METAIRIE, La. — Philadelphia may well rank 29th in total defense and 32nd against the pass, but those sitting inside the Saints’ Metairie locker room aren’t buying it.
Instead, they’re focusing on another stat, one they would seem to deem more important.
The Eagles have forced 31 turnovers, including 19 interceptions, this season. Only two teams have forced more turnovers and only seven teams have more interceptions.
“Their secondary, specifically their corners, do a great job of intercepting passes,” receiver Lance Moore said. “You can’t really look at the rankings and think you’re going to have your way with them.”
Added receiver Robert Meachem, “You can’t look on the paper and be like, ‘Aw, they’re 32 in the league. We about to have a field day.’ You can’t look at that. You’ve still got to go in and have a balanced attack because it’s a road game. They still have a slight advantage with the crowd. You have to look at all that, too.”
It only takes one game to break from the norm and the Saints (11-5) hope that’s Saturday night at 7:10 p.m. in the NFC playoffs.
It won’t be easy.
In four of the past eight games, the Eagles (10-6) have come up with two interceptions. In five of the past eight games, they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to less than 60 percent passing.
Those stats belie what the overall NFL rankings.
“I think there’s a couple of things that are misleading,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think No. 1, we talk about it as a team, when you study Philadelphia, statistically, the pass defense numbers suggest that they’re in the bottom part of the league. And yet, a lot of those numbers come from teams being behind and throwing the football.”
The Saints, obviously, can’t get behind. When they have recently, they’ve struggled.
In Seattle and St. Louis, turnovers early led to early deficits. In turn, the Saints lost balance and lost the games.
To take advantage of the Eagles, the Saints will have to remain balanced. The blueprint is likely Chicago, where New Orleans didn’t turn the ball over and they ran the ball 29 times while passing it just 35.
It should help that the run game has found some footing.
“You don’t just get to have balance because you called balance,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “I think we’re getting better at identifying what it is we’re really good at in that aspect, where is that we’re really understanding and grasping. That’s good.”
Mark Ingram’s most complete game might just have been at Carolina in Week 16, when he rushed for 83 yards on 13 carries and caught a pass for seven yards.
And with Pierre Thomas missing the past two days of practice, it could fall on Ingram to carry the bulk of touches against Philadelphia.
“We’ve got to control the ball,” Ingram said. “Especially on the road, we’ve got to be able to run the ball effectively. It opens up the entire offense. When we run the ball effectively and we’re controlling the ball, controlling the line of scrimmage, it just opens up everything and just makes us way more dangerous as an offense.”