive.

The Saints offense faced 3rd and 10 on the next drive and nearly gave the Eagles a momentum boost when Brees was sacked and stripped of the ball by DE Jason Babin.  Fortunately, Pierre Thomas was alert and fell on the ball at the Saint 28.  The Eagles got the ball back with 8:45 left in the game and took off on another long drive, this one a 16-play, Vick-fueled drive that reached the Saint 5.  But an ineligible man downfield penalty, an incompletion, a false start and another sack by Cam Jordan set up 3rd and goal from the Saint 22.  Vick tossed right to Celek, who was stripped off the ball by Curtis Lofton at the Saint 8.  S Isa Abdul-Quddus fell on the loose ball and snuffed out the drive with 3:13 left on the clock.

The Saints punted the ball back to the Eagles at the two minute warning, and Vick went back to work again, passing or scrambling himself on each snap to get a first down at the Saint 15.  A spike to stop the clock with :22 and three incomplete passes later, and the Eagles had reached the Saint red zone a third time with no points gained.

While it was a major victory for the Saints defense in terms of big plays and timely forced turnovers, they continue to lead the NFL in yards allowed by a huge margin. The Saints allowed 447 yards to the Eagles, including 221 yards on the ground.  McCoy had 101 yards rushing on 13 carries in the first half, though he finished with 119 total.  The Saints' defense is giving up 471.2 yards/game, more than 50 yards on average worse than the Bills.  The Saints are tied for 28th in points/game allowed at 28.6 with the Raiders.

On the other hand, it was a massive improvement for the Saints' rushing attack, and curiously on a night when Darren Sproles missed the game with a fractured left hand.  The Saints picked up 140 yards on the ground, almost double the 72.6 rushing yards/game they had been averaging before.  A five-headed Saints rushing attack, with explosive rookie Travares Cadet in the mix as well, isn't going to be a common sight the rest of the season, but it was a welcome change.

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