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Eagles-Packers Preview: A Lambeau Leap of Faith?
The Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers are widely considered to be two of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL and on Sunday the Eagles will face the Packers on the "Frozen Tundra" of Lambeau Field. Well, it probably won't be frozen, but the Packers will still have quite the homefield advantage. The Packers are 32-3 in their last 35 home games with Arron Rodgers under center, including 4-0 this season.
Let's take a look at the matchups.
Eagles Offense Versus Packers Defense
Mark Sanchez got his first start in almost 2 years and threw for 332 yards and 2 TDs against the Panthers last week. He wasn't great, but he avoided the turnovers that have marred his career. The Eagles 5th ranked offense (404.3 yards per game) and 5th ranked passing offense (289.6 ypg) will face a much stiffer test this week in Green Bay. The Packers defense is ranked only 23rd overall (371.7 ypg), but they are 9th in pass defense (229.1 ypg). And they are even better at home, where they have only allowed four passing TDs while holding opposing quarterbacks to an NFL-low 64.2 QB rating. Overall, the Packers have the third most interceptions in the NFL (12) and have given up the sixth fewest TD passes (13). Jeremy Maclin is 8th in the NFL in receiving yards and has 8 TDs. Meanwhile, rookie Jordan Matthews just torched the Panthers for 7 catches for 138 yards and 2 TDs. The Packers secondary is far superior to Carolina's though, led by CBs Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward.
The other problem for Sanchez will be the Green Bay pass rush, led by Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. As a matter of fact, the Pack moved Matthews inside for most of the game against the Bears last week and he recorded a career-high 11 tackles and added a sack. If he's moving all around, it will be difficult for the Eagles offensive line to contain him. Luckily, the Eagles got back Pro Bowl LG Evan Mathis last week and center Jason Kelce the week before. Even without RG Todd Herremans, the Eagles boast one of the best lines in the league. Their 12 sacks allowed are the 4th fewest in the NFL this season.
While Matthews will help against the run playing in the middle, the Pack will really miss NT B.J. Raji's run stuffing ability. The Packers have the 30th ranked run defense (142.6 ypg and 4.6 yards per carry) and they were dead last before they held the Bears to only 55 yards rushing in a blowout. As a matter of fact, last week was the only time that a team hasn't rushed for 100 yards against the Packers this season. And Seattle (207) and Chicago earlier in the season (235), actually exceeded 200 yards rushing. That's good news for the Eagles rushing attack that ranks only 14th in the NFL (114.8 ypg). A year after leading the NFL in rushing, and scorching the Packers for 155 yards on 25 attempts in Lambeau, LeSean McCoy is having a down season. He was held to 19 yards on 12 carries against Carolina last week and is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, which is far below last season's 5.1 yards per carry average. The Eagles would be wise to feed McCoy, Darren Sproles and even Chris Polk the rock early and often on Sunday.
Packers Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Aaron Rodgers is well on his way to his second MVP award this season. He has thrown for 2,407 yards, 25 TDs and only 3 INTs. He leads the NFL with an 8.33 TD-to-INT ratio and a 120.1 QB rating, including a 140.1 mark at home. His 106.2 career QB rating is the best in NFL history. His rating for the last three games is 138.8, and he's thrown 15 TDs and zero INTs at home this season. As a matter of fact, he hasn't thrown an interception at Lambeau in his last 286 attempts. He is easily the best player in the NFL today and although the Packers offense is only ranked 12th overall (357.8 ypg) and 10th in passing (256.4 ypg), the Eagles defense is in for a long afternoon.
Rodgers tied an NFL record with six TD passes in the first half last week and the Eagles pass defense is ranked 22nd (251.7 ypg). WR Jordy Nelson is tied for 7th in the NFL in receptions (56), is 5th in yards receiving (889), and has 8 TDs. On the other side, Randall Cobb has 44 receptions for 650 yards and 10 TDs. Those 18 combined TDs are the most for any WR duo in the league. In short, the only prayer Eagles CBs, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, have of even keeping them under 100 yards receiving each is to use their size advantage and jam both receivers at the line of scrimmage all game. That just might throw off the rhythm of the Packers offense and allow the Eagles suddenly fierce pass rush to get to Rodgers. The Eagles are coming off a 9-sack showing against Carolina and are now 2nd in the NFL with 32 sacks. Conversely, Rodgers tends to hold onto the ball too long, looking to make a play with his feet, and has been sacked 21 times (18th most in the NFL). Plus, both of Green Bay's guards, Josh Sitton (toe) and T.J. Lang (ankle) are playing hurt. Look for OLB Conner Barwin to spy on Rodgers, just as he did against Cam Newton last week when he recorded 3.5 sacks. Barwin now leads the NFC with 10.5 sacks.
The Packers' running game is an afterthought this season and ranks only 18th in the NFL (101.3 ypg). Their 25.1 carries per game is the 7th fewest in the entire NFL, which is good news for an Eagles team that is ranked 19th against the run (115.2 ypg), but has been steadily improving throughout the season. They have held their last four opponents to 3.5 yards per carry after allowing 4.2 in the first five games. Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 TDs as a rookie last season, but he's only rushed for 478 yards and 4 TDs through 9 games this season. That's what happens when Rodgers is healthy again this season and Lacy's carries dwindle from 18.9 per game last season to 13.2 this year.
The Eagles have the best special teams in the NFL. This is a recording. They have scored five special teams TDs, including two on punt returns by Sproles, who leads the NFL with a 17.1 average. However, the Packers are 5th in punt coverage. Kicker Cody Parkey has hit 16 of his 17 field goal attempts and has a 62.5 touchback percentage on kickoffs. Packers kicker Mason Crosby is 13-for-14 on FGs this year, with his only miss being blocked. Randall Cobb is a dangerous punt returner averaging 10.2 yards per return, but Eagles punter Donnie Jones has had just 9 of his last 27 punts returned. The Eagles special teams should make a difference in the game even if they don't score another touchdown.
Is there any chance the Eagles get a win in Lambeau Field?
Chip Kelly's face-paced offense is so popular that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy actually studied it back when Kelly was still at Oregon and tried to incorporate some of the concepts into his own team's hurry-up offensive packages. The Packers don't run a no-huddle all game, like the Eagles, but with Rodgers running the show, that can make any coach look like a genius. The problem with McCarthy is that the Packers have only faced three teams that currently have a winning record (Lions, Seahawks and Dolphins) and they were only able to beat one of them (Dolphins). They also lost to the NFC South-leading Saints (4-5), so they haven't beaten a quality opponent all season. The 7-2 Eagles are most definitely a quality opponent.
Both teams are going to score points, so it's just a question of which defense can at least slow down the opposition better or which team wins the turnover battle. Green Bay has only turned the ball over 8 times all season and Rodgers never turns it over at home. Sanchez, on the other hand, has 72 TD passes and 71 INTs in his career. With the game being in Lambeau Field, where Rodgers is super-human, I just don't see how the Eagles can keep up with a backup quarterback. An Eagles win this week is just not a Lambeau Leap of faith I can take.
Packers 38 - Eagles 34