Ea­gles-Saints matchup is as much Pay­ton vs. Ped­er­son as it is Brees vs. Foles

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Nfl - BY DAVID MUR­PHY

One in­di­ca­tion of the level of Sean Pay­ton’s tal­ent is that, right now, very few peo­ple seem to be talk­ing about Sean Pay­ton’s tal­ent.

A lot of Ea­gles fans will snicker at that no­tion, be­cause snick­er­ing is what a lot Ea­gles fans do. They’ll point to the play­off flame­outs. They’ll point to the pres­ence of Drew Brees. They’ll point to the seem­ingly end­less sup­ply of skill po­si­tion tal­ent that Pay­ton has en­joyed in his 13 sea­sons with the Saints.

It ain’t the coach, they’ll say.

News flash: It most def­i­nitely is.

In fact, it is the big­gest rea­son to worry that the Ea­gles’ magic might fi­nally run out on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

I say that with all due re­spect for Doug Ped­er­son. More of it, in fact, than most have both­ered to pay the Sil­ver Fox over the last few sea­sons, present mar­ket in­cluded.

Maybe it’s a func­tion of the job: A head coach’s lot is all of the worst parts of play­ing quar­ter­back. He gets all of the blame and none of the credit. When the Ea­gles are win­ning, all we hear about is Nick Foles and Car­son Wentz. When they are los­ing, all we hear about is how Doug Ped­er­son couldn’t coach a cat to land on all four feet.

In that sense, the run-up to Sun­day’s Saints-Ea­gles tilt has been par for the course. As some­one who has spent parts of the last three days wan­der­ing around the Saints locker room, I can tell you with­out qual­i­fi­ca­tion that Big Trick Nick is of­fi­cially a na­tion­wide phe­nom­e­non.

“The Foles magic is real,” New Or­leans de­fen­sive line­man Shel­don Rank­ins said at one point.

I’m sure the same has been true up in Philadel­phia, where the Ea­gles need no re­minder of the great­ness that is Brees. Both of his post­sea­son starts against them have ended in a fash­ion that was, shall we say, less than ideal.

All told, Brees is 6-3 in his ca­reer against the Ea­gles. More per­ti­nent, he is com­ing off a 48-7 thrash­ing of the Birds in which he threw ex­actly eight in­com­ple­tions com­pared with four touch­down passes and 363 yards.

Brees is a good quar­ter­back. I don’t think I’m break­ing any news there. The guy will be 40 years old on Tues­day, and he is com­ing off back-to-back reg­u­lar sea­sons in which he posted the two best com­ple­tion per­cent­ages of his ca­reer.

I’m not sug­gest­ing that Pay­ton get credit for Brees. What I’m sug­gest­ing is that he should not be deb­ited for him.

There’s a sym­bio­sis be­tween quar­ter­back and coach that is nec­es­sary to reach cham­pi­onship heights. Ped­er­son gave a nod to it re­cently when he cred­ited his fa­mil­iar­ity with Foles for the suc­cess that the two have en­joyed to­gether. And, this week, Saints of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Pete Carmichael re­ferred to it on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions when talk­ing about his team’s suc­cess since Pay­ton took over.

“By the time we get to Sun­day, Drew and Sean have such a good feel to­gether of what they are com­fort­able with, what’s been put in the game plan,” Carmichael said.

That’s the big con­cern for the Ea­gles. In last sea­son’s di­vi­sional round, Ped­er­son was un­ques­tion­ably the bet­ter play-caller and game-plan­ner in a matchup with Steve Sark­isian, who lasted two sea­sons as the Fal­cons’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

In the NFC cham­pion- ship game, it was again no-con­test against Pat Shur­mur, who, for some rea­son, con­tin­ues to get job op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The two play­off games that the Ea­gles have played against real coach­ing staffs both came down to the last pos­ses­sion, one of them end­ing on a strip-sack, the other one end­ing on a dou­ble doink. Cheat­ing death is some­thing that does not con­tinue for­ever. That’s a stone-cold fact.

Pay­ton? He’s a sa­vant. He’s been shred­ding the Ea­gles since be­fore he was a Saint. He’s been shred­ding them and ev­ery­body else since he be­came a Saint. He’s one of three play-call­ers to lead an of­fense that fin­ished a reg­u­lar sea­son with 500-plus points three times. Bill Belichick did it four times. Mike Martz did it three times. Mike Shana­han is the only other play-caller who has done it more than once.

“He has such a great feel for how the game is un­fold­ing, and just get­ting to the call that is just, oh, man, in that sit­u­a­tion that was the per­fect call,” Carmichael said. “He’s not afraid to be ag­gres­sive. He just knows when the right time is for cer­tain plays to come up.”

It’s funny, though, be­cause Ped­er­son has a lit­tle of that magic in him too.

“The con­fi­dence that he has – he’s not scared to call any play,” said Saints safety Kurt Cole­man, who played for the Ea­gles and Chiefs when Ped­er­son was a coach on both staffs. “You’ve got to love that as a player.”

I tend to think that Foles would agree. The guy had to play for Jeff Fisher.

“It just wasn’t a good fit,” Cole­man said.

It’s the fit that mat­ters. The Ea­gles fit against Sark­isian and Shur­mur. They didn’t fit against Pay­ton the last time they played them. You’re a fool if you count them out. But you are also a fool if you ig­nore the coach that they’re up against.


Philadel­phia coach Doug Ped­er­son, who led the Ea­gles to a Su­per Bowl vic­tory last sea­son, de­serves more credit.


New Or­leans Saints head coach Sean Pay­ton is one of three play-call­ers to lead an of­fense that fin­ished a reg­u­lar sea­son with 500 or more points three times.

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