Thursday, September 3, 2015

10 thoughts: Eagles vs. Packers

Do you feel better or worse about the Birds' chances after reading these 10 things about the Eagles-Packers matchup?

10 thoughts: Eagles vs. Packers

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Michael Vick will need to look for Jason Avant (81) when the Packers blitz cornerback Charles Woodson. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Michael Vick will need to look for Jason Avant (81) when the Packers blitz cornerback Charles Woodson. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

It's gameday.

I took a look at the Bears-Packers game from last week, and along with some other research, put together 10 thoughts on today's matchup:

WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL

1. I think Mike McGlynn needs to turn in one of his best performances of the season. It's not unusual for the Packers to line up six defenders in the box, and only have one or two linemen with their hands on the ground. The others stand up - some rush, others drop back. It's really a great disguise and gave the Eagles fits in the first meeting. If the Birds are not ready this time around, Michael Vick is going to get crushed. While protection has to be a team effort, McGlynn is responsible for making the line calls. Clay Matthews lined up primarily on the left side last week, although the Packers did move him around a little. I wonder if that will change facing a left-handed quarterback.

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2. This matchup really calls for LeSean McCoy to have a big game - both as a runner and a receiver. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and should be relatively fresh. Of the league's top 15 rushers, none had fewer regular-season carries than McCoy (207).

The Packers allowed opponents to average 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season; only the Bills allowed a higher number. Bears running back Matt Forte averaged 6.1 yards per carry against Green Bay in Week 17. One of those runs was a 25-yarder down the left sideline. The other was a 21-yard run to the left. In the regular season, McCoy averaged 8.3 yards per carry when he got to the left sideline and 5.8 yards per carry to the left side. Todd Herremans is questionable, but told reporters he will play. The Eagles can really have a lot of success running McCoy behind Herremans and Jason Peters.

3. I could probably write 1,000 words on the Packers' blitz, but I'll focus on a few key points. Let's start with Charles Woodson. Expect him to come from the slot constantly. Woodson had a sack and batted down a Jay Cutler pass while blitzing last week. Against Minnesota, Vick had a 27.43 QB rating when the Vikings blitzed a defensive back. He was also sacked four times on those plays. There's no question this has been a focus of the Eagles in the last couple weeks at practice, but they'll have to show they've improved significantly.

Interesting note from Football Outsiders. Vick averaged just 2.5 yards per play when facing a six-man pass rush. But the Packers rushed six guys only 14 times all season. In other words, unless Green Bay changes what it's done all season (which is possible), the blitzes Vick faces will be based more on confusing the Eagles' blockers than simply outnumbering them.

4. So the obvious question is: How do the Eagles beat the blitz? We all know about DeSean Jackson's numbers and how they've correlated to the team's success. In wins, he's averaged 26.4 yards per catch and had six touchdowns. In losses, he averaged 9.7 yards per catch and went without a score. But I'm not sure the Eagles are going to be able to get him the ball downfield. Opposing quarterbacks put up a 67.2 QB rating against Green Bay - a league-best. And the Packers allowed just 6.5 yards per attempt.

Against Chicago, Cutler worked the middle of the field (to varying degrees of success). Guess who was the Bears' most-targeted receiver? Rashied Davis. Why is that significant? Because that's who Woodson was initially covering when he came on those slot blitzes. Today, that player will be Jason Avant. Don't be surprised if Vick looks in his direction quite a bit. McCoy and Brent Celek could be big also. Chicago's Forte and tight end Greg Olsen were targeted 13 times last week, and Cutler completed 12 of those passes for 92 yards. Celek finished the regular season with his two highest yardage totals in Weeks 16 and 17. And McCoy led all running backs with 78 receptions.

5. We've heard a lot about Woodson and Matthews this week, but the Packers really have a lot of talent all over the field on defense. One guy to keep an eye on is No. 93 - Erik Walden. He had 11 tackles and two sacks last week. But he was also blocked effectively on Forte's 21-yard and 25-yard runs. One sack from Walden came on a delay. He initially dropped back and then rushed up the middle untouched. That delayed blitz gave the Eagles trouble in Week 1.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

1. If there's one point of optimism for the Eagles' defense, it's that Green Bay is one-dimensional. The Packers averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the regular season. Only four teams had a worse average. Green Bay had a total of three rushes for 20 yards or more in the regular season - dead-last in the NFL.

Brandon Jackson is their primary running back, but we'll probably also see No. 44 - James Starks. On short yardage, it'll be fullback John Kuhn. On 3rd down and less than 3, Kuhn converted 10 of 12 opportunities into first downs. While Green Bay primarily attacks with its four wide receivers, running backs were targeted six times in the passing game last week.

2. Speaking of those receivers, No. 85 Greg Jennings is the one to key in on. He finished fourth in the league with 1,265 yards and averaged 16.64 yards per catch (ninth in the league). Only four wide receivers had more YAC than Jennings this season. And his 16 catches of 25 yards or more were third-most in the NFL. Jennings lines up on both the left side and the right side. On the season, he had 432 yards receiving down the left sideline and 460 yards receiving down the right sideline. Given the way the Eagles play defense, look for Jennings to line up on the left side opposite Dimitri Patterson more than usual.

As for the Packers' other receivers, look for wide receiver screens to Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson. I noticed at least three of those last week. Also, the Eagles will have to account for Nelson when they blitz Joselio Hanson from the slot, which they're known to do. Nelson burned the Bears for 25 yards on a completion last week when Chicago blitzed its slot corner. Driver fumbled last week and dropped seven balls in the regular season, the most of any Green Bay receiver. As a team, I counted at least three or four drops by the Packers against the Bears.

3. Another great stat from Football Outsiders: The Eagles allowed only 3.0 yards per attempt when they blitzed six. But Aaron Rodgers averaged 9.29 yards per attempt against six-man rushes. Even though the Packers only scored 10 points last week, he hit on four passes of 20 yards or more - two to Jennings, one to Nelson and one to Driver. The 46-yard completion to Jennings came off play-action. He threw three interceptions in his final eight games. Against Chicago, the pick came when the Bears sent six, and he rolled to his left.

4. Don't understimate Rodgers' mobility either. Only Vick and Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman ran for more yards among quarterbacks. Rodgers picked up 22 first downs with his legs this season. This really stood out last week. Rodgers was the team's leading rusher against Chicago, carrying seven times for 21 yards. He is not afraid to tuck the ball and take off if he sees an opening or if receivers are covered.

5. And finally, the Packers' offensive line. Green Bay allowed 38 sacks (11th-most) and 67 QB hits (21st-most). Football Outsiders ranks the Packers' line No. 21 in terms of pass protection; the Eagles are 28th. The weak link might be right tackle rookie Bryan Bulaga. He committed all four of the team's penalties last week against Chicago. It'll be mostly Juqua Parker lined up agianst Bulaga, but don't be surprised if Sean McDermott sends the blitz from that side. Darryl Tapp will spell Parker at times also. The Eagles need a big effort from that side to pressure Rodgers effectively.


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About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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