Week One of the 2010 NFL season pitted the Green Bay Packers against the Philadelphia Eagles. This was a rematch of the 1960 NFL Championship (there was no Super Bowl yet younger fans, while the AFL was in its infancy, 10 years from a 1970 merger). The Eagles honored the occasion by inviting the 1960 Eagles players to the game, holding a ceremony and wearing throwback uniforms for the game. The historical significance did not end there.
On the field the Eagles were led by new starting QB Kevin Kolb who was courageously beginning a new era in Eagles football. What was not known was that Kolb would not play the role of William Wallace. Seven of the Eagles starters from Week One are not starting this playoff game and both teams look VERY different having played a 16-game NFL season.
“When we’re hitting on all cylinders – no one can beat us.” These were the words of Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop who put the other NFC playoff teams on notice. While I doubt that the Packers are planning to evince the ghosts of Vince Lombardi’s glory days, they will take part in the marquee matchup of the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend.
The Eagles will host the Packers Sunday at “the Linc” in the most attractive matchup of the wild-card weekend, a game between two 10-6 teams, each led by a marquee quarterback. There are story lines galore. Bishop’s boast notwithstanding, the Packers are not unbeatable. They were up and down during the season, twice going through stretches in which they lost three of four. They were hit hard by injuries and played most of the season without a running game. These may not be the Lombardi Packers by any stretch but they are the toughest first-round matchup the Eagles could have drawn. Many of the things the Packers do well the Eagles have trouble with. That will ultimately decide the outcome of this game. Strength vs. Weakness. Which team can overcome their weaknesses enough to get the victory?
The Packers have one of the league’s best red zone offenses, scoring touchdowns on 32 of 52 possessions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Eagles’ red zone defense is the worst in the NFL, allowing 33 TD in 43 possessions. Strength vs. Weakness.
The Packers’ defense puts a lot of heat on the quarterback. The Eagles patchwork offensive line allowed 50 sacks, the most in the Andy Reid era. Ah but Michael Vick is the most elusive QB on the planet, so that could turn weakness into an advantage. Strength vs. Weakness.
Homefield advantage? No doubt the Philly fans consider themselves a Twelfth (and Thirteenth) Man collectively but the Eagles lost their final two regular season games at home vs. Minnesota and Dallas. The Packers already played the Eagles once in Philadelphia this season (Week One) and defeated them, 27-20. That was the season opener when Clay Matthews knocked Kevin Kolb out of the game and opened the door for the return of Mike Vick. Who would’ve thought the teams would meet again in the postseason, this time with Vick as the starter, MVP candidate, Pro Bowl QB and all-around Super Hero?
Tough game for the Eagles but this is not the same team that lost in Week One. Philadelphia can win it by playing a solid 60-minute game, something they have not done for awhile. They cannot commit a lot of stupid penalties (they were called for 10 in the earlier loss to Green Bay) and they cannot turn the ball over. They also MUST find a way to do what Andy Reid despises – something he has done only once this season – run the ball in the second half. Reid did this in the first Dallas game and it shut down any chance of a comeback. Ironically, they failed to do this in the season finale when Dallas came back to win 14-13. Ball control and turnovers go hand-in-hand. The Eagles have turned it over a dozen times in the last four games and they are averaging about a dozen rushes per game – so the recent trends do not bode well in this regard. Hopefully Reid & Co. are smarter, more observant and better at their job than I am and have realized this long before yours truly!
Aaron Rodgers is very good at executing play-action passes and a “fake-handoff-chuck-it-down-the-field thing” which ties the Eagles’ defense in knots. The Eagles have a lot of young players on defense and are quick to react to play fakes which makes them a ripe target for a quarterback like Rodgers. However, these same young players have learned from game action in recent weeks and should be prepared for such duplicity against Green Bay. After all, this is Aaron Rodgers not Don “Magic” Majikowski.
In Green Bay’s 45-17 blowout of the New York Giants, Rodgers completed 25 of 37 pass attempts for 404 yards (career high) and 4 TD. Impressive numbers, set up by his success on play action. Rodgers was 11 for 12 on play-action passes for 241 yards and 3 TD. The Giants were one of the top-ranked defenses in the NFL this season and they still were torched by “Buck Rodgers in the 21st Century.”
You wouldn’t think a Packers team with such a mediocre running game (22nd in the league) would be that effective on play-action, but it works. Attribute that to excellent design by head coach Mike McCarthy and proficient execution by the entire offense. Apparently the key is to get the line flowing one way and Rodgers carrying out the fake by rolling the other way. Are you paying attention, Sean McDermott? Can someone please nudge Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and tell him this part is very important? Rodgers fakes and rolls the other way! Are you paying attention now?
The Eagles defense had some success against Rodgers in the opener, holding him to 188 yards passing, sacking him three times and intercepting him twice. The Eagles did a good job of mixing up their blitzes and disguising their coverage and they had Rodgers checking out of plays at the line of scrimmage constantly. He will study that tape this week, which means defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will have to come up with something new to attack Rodgers on Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, it will be a challenge for the Eagles to score. In their last nine games, the Packers have allowed only one opponent (New England) to score more than 20 points. They held five opponents to seven points or fewer, including Sunday’s 10-3 win over Chicago.
The Packers had six sacks of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler which gave them 47 sacks for the season. Pro Bowl LB Clay Matthews was the most disruptive defensive force in the NFC. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers moves Matthews around in his 3-4 front, making it hard for the offensive line (or small armies) to block him. Matthews was unstoppable in Week One and will surely be a target this weekend.
Many of the blitzes Minnesota used to pressure Vick last week are blitzes that fit the Green Bay personnel. Look for the Packers to borrow heavily on that game plan with Matthews coming hard off the edge and nose tackle B.J. Raji collapsing the pocket with either a linebacker or a safety coming on a delayed blitz. That is particularly true if the Eagles line up in the shotgun as often as they did against the Vikings. The formation just invites that kind of pass rush.
In the opener, Vick had success coming off the bench to replace the injured Kolb. He passed for 175 yards and ran for 103 as the Packers were unable to corral him. Of course, the Packers had not prepared to defend that form of Mike Vick. At that time, he still was in the part-time role of third down and short-yardage specialist. Now he is the focal point of the offense and the Packers will have a much better idea of what they are up against.
They will have game tape from 12 contests and have seen a lot of what Vick does well. They huge variable is that Vick often doesn’t know what he will do until he reacts in the moment. Eagles offense has learned to adapt to Vick’s “playground mentality” on broken plays. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson rarely give up trying to get open or come back to the ball. That unpredictability is of course “undefenseable” but knowing Vick’s tendencies is Dom Capers’ forte and he has seen enough game tape to determine where the Packers want Vick to be.
Andy Reid chose to sit most of his starters in the regular season finale against Dallas. Now that all of the moronic critics have been silenced, Reid knows that those starters needed that rest. The players are healthier, more rested and mentally focused on this Packers game. They’ll need it. Whichever team is better this game, this week, deserves to win.
Packers offense could torch the Eagles porous defense. While the Eagles offense can also light up the scoreboard, Andy Reid does NOT want a shootout. Eagles need to score early and keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands – which means defense and running the ball. McCoy and Harrison need to rack up 150 yards. The Eagles need 8:00 drives in the second half and they MUST find a way to improve their abyssmal Red Zone defense.
EAGLES 24 PACKERS 21
RELATED ARTICLE: NFC WILDCARD PREVIEW http://prosportsblogging.com/all-sports/nfc-wild-card-preview-green-bay-packers-10-6-at-philadelphia-eagles-10-6/
BEST QUOTE EVER, Jim Mora – “PLAYOFFS?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3-eavMSBnk
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org