Up until a few days ago, the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field looked like one of the toughest opponents on the Philadelphia Eagles’ schedule. Remove a former NFL Most Valuable Player from the equation however, and all of a sudden the Birds could hold the upper hand.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is out indefinitely for the Pack after injuring his collarbone Monday, leaving journeyman Seneca Wallace at the controls. Green Bay may own one of the league’s most explosive offenses, but Wallace’s record as a starter is 1-8 since 2009 and 6-15 all time.
In a fantastic coincidence, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opined “no organization would be better equipped to handle” an injury to its franchise quarterback just two days before Rodgers went down. Guess they’re going to put that to the test.
Wallace wasn’t a total disaster in relief of Rodgers, completing 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception in the 27-20 loss to Chicago. The 10th-year veteran is not known for having a big arm though, as evidence by his 6.0 yards per attempt.
What that means is Philadelphia’s defense can leave deep threats Jordy Nelson and James Jones in one-on-one coverage and commit additional resources to shutting down Green Bay’s vaunted ground attack. Don’t look now, but the Packers have transformed into the league’s second-ranked rushing offense (148.6 YPG) behind the powerful ball-carrying duo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
|Green Bay Packers' Leading Rushers|
|Eddie Lacy||134 ATT||596 YDS||4.4 AVG||4 TD|
|James Stark||47 ATT||284 YDS||6.0 AVG||3 TD|
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly discussed the challenge ahead for his team this week:
“They're two really big backs, and they're downhill runners and they're physical, and it's going to take a lot of guys to get them down. Very, very rarely is one guy getting to them. … It's about getting 11 guys running to the football and gang tackling.”
The Bears knew what was coming Monday and still couldn’t stop it. Lacy and Starks combined for 190 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, gashing Chicago’s defense for 6.8 yards per run. It’s not always enough just to bring a safety into the box.
Nor are 190 yards always enough to win without impactful plays from the passing game. The Eagles will undoubtedly sell out to stop the run, leaving cornerbacks Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin on an island with wide receivers Nelson and Jones. If the Packers intend to come away victorious, Wallace must make the Birds pay by connecting on at least a couple of shots down the field.
Otherwise, those linebackers and safeties will just creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage. Lacy and Starks may rip off some big gains here and there, but the holes will shrink or disappear altogether if Philadelphia isn’t forced to back off, and drives will fizzle as a result.
Philadelphia Offense vs. Green Bay Defense
All eyes will be on Nick Foles this week to see if he can follow up his historic seven-touchdown performance in Oakland with another solid effort on the road. Green Bay enters Week 10 with the league’s fifth-ranked run defense (94.5 YPG), so it’s important that the second-year passer pick up where he left off.
As good as Foles was, a lot of the credit belongs to the offensive line for keeping him upright for a sizable portion of the afternoon. The Raiders were credited with just two sacks, as the quarterback frequently had all the time and space in the world to operate.
You just don’t see huge, comfortable pockets like this in the NFL too often. This was the scene all day at the Coliseum.
Then again, the Raiders don’t have anybody quite like Clay Matthews either. One of the most devastating pass-rushers off the edge, the outside linebacker is expected to return Sunday after missing the last four games with a broken thumb.
Matthews will likely be working against Lane Johnson a lot. Chip Kelly praised Lane Johnson for the job he did at Oakland, calling it the rookie right tackle’s “best game to date,” but blocking the four-time Pro Bowler and 2010 Defensive Player of the Year is a whole different animal.
Johnson versus Matthews will be the key matchup on the field because Foles will need time to find DeSean Jackson. The sixth-year receiver is second in the NFL with 823 yards receiving and is on pace to shatter his career high of 1,156. It’s Jackson’s big plays that are driving the Eagles to victories this year.
|DeSean Jackson's Splits|
|In Wins (4 GMS)||25 REC||450 YDS||18.0 AVG||5 TD|
|In Losses (5 GMS)||25 REC||373 YDS||14.9 AVG||1 TD|
Philadelphia is 4-1 when Jackson hauls in a touchdown pass, and 0-4 in the rest. If you believe the two are directly related, it’s absolutely essential Jackson finds the end zone.
That can't happen from Foles' back though. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), Johnson’s pass blocking efficiency ranks 55th out of 59 offensive tackles this season. Only three have allowed more sacks.
With nose tackle Ryan Pickett eating up double teams on the line's interior, Todd Herremans can’t afford to help form his spot at guard on every down. The Eagles will have to rely on tight end Brent Celek to at least get some chip blocks on the outside linebacker.
If Matthews is allowed to terrorize Foles, it could be a long game for Philly's offense. Jackson’s at his most dangerous when he’s going vertical, but those routes take longer to develop, which means the quarterback needs protection. And when the Birds don’t spring Jackson, they lose.
As long as the Eagles can contain Matthews though, Foles should be able to find his Pro Bowl receiver. If he finds him for six points, the numbers suggest it should go a long way toward producing a W.