After a slow start, Brown has picked his game up in recent weeks and has helped the Eagles offense establish more of a rhythm in the second half of the season. Brown has set a career-high with 50 receptions so far this season, and last week he caught his third touchdown of 2007 against a tough Cowboys defense. In week six of the regular season last year, Brown had one of the best games of his career against the Saints. He finished the game with six catches for 121 yards receiving and one touchdown and also scored a 15-yard touchdown on a reverse.
McKenzie is a physical cornerback who has good size and matches up well with most receivers in the league, but the Saint's secondary has let up big play after big play this year. New Orleans pass defense is ranked 30th in the NFL and has allowed 249.6 yards per game through the air, along with the second most touchdowns in the league (26). A nine-year veteran, McKenzie has shown that he still has some play making ability left by returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns.
Cole is once again playing like the Eagles defensive MVP and after recording a sack last week against Dallas, he has the second highest sack total in the NFC with 12.5. Although he went through a four-week slump where he failed to get a sack, Cole has bounced back and has recorded 3.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in the last three games. Cole was not voted to the Pro Bowl this season, but he has been a force for Philadelphia and can change games with the pressure he puts on the opposing quarterback. In the Playoffs last year, Cole got a sack on Drew Brees in the Eagles matchup against the Saints in the second round.
At 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, Brown is the Saints franchise left tackle and he has lived up to the expectations that surrounded him coming out of Oklahoma in 2005. After being voted to the All-Rookie team in his first year and being named a Pro Bowler and Associated Press All-Pro last season, Brown is a big reason why Brees has been sacked the fewest times (12) out of quarterbacks who have started every game this year. With his quarterback usually attempting around 40 passes per game, Brown does a good job of protecting the blindside and providing him time in the pocket.
Brian Westbrook vs. Saints Run Defense
By kneeling the ball down at the one-yard line to preserve the Eagles win against Dallas last week, Westbrook showed that he is as intelligent as he is skilled. A 2008 Pro Bowler, Westbrook has been Philadelphia's horse all season long and has carried the load as a running back and as a receiver. He leads the NFC in rushing yards with 1,191 yards and leads the Eagles in receptions with 83 this season. Westbrook's average of 145.8 rushing and receiving yards combined per game is the highest in the NFL.
Although the Saints defense is weak against the pass, they have allowed only six touchdowns on the ground and their run defense is ranked eighth best in the league, allowing 97.6 rushing yards per game. The unit is led by linebackers Scott Fujita, who leads the team in tackles with 86, and former-Eagle Mark Simoneau. On the defensive line, ex-Eagle Hollis Thomas and Will Smith have combined for 10 tackles for a loss.
Eagles Secondary vs. Drew Brees
After a stellar performance against the Patriots where they shut down Randy Moss, the Eagles secondary stepped up again last week with a great game against the Cowboys pass-heavy offense. Lito Sheppard, Quintin Mikell and Brian Dawkins each picked off passes from Tony Romo and Terrell Owens was held to zero catches until the fourth quarter, and he finished the game with just two. While Philadelphia's pass defense has allowed 217.1 yards per game passing so far this season, opposing quarterbacks have a combined completion percentage of only 57.6, which is the third lowest in the league behind Pittsburgh and Green Bay.
Through the first five weeks of the season, Brees threw nine interceptions and just one touchdown and he looked nothing like a quarterback who led his team to the NFC championship the previous year. Since then he has regained his Pro Bowl form and in the last three weeks, he has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions. On the year, Brees has thrown for 3,819 yards and 25 touchdowns, and his 92.1 quarterback rating is the fourth best in the NFC.
Andy Reid vs. Shawn Payton
Last season, Payton got the better of Reid both times the Eagles and Saints squared off. Playing in the Superdome in both the regular season and the playoff games against Philadelphia, Payton used his personnel effectively and showed his clock management skills against the Eagles to walk away with a 27-24 win both times. While the Eagles were eliminated from the playoffs after Minnesota beat Chicago on Monday night, the Saints still have a hope for the post season and are trying to find a way in without their top two running backs.
Andrew Pluta can be reached at email@example.com.