Keys vs. Packers: Pressure and Protection

Protecting Michael Vick from the Packers' pass rush will be a key for the Eagles Sunday. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)


Some incoherent thoughts and some off-the-mark observations as I get my game-face on for Sunday’s Eagles-Packers playoff game:

* If I can oversimplify Sunday’s wildcard matchup between the Eagles and Packers for a second, the game basically is going to come down to two things – protection and pressure.

Protection in two respects. Protection of Michael Vick and protection of the football by Vick.

In a strange, perverted sort of way, Vick owes his success this season to the Eagles’ offensive line. Not because it has done a very good job of protecting him – it hasn’t. But because the main reason Andy Reid even made the abrupt switch from Kevin Kolb to Vick in the first place was because he felt Vick’s mobility at least might give him a fighting chance behind the Eagles’ unreliable line.

Vick has saved the o-line’s bacon time and time again this season with his Houdini act. On Sunday, it’s time for the line to actually help him out a little and block somebody.

It’s not going to be easy. The Packers own one of the league’s best pass rushes. Finished the regular-season with 47 sacks, including 6 of the Bears’ Jay Cutler on Sunday, and are third in the league in sacks per pass play.

The good news is that Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, who finished second in the NFC in sacks with 13 ½, including 2 against the Eagles in Week 1, should be easier for both the line and Vick to find than itty-bitty Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who did all that damage with those slot blitzes last week. Just look for the guy with the Fabio hair. Finding him, though, is one thing. Blocking him is another.

Then there’s the matter of Vick protecting the football. Vick didn’t throw an interception in his first 211 attempts this season. But he’s got six in his last 161 attempts. Then there’s the fumbles. Vick never has been particularly good at covering up the football when he’s running. He’s got 66 fumbles in 80 career starts. Has 11 this season, though he’s only lost 3 of them. Two of those three came in the Minnesota game last week.

The Eagles turned the ball over just 9 times in their first 9 games, but had 16 giveaways in their last 7 games. In Vick’s last 6 starts, they had 12, including 9 by Vick (6 interceptions, 3 lost fumbles).

If they hope to have any chance of beating the Packers Sunday, Vick’s got to limit the turnovers.

Then there’s the pressure the Eagles must get on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is on fire right now.

The only quarterback in the league possibly playing better than him right now is the Patriots’ Tom Brady.

In his last 7 starts, Rodgers has a not-of-this-world 122.0 passer rating. He’s completed 71.3 percent of his passes, has averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and thrown 16 touchdown passes and just 2 interceptions in those 7 games.

The Eagles did a pretty good job of upsetting Rodgers’ rhythm in their Week 1 meeting. But their pass rush has been inconsistent. They’ve got more than 3 sacks in a game just twice this season. Defensive end Trent Cole has gone sackless in 5 of his last 7 starts. And that has put extra pressure on their secondary, which has a rookie seventh-rounder at free safety (Kurt Coleman) and a twice-released journeyman at one of the corners (Dimitri Patterson).

While Patterson needs to be able to deal with the double moves that have been getting him in trouble, the fact that opposing receivers are able to run those kinds of routes as often as they have been tells you all you need to know about the lack of pressure the Eagles are getting on opposing quarterbacks.

* Don’t look now, but the Eagles’ run defense is leaking oil again. While it shouldn’t be a big problem against the Packers, who are 18th in the league in rushing and 28th in yards per carry, the Eagles, who struggled against the run in their first 4 games, have struggled again in their last 6.

Consider: In their last six games, the Eagles have allowed 122.0 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. In Games 5 through 10, they had held teams to 73.7 and 3.6.

They’ve allowed 5.1 yards per carry in the first quarter and 5.3 yards per carry in the second quarter in the last 6 games. In Games 5-10, they held teams to 2.5 per carry in the first quarter and 3.5 per carry in the second quarter.
In the last 6 games, they’ve allowed 4.3 yards per carry on first down and 4.7 yards per carry on second down. In Games 5-10: 3.2 and 3.8.

* A thumbs up to NBC for assigning their Notre Dame broadcast team, Mike Mayock and Tom Hammond, to Saturday’s Seahawks-Saints playoff game. Mayock also is the NFL Network’s draft analyst. If NFLN had any sense, it would have put Mayock on its Thursday night broadcasts this season rather than Joe ``the next time I say something pertinent will be the first time’’ Theismann. But they have proved time and time again (Bryant Gumbel, Jamie Dukes, Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, et al) that they don’t.

* The Eagles’ non-division opponent for 2011, assuming there is a 2011 season – home: 49ers, Seahawks, Patriots, Jets, Bears; road: Cardinals, Rams, Bills, Dolphins, Falcons.

To read our earlier reports from a full day at the NovaCare Complex, click here.


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