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Eagles-Packers Preview: A Lucky Break
The first thing everyone thought when they got a look at the Eagles 2013 season schedule was that their Week 10 visit to Lambeau Field in Green Bay would result in a loss. That all changed the moment Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone against the Chicago Bears on Monday night. Now, everyone assumes the Eagles will win this game. Let's take a look at the matchup.
There are a few things leaning in the Eagles' favor on Sunday. Not only will the Packers be without Rodgers, but they are also playing on a short week after their loss on Monday night. The Eagles are winless at home this season (0-4), but they are actually 4-1 on the road. All three of Nick Foles' career wins have come on the road. And one of the strangest stats that I found was that the last time the Eagles won in Green Bay was ten years ago, on Nov. 10. The date this Sunday will also be Nov. 10.
Eagles Offense Versus Packers Defense
Anyway, Nick Foles is coming off his best game as a pro, where he tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Raiders. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 406 yards, which means he threw more TD passes (7) than incomplete passes (6). He also still hasn't thrown an interception this season. If he had enough passes to qualify, his 127.4 QB rating would rank first in the NFL.
Of course, Foles didn't do it all alone. Sure, he made nice reads, looked off safeties and threw nearly perfect passes in Oakland, but he also had all day in the pocket. The Eagles offensive line came into the season with lots of hype and finally lived up to it last week against a good Raiders defense. The Raiders rank in the top half of defenses in sacks and Foles was only sacked twice on botched plays. The Packers, meanwhile, rank eighth in the NFL in sacks with 24 and they should be getting back OLB Clay Matthews this week after he missed the last four games. This will be a huge test for LT Jason Peters protecting Foles' blind side On the other side, rookie RT Lane Johnson and RG Todd Herremans will have their hands full with B.J. Raji.
The Packers have an average defense that is ranked No. 15 overall in total yards (345.0 yards per game) and 14th in points allowed per game (23.1). But they are susceptible to the pass, as their 20th ranking (250.5 ypg) in that category will attest. Honestly, I had to look up who the Green Bay safeties were. Evidently they are Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings and neither one have forced a turnover this season. As a matter of fact, the entire Green Bay defense has only three interceptions on the season, which ties them for last in the league. This is good news for Foles and his receivers. Teams normally double team DeSean Jackson, who is tied for second in the NFL with 823 receiving yards. That worked well when Michael Vick was the quarterback, but Foles actually looks for Riley Cooper, who had a career game against the Raiders (5-139-3 TDs), repeatedly beating single coverage. Foles even found his tight ends, as Brent Celek and Zach Ertz each scored a touchdown last week. It's doubtful CBs Sam Shields and Tramon Williams will fare any better than the Raiders did.
The Eagles 4th overall offensive rank (413.2 ypg) is thanks mostly to the 3rd best rushing offense in the NFL (147.9 ypg) and the NFL's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy (777 yards). The problem is that as defenses have concentrated on stopping the potent Eagles rushing attack, McCoy has been held to under 56 yards rushing the last three games and in four of the last five. Of course, now that Foles put up historic passing numbers, defenses might not be able to stack eight-in-the-box on every play to stop McCoy. Unfortunately, this might not be the week the Eagles running game gets back on track, since the Packers are 5th in run defense (94.5 ypg). A big part of that is LB A.J. Hawk, who leads the Pack with 67 tackles and also has 3 sacks.
Packers Offense Versus Eagles Defense
With the injury to Rodgers, Seneca Wallace will start for the Packers. That's the same Seneca Wallace who was out of the NFL last season and was cut by San Francisco and New Orleans already this season, before signing with the Packers in September. This is easily the biggest drop-off in talent in the entire NFL. Even against an Eagles defense that is the worst overall in the NFL (419.3 ypg) and the worst against the pass (307.6), this is a mismatch in favor of the Eagles. Green Bay's No. 2 pass ranking means absolutely nothing without Rodgers.
And it's not just because of how bad Wallace is at quarterback. The Packers have had injuries to their receiving corps. Randall Cobb is out with a broken leg. James Jones just came back from a knee injury and will be slowly working his way back. And TE Jermichael Finley suffered a neck injury and might not play again this season. That leaves Jordy Nelson (43-716-7 TDs) as their only legit receiver, unless you are concerned with the likes of Jarrett Boykin, Myles White and TE Andrew Quarless. I'll assume that an improving Eagles defensive secondary can double Nelson on every play and cover the rest man-to-man. By the way, part of the reason the Eagles have the worst pass defense in the entire NFL is that they have had more passes thrown against them (45 per game) than any other team. Thank a combination of a bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy, bad third down defense and Chip Kelly's face-paced offense for that one.
The biggest surprise about the Packers offense this year is their No. 2 ranked rushing attack (148.6 ypg). Rookie Eddie Lacy is 8th in the NFL in rushing with 596 yards and without Rodgers, the Packers are sure to lean heavily on their running game. The Eagles are 15th against the run (111.8 ypg), but some of that was due to the Raiders running the ball in the 4th quarter last week against the Eagles prevent defense, even though they were trailing by 36 points. They will need DeMeco Ryans to have another great game against the run and Mychal Kendricks will most likely be asked to spy on Wallace, after he did a nice job against Terrell Pryor last week. It will also be interesting to see how Bennie Logan does at NT now that he's the starter in the middle of the line.
The Packers are actually worse on special teams than the Eagles, since they have the worst kickoff coverage team in the NFL. Not that the Eagles have been any good in their return game, but with Brandon Boykin taking over kickoff returns and DeSean Jackson seemingly returning punts, at least there is a chance for a good return. That was never the case with Demaris Johnson back there. Plus, Green bay kicker, Mason Crosby only has 3 touchbacks all season. The Eagles coverage units are pretty good thanks mostly to Donnie Jones' punting, but they'll have to be careful with Micah Hyde, who has a 93-yard punt return touchdown this season for Green Bay.
DeSean Jackson Punt Return TD
Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy won a super Bowl. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is a rookie head coach who wouldn't name a quarterback, who tied an NFL record for touchdowns and compiled a perfect QB Rating, as his starter for the rest of the season. Chip has a lot to learn about the NFL game and it shows each week during the games.
What was almost a guaranteed loss, has turned into an expected win for the Eagles thanks to the injury to Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. His backup, Seneca Wallace is a borderline NFL talent who shouldn't present much of a problem for an improving Eagles defense. Meanwhile, Nick Foles needs to prove that his record-tying performance last week wasn't a fluke and that he can be a consistent performer going forward. There is no question that the Eagles should win this game.
Eagles 34 - Packers 20