Monday, April 21, 2014
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McDermott's gameplan vs. Rodgers

Eagles defensive coordinator had success confusing Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in Week 1, but what will his gameplan be this time around?

McDermott's gameplan vs. Rodgers

Sean McDermott´s defense will look to get pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff file photo)
Sean McDermott's defense will look to get pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. (Elizabeth Robertson/Staff file photo)

The Packers scored 27 points at the Linc in Week 1. That turned out to be more than any other visiting opponent scored against the Eagles at home all year.

Yet, looking back, it was one of the defense's better performances of the season - specifically the pass defense.

Aaron Rodgers completed 19 of 31 passes for 188 yards two touchdowns and two interceptions. The yardage total was his third-lowest of the season; his 73.1 QB rating was the second-lowest; and Rodgers went on to have just two multiple-interception games after Week 1.

The Eagles also sacked him three times and limited him to 6.07 yards per attempt - his second-lowest average.

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After Sunday's loss, safety Quintin Mikell explained that the Eagles had an advantage in that game because Rodgers had not seen the Birds' defense on film yet.

And as I explained after the Cowboys game, this is a different Eagles defense personnel-wise, but Sean McDermott's scheme and mentality from the first meeting still have relevance.

So I went back and looked at how the Eagles attacked Rodgers in Week 1 and how they were able to limit him.

Let's start with the blitz. Rodgers dropped back to pass 36 times in that game, and the Eagles sent the blitz on 15 of those plays. Against the blitz, Rodgers completed 9 of 14 passes for 79 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for a QB rating of 63.39.

On plays where the Eagles chose not to blitz, Rodgers was 10-for-17 for 109 yards and a touchdown for a QB rating of 97.42. But it's worth noting that all three of the Eagles' sacks against Rodgers came on plays where they did not blitz him.

JJ Cooper of Fanhouse put together an analysis after 13 weeks of the regular season that took a look at QB performance against the blitz. He found that Rodgers had a 109.5 QB rating against the blitz (not including his last two starts) and a 100.3 QB rating on non-blitz throws. Cooper also determined that 25 of the 33 sacks against Rodgers up to that point had come when defenses did not blitz.

McDermott is no doubt aware of the numbers.

"We've got to get pressure on him," he told Paul Domowitch of the Daily News. "It's huge. But he throws well against the blitz.

"I've done some research and he's actually better against the blitz than not, which is the sign of a great quarterback. So we're going to have to mix it up."

And McDermott is telling the truth. Don't expect him to sit back and let Rodgers pick the Eagles apart. But don't expect him to put whoever's playing right cornerback in risky situations down after down, either.

McDermott's come under criticism this season, and while much of it is fair, he has put together some good gameplans against some of the league's top quarterbacks. I mentioned Rodgers' numbers at the start. The Falcons came to the Linc in Week 6 and scored just 17 points; they averaged 25.9 on the season (fifth-best in the league). Matt Ryan had a QB rating of just 78.5 in that game, and Michael Turner averaged just 3.0 yards per carry.

Peyton Manning came to the Linc in Week 9, having thrown two intereptions in 299 attempts. The Eagles picked him off twice and limited him to a QB rating of 67.0 - his second-lowest rating all season.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not defending the way this defense has performed. We all remember what Jay Cutler, Eli Manning and Joe Webb did. But McDermott's unit has shown an ability to confuse quarterbacks at times, and specifically at home. Not including Week 17, opposing QBs threw 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions against the Eagles at the Linc for a QB rating of 74.49.

WHO WILL RODGERS TARGET?

We all know by now that opposing quarterbacks tend to stay away from Asante Samuel, but after re-watching the first Eagles-Packers game, I realized this is nothing new. It happened in Week 1.

Rodgers dropped back to pass 36 times in that game, and only threw in Samuel's direction once. It was an incompletion to Donald Driver.

The Packers' gameplan was simple: stay away from Samuel and attack the Eagles' defense in other areas. Rodgers was 4-for-8 for 65 yards and a touchdown when throwing at Ellis Hobbs. He was 4-for-6 for 21 yards and a touchdown throwing at Joselio Hanson. And Rodgers' other completions came against zone coverage, on broken plays or against Eagles linebackers/safeties/defensive linemen. In that matchup, Packers wide receivers caught 13 balls for 129 yards. Running backs and tight ends caught six balls for 59 yards.

Here's a look at Packers targets on the season (for players with at least 10 catches). Note that this includes numbers for backup Matt Flynn's 60 pass attempts also.

  Targets Catches Yds. YPC TDs
Greg Jennings 125 76 1,265 16.6 12
James Jones 87 50 679 13.6 5
Donald Driver 84 51 565 11.1 4
Jordy Nelson 64 45 582 12.9 2
Brandon Jackson 50 43 342 8.0 1
Andrew Quarless 33 21 238 11.3 1
JerMichael Finley 26 21 301 14.3 1
John Kuhn 18 15 97 6.5 2
Donald Lee 12 11 73 6.6 3

Jennings is obviously the most prolific threat. He accounted for 37.5 percent of the team's reeciving touchdowns and led the team in catches, yards and yards per catch. If you're thinking the Eagles can just put Samuel on Jennings and call it a day, think again. The Packers got him matched up against Hobbs quite a bit in Week 1 and will likely do the same against Dimitri Patterson or Hanson on Sunday. As we know from the Kenny Britt game, Samuel stays on the left side of the defense.

The Packers have an impressive supporting cast of receivers also. Green Bay had four wide receivers total at least 45 catches and 500 yards.

And while it's been suggested that who starts at right cornerback isn't a big deal because the Eagles will play in nickel for most of the game, that wasn't the case in the first meeting. In Week 1, the Eagles had three corners on the field for just 27 of 63 plays (42.9 percent).

So those are the numbers and challenges facing McDermott and the defense. To expect the D to carry this team against the Packers is unrealistic. But the goal should be to create turnovers and limit big plays in the passing game. If the Eagles can do those two things through three quarters, Michael Vick should have a chance to win the game in the fourth.

Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
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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