When the Eagles visit the Packers on Sunday, it’s actually Eagles with the marquee quarterback in the matchup.
The unpredictable scenario results from a battle of backup quarterbacks. Nick Foles, fresh off a historic seven-touchdown performance on Sunday, leads the Eagles offense into Lambeau Field against a Packers squad that will miss Pro Bowl passer Aaron Rodgers. Replacing Rodgers is journeyman Seneca Wallace, who could not lead the Packers to a victory in relief of Rodgers on Monday.
Foles has won more than he’s lost this season. Aside from a clunker against the Cowboys on Oct. 20, Foles has excelled for the Eagles. He led them to a second-half victory when he relieved Michael Vick on Oct. 6, and was impressive in wins over the Buccaneers and Raiders. Foles has quarterbacked in three of the team’s four wins this season.
If he adds another win on Sunday in Lambeau Field, it would be difficult for Kelly to send him back to the bench.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN THE BALL: LeSean McCoy has struggled rushing the ball the in the past three games, when he was limited to 147 yards on 3.3 yards per carry. McCoy admitted that Foles’ success last week could help the running game, as defenses will now “have to play us honest,” he said. Bryce Brown is coming off his most productive game of the season, so his inclusion in the rushing game could also be a benefit. Neither coach Chip Kelly nor McCoy were concerned about the dip in the running game, and McCoy pointed to the offense’s success and his season numbers as reasons not to fret.
The Packers are keeping opponents to 94.5 rushing yards per game, which is No. 5 in the NFL. They use a rotating group of defensive linemen that features 337-pound B.J. Raji, 338-pound Ryan Pickett, and 325-pound Johnny Jolly. The Eagles’ offensive line has struggled at times this season against bigger bodies, so that matchup will be key to watch. The top run blockers are on the left side, where tackle Jason Peters and guard Evan Mathis are counted on to open holes for McCoy.
WHEN THE EAGLES PASS THE BALL: Foles was hitting most his targets last week, but he had the benefit of a pocket that often remained clean. He might not have that luxury on Sunday if Packers pass rushers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry return. Matthews is probable with a thumb injury and Perry is questionable with a foot injury. The two edge rushers can be difference markers – especially Matthews, who had three sacks in the first four games. Their defense is allowing 250.5 passing yards per game, which is No. 25 in the NFL.
Foles did a nice job spreading the ball around last week. Five different players caught touchdown passes. The Eagles have received consistent production from DeSean Jackson, and Riley Cooper’s production last week will further help Jackson. The Eagles had success last week in two-tight end sets, but coach Chip Kelly said that formation is predicated based on matchups. However, Zach Ertz’s emergence might force Kelly to find different ways to get him on the field, regardless of the matchup. Pay attention to how frequently Ertz plays, and the different ways the Eagles use him.
Foles has not thrown an interception this season, and the Packers have just three this season.
WHEN THE PACKERS RUN THE BALL: Without Rodgers, the Packers will likely count on the rushing game. They’re equipped to do it with Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Lacy has rushed for an NFL-best 545 yards since Week 5, including 150 yards last week. He has recovered from an early-season concussion and is gaining confidence as the season progresses. Eagles fans are likely familiar with Starks from his 123-yard effort in a 2010 playoff win. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said the Packers used a fullback more frequently last week once Rodgers went down, so that could also help their rushing game. The Packers are third in the NFL with 148.6 yards per game.
The Eagles have been stout against the run for most of the season. The first rusher to top 100 yards on them came last week, when Raiders running back Rashad Jennings eclipsed 100 yards in garbage time. Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been a strong tackler all season, and he’ll be critical in stopping the run. Rookie nose tackle Bennie Logan will make his second consecutive start, and he’s part of a emerging defensive line with Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. Clifton Geathers is strong against the rush and will likely take more snaps if the Packers are in run formations.
WHEN THE PACKERS PASS THE BALL: This would be a big mismatch if Rodgers played. Without Rodgers, the Eagles’ 32-ranked pass defense might catch a break. The Packers still have weapons. Receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones are both dangerous, although the absence of Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley further slows the passing game. Jarrett Boykin has also emerged as an option this season, although that was with Rodgers at quarterback.
The question is how effective Wallace can be delivering the ball. He went 11 of 19 for 114 yards and one interception last week, so that would be encouraging to Eagles fans. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is putting together a game plan for Wallace this week, so that could help. Finley could have been a safety net for Wallace at tight end, and he’s replaced by Penn State-product Andrew Quarless, who is not as much of a receiving threat.
Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher is questionable with a pectoral injury, and his status could make a big difference. The Eagles are thin at cornerback as it is. If Fletcher is absent, look for slot cornerback Brandon Boykin to play outside in the base defense, and the Eagles to work Roc Carmichael into the game in nickel situations. The Eagles could also use safety Patrick Chung in the slot. Chung returned to the field last week, but Earl Wolff remained a starter. Chung and Wolff will continue to rotate at safety.
The Eagles need more from their pass rush. Trent Cole finally recorded a sack last week. Wallace was sacked four times last week, and the Eagles need to be in his face to keep him from finding a rhythm.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Packers’ special teams have struggled this season, in part because of injuries that have hurt the bottom of their roster. Green Bay allows 31 yards per kickoff return, which is the highest average in the NFL. They allow 9.8 yards per punt return, which is the 11th worst in the NFL. The Eagles revamped their return game last week, putting DeSean Jackson at punt return and Brandon Boykin at kickoff return. They both had the longest returns of the season. Kelly was vague on whether he would keep them in those spots ahead of Damaris Johnson.
INTANGIBLES: The Packers have a home-field advantage at Lambeau Field, although that didn’t serve them well last week, which was their first home loss of the season. The Eagles also have been strong on the road this season, where they are 4-1.
The Eagles have lost three consecutive games to the Packers and have not beaten Green Bay since 2006. The unknown of Wallace is a variable in the game, but Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur used to coach Wallace in Cleveland.