Eagles vs. Packers: Keys to the Game
This week’s game is the only the fourth of its kind in the last 21 seasons for the Green Bay Packers. Someone new will start at quarterback. Before Seneca Wallace takes the first snap this week, only Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn and Brett Favre have lined up under center for the Packers’ first offensive snap since 1992.
Many a thought, opinion, suggestion, rant and meltdown have surfaced this week about why Rodgers was hurt and what in the world the Packers can do about it now. All of that aside, there is a game to be played this week at Lambeau Field and it will count in the standings.
Rodgers is out this week. You can write that down in ink, as Mike McCarthy sometimes says. Earlier in the week, practice squad quarterback Scott Tolzien was promoted to the active roster. The Packers also are reportedly going to bring in Flynn for a workout. Regardless, Wallace has been practicing all week with the first team and will be the Packers quarterback on Sunday.
For many, this is the first real glimpse of how this team will look each week until (or dare I say “if”) Rodgers comes back. As John Rehor of PackersTalk.com discussed a few days back, this is new territory for many Packers fans, especially those under age 22. Rarely has the quarterback position in Green Bay been one of the big question marks heading into a game.
With that, let’s look at that as well as the other keys that will likely surface and determine Sunday’s outcome.
Seneca Wallace & Green Bay’s Offensive Game Plan
You knew this would be the first topic mentioned. Obviously the Packers would like to get as much out of Wallace as they do out of Rodgers but that isn’t happening. Wallace isn’t anywhere near the same type of quarterback that Rodgers is.
Still, the Packers can have success without #12 under center on Sunday if they prepare to play within who Wallace is and what he can add to the talent pool that is still healthy enough to play. Wallace looked shaky on Monday night and understandably so. Lambeau Field, Monday night football, Chicago Bears, slight division lead and all of a sudden, he’s in to keep the Packers in the game and win it. Not to mention while everyone around him was trying not to go into full panic mode. Still, a loss is not well-received by the home crowd.
The bigger issue was throwing the ball. Wallace had no zip, no air and no confidence under several of his throws. He sent a few passes straight into the dirt and looked like a guy who hadn’t played football in a while. Actually it had been just shy of two years since his last snap, so there you have it.
But with a week to prepare, Wallace should come out better prepared and more confident in what he can do. He still has Jordy Nelson and James Jones at receiver and let’s not forget the two-headed rushing attack of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The Packers racked up nearly 200 rushing yards against the Bears, who had at least seven men in the box for most of the night. Teams are going to catch onto this and make Wallace beat them, but it can be done. Quick and short passes mixed in with successful runs on first down can keep Wallace’s task a very manageable one.
Earlier in his career, Wallace was a mobile quarterback and even lined up at receiver at times to add a wrinkle to an offense. Those days are past him. While he can still run, this is not what the Packers want to see a lot of on Sunday. Their offense isn’t the pistol. Even though Rodgers is more mobile than some quarterbacks, he’s rarely in a designed run and when he is running, it means something has broken down somewhere.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy needs to design a game plan that will give Wallace time and not require him to chuck it more than 10 yards downfield with any regularity. This is one of those times where you worry if McCarthy will lean too heavily on the run and keep at it when it obviously won’t work. That remains to be seen but the reality is that Wallace is going to have to throw the ball effectively if the Packers want a chance to win. If those throws need to travel more than 10 yards downfield, the odds exponentially decrease.
The Run Game
If there is one area that has held up its end of the bargain in Green Bay this season, it’s the running game. Lacy is one of the NFL’s top 10 rushers. Starks is the only running back in the league with three touchdown runs of 25-yards or more this season. Needless to say, the Packers can run the football and they can score doing it. They need to do so more than ever this week.
The Eagles are going to come in looking to limit Green Bay’s ground attack. Philadelphia’s run defense is better than is its pass defense. That matchup doesn’t seem to bode well for the Packers, at least on paper. However, the Packers offensive line should come into this week’s game with some confidence, as they were still able to gain yards on the ground despite heavy emphasis from Chicago’s run defense.
Guard T.J. Lang will likely miss Sunday’s game as he recovers from a concussion so expect Don Barclay to move to right guard. Marshall Newhouse is most likely to play at right tackle but let’s not forget that Derek Sherrod was activated off of the Physically Unable to Perform list this week. Will we see any of Sherrod if Newhouse struggles, or, even if he doesn’t? The Packers O-line has their work cut out for them but they have faced better and should be able to get a push.
Lacy has displayed some impressive patience for a rookie whose style is more Mack truck than gazelle. His ability to burst through an opening and initiate contact has helped the Packers stay in very manageable second and third down situations. I’m not suggesting that Lacy change his style on Sunday, but if he takes a shot and has to come out or miss time, the Packers could be in trouble.
One thing we know is that McCarthy likes to stick with a back who is running well. So far, Lacy appears to be shouldering that load well. But this NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping Lacy fresh for the back half run is important and hopefully Green Bay plans to mix Starks in more often. This past game was just Starks’ second back after missing four weeks with a knee injury but he appeared to be fully healthy.
Lastly, and this is a key every week, but an effective running game kills clock and rests the defense. In this case, it also puts Wallace in more manageable passing situations. All of those would be huge for the Packers this week.
Packers Secondary vs. Eagles Receivers
Green Bay’s secondary turned in a putrid performance against the Bears on Monday night. I’m not taking anything away from Bears receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery or tight end Martellus Bennett. But in a game where the defense was so badly needed to keep the Packers in that game, they were lost in space at times. . literally.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw for seven touchdowns last week against the Oakland Raiders. Seven. That’s a shared NFL record. So we know one thing: Foles can throw the football. I’m not saying the Packers can’t outdo the Raiders pass defense (which contains a former Packers great in that of Charles Woodson). But Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is not afraid to air it out and any chance to turn this game into a shootout automatically favors Philadelphia.
DeSean Jackson remains a top target for the Eagles and still has the speed to get behind coverage and burn teams deep. Tight end Brent Celek has been average this season, but that’s exactly the type of guy who the Packers have made to look good this year. I doubt Celek becomes any type of X-factor this week, but he matches up well against the smaller Packers defensive backs and with safety help likely shading towards Jackson. I would expect to see cornerback Sam Shields on Jackson for the pure speed matchup but it’s still dangerous to leave Jackson one-on-one.
Safety Morgan Burnett’s biggest role this week may be in keeping the Packers’ secondary in the right place. One false step is all it takes for the Eagles to rattle off a big play. If points are going to come at a premium for the Green Bay offense, the defense can’t afford to give up many either.
The Clay Matthews Club
A lack of a pass rush killed Green Bay this past week. Perhaps I was a bit hasty on the secondary as they had to cover two good receivers with a quarterback who was in the pocket with time to make sandwiches and check his email all night long. However they achieve it, the Packers rush has to get home and to the quarterback with some sort of consistency. It’s not quite a “do or die” situation, but the Packers are going to have to take some chances to succeed this week.
It appears that linebacker Clay Matthews is ready to return and we could also see Nick Perry back. Matthews was recovering from a broken thumb and has practiced all week with a mammoth-sized club cast on his hand. Still, his mere presence is still something that Philadelphia will have to account for and this is where others need to shine.
A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Micah Hyde and whoever lines up on the left side. Having both Matthews and Perry would seemingly boost Green Bay’s chances of collapsing the pocket and hopefully force some bad throws or loose balls. Who doesn’t want to see Matthews scoop up a fumble with his good hand and take it to the house with that club cast?! Still, the more realistic result of Clay’s return should be what the others are able to do moreso than what he himself does.
It will be something to watch in the early goings as to how effective Matthews can be in shedding blocks with the club. If it happens to get up in the opposing tackle’s facemask, does the ref change the call to “illegal club to the face”?
Wallace was intercepted in this past game on a pass that was batted in the air and reeled in by Bears defensive lineman Julius Peppers. Wallace needs to ensure that his passing lanes are clear. I don’t put it past the Packers defense to come out and have the game of their lives but the Packers can’t afford to see their drives thwarted by a bad throw that ends up in the arms of an Eagles defender.
It’s more of a confidence thing with the offense and let’s be realistic. There are many out there who are unsure of how Wallace is going to play this week. Several of those people also wear a Packers uniform on Sunday. They won’t let on otherwise, but it’s natural to wonder how much the team can sustain without Rodgers.
Wallace obviously isn’t the only one handling the ball for the Packers this week and I caution every Packers receiver and running back. Philadelphia is going to look to knock the Packers out of rhythm early on. The Eagles want Green Bay hesitant and questioning themselves on every snap. Phily defenders will be getting after the ball this weekend and turnovers are going to kill the Packers in a game like this one.
Desire & Pride
Rodgers or no Rodgers, this is Lambeau Field and the Packers were on pace to win this division and make a run. The run game has sparked the offense and the defense has been playing much better this season. Some of that hope has started to wane since Rodgers went down.
This is where the Packers have to man up and decide to fight, scratch and claw their way through these next several games until 12 comes back. Many a time have we seen a team win a game they weren’t supposed to or play much better than expected because they were motivated. Whatever it is that motivates this team, they need to find that come Sunday.
The Eagles, and the rest of the NFL, smell blood in Green Bay. They know the Packers have an issue at quarterback and they’re frankly glad that they do. Confidence goes a long way and it would seem that some opponents who might otherwise be more modest about their chances of beating the Packers in Green Bay, won’t be so modest now. The Packers have to contend with that and execute well early on.
Every player on this team needs to come out of that tunnel on Sunday acting like it’s any other game. These next three games are a bit more favorable on paper and frankly, they need to win at least two, if not all three. Monday night was a gut check and it’s time to see what this team and coaching staff are made of.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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