Specifically, they must attack on offense, retreat on defense and be opportunistic.
Patience, in fact, will be the biggest key for a depleted defense, which knows the Saints (7-1) are going to do major damage, but also knows it is going to be presented opportunities to counter and do damage of its own — maybe enough for the Eagles (4-5) to be able to pull off what would be considered a huge upset over the NFC’s top team.
“The ball comes out fast with [quarterback Drew Brees],” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, “but there’s going to be a time when he has to hold the football, and that will be the time when the pass rush can get there.”
That hasn’t happened very often, either. Brees is completing 77.3 percent of his passes with 21 TD passes against just one interception and nine sacks.
Their ground game is just as potent, with Alvin Kamara (546 yards, 11 TDs) leading the way.
No matter. Plays will be there, Cox and cornerback Avonte Maddox insist.
“They have a great offense,” Maddox said. “Explosive. I mean, they hit the little things, then they attack you deep. It’s definitely an explosive offense. But any team is beatable.”
The question is whether the Eagles have the ability to go up and down the field with them and essentially win a track meet, which really is their only chance.
The Saints have scored 30 or more points seven times this season. By contrast, the Eagles have done it just once. Too often they self-destruct in the red zone after successfully taking advantage of the soft zone coverages schemes that allow them to get there.
The book on how to defend them is printed in bold face. Give up all the underneath room necessary to keep their receivers from getting behind the secondary, then play press and use the back of the end zone as a 12th defender once they reach the 20-yard line or so.
Coach Doug Pederson knows it, which is why he talked Wednesday about trying to change things up.
“We get in the red zone, [the] sense of urgency, focus, laser focus, things we talk about, yeah, that has to go up,” he said. “Lanes get tighter, ball’s out fast, we ask the quarterback to make good decisions. Obviously we’ve got to complete and catch and do all the things — the ability to run — and then have the ability to strike from further out, too, outside the 30-yard line.
“Those are a couple things that we’ve got to continue to do. We strive at it each week. It takes everybody. If you got a breakdown in protection or you get a guy that doesn't get off bump and run, I mean, that’s going to happen, but collectively we’ve just got to get better.”
A lot better.
In a hurry.
And likely without the personnel necessary to stop the Saints proficient attack, thanks to cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Rodney McLeod being lost for the year and nickel corner Sidney Jones returning from a hamstring injury and probably having to play outside for the first time.
“I hate to get cliche,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, “but it is what it is. We’ve got some guys hurt, we’ve got some guys that are working hard to get back, we’ve got some young players that need to fill in and make their way in the league.
“We’ve got some guys that aren’t coming back, obviously. Darby is not going to come back, Rodney McLeod’s not going to come back. The other guys will all have a chance to get back. But our job as players and coaches is work to find a formula that works for the guys that we have. In my mind, that's the essence of coaching: Take what you have and try to figure it out. It might look different than when we were at 100 percent strength.”
Even then, there would be legitimate questions about whether the Eagles have enough firepower to overcome this year’s Saints.
There’s no question in the players’ minds, however. Nor should there be.
They all believe in each other. Now, with the meat of their schedule coming up, they will have a chance to prove it.
“We’ve got a stretch of games coming up where [there’s going to be] a benchmark or a measuring stick is how good are we, quite frankly,” Pederson said. “And this is one of those games. Coaches and players, not just players. It’s not all about the players. Coaches have to prepare and study and put our guys in position. But, yeah, it’s a good benchmark for our team.”