Wild Card weekend is used to packing a punch each year. When fans found out that the Green Bay Packers would be making a trip to Lincoln Financial Field however, the NFL saw the Philadelphia Eagles ticket booth light up instantaneously.
This weekend, more than just a football game is to be had. Both Philadelphia and Green Bay lucked out this time last year in the very same position, and although the Packers last minute fight back against the Arizona Cardinals proved to be inspirational, to this day, the Packers overtime loss still haunts head coach Mike McCarthy.
The reason McCarthy struggles to move past his teams defeat 12 months ago is due to what he calls a "lack of identity."
In the past week, talk has flared up surrounding the Packers own brand of football—a trait that was somehow lost last year amongst Kurt Warner's heroics, Charles Woodson's defensive efforts and Aaron Rodgers' first ever playoff game.
Green Bay now looks to change all of that this weekend.
Looking back at the Packers 51-45 loss at the hands of Ken Whisenhunt, it could easily be said that Arizona's defense kept Green Bay honest. Yet at the same time, this was a much weaker Packer team last season, in comparison to now.
The first drastic change that the Packers have undergone is, of course, the much more replenished offensive line. 2009 saw the Cardinals take advantage of Green Bay's weak and unstable structure, a disadvantage that cost Aaron Rodgers 50 total sacks to lead the league.
Secondly, the Packers passing game has intensified—if that were somehow possible. Wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver were the main source for Packer points last year, and one has to wonder what may have happened had Rodgers hit Jennings during last season's overtime period against Arizona.
Should have, would have, could have. Instead, McCarthy's offense has endured a boost from Jordy Nelson and James Jones this year. Both receivers have combined for 1,261 yards and seven touchdowns, remarkable statistics for two players that both have under five years of experience to their name.
Then, there is of course, the the drastic changes, penalties and turnovers.
Last season, the Packers were awful as far as penalty real estate was concerned. Constant false starts and holding penalties killed Green Bay's field position in just about every game, and perhaps, it was no wonder the Packers only made it as far as the Wild Card round after committing 118 penalties on the year.
In Week 3 against the Chicago Bears (2010), this statistic still seemed to linger over McCarthy's head. The Packers went on to lose the game 20-17 but were flagged 18 times by officials in another dismal performance.
It's fair to say now that the Packers are quite familiar with the color yellow.
As for coughing the ball up, this is also an area that caused an unhealthy amount of stress for the coaching staff. Green Bay may have been ranked first in sacks last year, yet somehow, the Packers also maintained the top spot in turnovers, accumulating a ratio of minus-24.
One year later and a few distinct draft choices, the Packer offense has been close to superb, minus Rodgers' 11 interceptions.
Now, the Packers face their next task to overcome, and that is to find their identity in time for a trip to Lincoln Financial Field this weekend against the Eagles.
Don't abandon the run game.
Yes, it may seem like a simple concept that doesn't take some kind of rocket scientist to solve, but the Packers extremely shaky run woes of 2010 aren't to be left in the dark at all during Green Bay's uncertain postseason campaign.
Kicking it off with the man most Packer fans love, John Kuhn is the favored runner to match up against the Eagles. With 281 yards and four touchdowns to his name, Kuhn has been an "off again on again" force for Green Bay at times this season.
What stands as a testament to the truth, though, is Kuhn's touchdown-sustained back in Week 1 against Philadelphia. While this scoring effort may not have been pretty, Kuhn's power out-muscled the Eagles, a favorable factor as the Wild Card round approaches.
Then, there is of course Brandon Jackson, the player that has been one big disappointment this year.
The chances of Jackson playing a great deal this weekend are slim. However, keeping this in mind, Jackson did run for 63 yards against the Eagles during Week 1, in his first replacement start for injured runner Ryan Grant.
Still, Jackson has faded immensely since then and has only crossed the goal line three times this year in his attempt to boost the Packer run game.
Lastly, there is the forgotten men in Green Bay—Dmitri Nance and James Starks.
The benefit these two players may potentially bring to the team on Sunday comes from a play-action point of view, especially if Rodgers chooses to roll out of the pocket slightly and attempt one of his patented "deep to Jennings" passes.
Neither of these backs has experienced a year to remember, but if both contribute to Kuhn's short yardage ability and Jackson's speedy play, maybe the Packers will spark something to everyone's surprise.
Right now, the Eagles are ranked 14th in rush yards, a suspicious factor that remains to be tested pending how far Andy Reid's team carries into the playoffs.
If there's one team that you don't want to face on a rough day though, it's the Green Bay Packers.
It's no secret to anyone that Green Bay will favor the pass heavily this weekend, another scenario that will also test the Eagles 14th ranked pass defense and one of the teams biggest playmakers—cornerback Asante Samuel.
Give the Eagles the edge or grant it the Packers way, it doesn't matter. Green Bay have remained persistent with the run game this season, and if McCarthy wants to exorcise his demons from 2009 and forget about the team's Arizona loss in the desert, he must try and utilize all areas of the game.
One way or another, the loser will be highly frustrated, given that a loss once again in the Wild Card round will ultimately prove little improvement since last season.
“We have to play our brand of football. It’s got us to this point. We’re 10-6, into the second part of the season which is the playoffs, and we just need to stick to what we do best.” Mike McCarthy stated several days ago.
Run game or not, the Packers mustn't forget about their own worst enemy, and even though this is a tough concept to grasp, don't forget it nearly granted Green Bay a win against the New England Patriots nearly a month ago.
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