New Orleans VooDoo at
(Monday, May 21, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360)
These are two pretty good teams that have fallen on hard times in recent weeks and this seems like more of a survival game than a playoff preview. But playing on Monday night in front of a national crowd should raise both the Soul and the VooDoo to a different level. Philadelphia has lost six games in a row after a 4-0 start and the VooDoo are not playing as well as they did early in the season, but both teams have respectable defenses and neither has shown any signs of quitting. With 12 teams eligible for the playoffs these organizations know that if they can get in the postseason, anything can happen. After all, Chicago won it all a year ago after a 7-9 regular season record. These teams will play hard.
When New Orleans has the ball
As QB Andy Kelly goes, so goes the VooDoo offense. When he has good pass protection, which is imperative because of his lack of mobility, he can do a nice job of spreading the ball around to his receivers. He has four decent guys to throw to (Tyronne Jones, Tony Locke, James Jordan, Kenny Henderson). That could be a problem for a Soul secondary that is struggling in coverage right now. They are a very aggressive group of DBs that like to gamble and jump routes. They are much more effective in coverage when the pass rush up front is good and that hasn't been the case in recent weeks. Also, the Philadelphia secondary is not playing as fundamentally sound as it once did and the Soul DBs are taking too many chances in an effort to create a big play. They know that with their offense struggling, they need big defensive stops and cannot afford to play from behind. So the key is pass protection. Kelly can have a big passing game if he gets good protection. The biggest worry for the VooDoo is DE Dwayne Missouri, who has good quickness off the edge. But Kelly can convert on a lot of crossing routes and pick-type plays and really exploit the Soul DBs by using pump fakes and double moves on routes by his receivers. But that, of course, takes time.
When Philadelphia has the ball
The QB problems continue to mount for the unlucky Soul as Juston Wood is now hobbled with a knee injury and his replacement, Leon Murray, struggled versus a mediocre New York defense. Who knows what Philadelphia will do at QB by Monday night. There is no flow to this offense. There are too many interceptions and costly penalties. The Soul cannot finish drives. The pass protection breaks down and their receivers struggle to separate from tight coverage. The only two playmakers the Soul have on offense right now are WRs Charles Pauley and J.J. McKelvey, but they have to get the ball to be effective. New Orleans is not a great matchup secondary; the VooDoo DBs are better tacklers than cover guys. The VooDoo need a good pass rush up front, especially from DE Henry Taylor, who already has six sacks and eight tackles for loss. He will be a handful for the Soul offensive line coming off the edge. Philadelphia has dropped all the way to 17th in the league in passing and scoring and they have only scored 65 TDs. If the VooDoo play a clean game on defense and sit back in coverage and tackle well, they can control this struggling Soul offense.
New Orleans keys to success
1. Pass protection for QB Andy Kelly: He is an immobile QB and cannot scramble out of trouble, so the guys up front must form a good pocket and give him time to step up and find his receivers. The catch is he doesn't have a great offensive line and Philadelphia has a very active defensive front capable of applying a lot of pressure.
2. Play mind games versus the Soul secondary: Philadelphia loves to gamble with its DBs and plays very aggressive coverage schemes. There is some off coverages, but these DBs also will challenge receivers with press techniques. As good as they are, the Soul DBs will jump routes and guess a lot. Andy Kelly should look off the DBs and also use some pump fakes to try to catch them out of position.
3. DE Henry Taylor must come up big: He is the only real playmaker on defense for the VooDoo and he needs to create pressure off the edge versus a good Philadelphia OL that has struggled in recent weeks. He already has six sacks and eight tackles for loss and he must protect a so-so secondary.
Philadelphia keys to success
1. Get some hits on New Orleans QB Andy Kelly: Philadelphia is capable of applying a lot of pressure on opposing QBs and it knows Kelly is not going to elude the rush or make plays scrambling. Look for the Soul to come hard up the middle to flush him out of the pocket. New Orleans does not have a great OL, but it must pass protect well in this game.
2. Do not turn the ball over: The Soul have not taken good care of the football since they lost QB Tony Graziani to a shoulder injury. They pay for that often, especially against good teams.
3. Don't give up big plays on defense: New Orleans is not an overly explosive offense and is somewhat methodolical in its passing game. The Soul take chances on defense, like to jump routes and can be frozen by double moves. Against the VooDoo they might be wise to sit back in some off schemes, concentrate on keeping the ball in front of them and having a good tackling day.
Without Graziani, the Soul are not the same team that we saw in the first month of the season. They have no consistency on offense, they turn the ball over, and their usual excellent pass protection is starting to suffer. Part of it is due to injuries and part of it seems to be a loss of focus as well as the confidence and swagger we usually see from them. New Orleans isn't in much better shape after their good start. They are not a very explosive team on either side of the ball and usually only as good as Kelly plays. Both teams have decent receivers and good pass rushers, so pass protection will be critical because these are not receivers that always separate quickly and need time to get open. After a brutal early road schedule you would think that the Soul would be playing better at home, but they seem to have lost their edge on both sides of the ball. New Orleans can come into Philadelphia and steal this game if it avoids making turnovers. The free fall for the Soul eventually will end, but it might not be this week.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.