Lambeau Field. Eagles vs. Packers.
Back in August, this looked like a showdown between
It is easy to assume that with Rodgers out, the Eagles have a huge advantage and should win the game. Not so fast. The Packers are much more than a one-man show. They have a good running game, a stud wide receiver and a solid defense. There is no denying that playing without Rodgers really hurts them, but this is a good overall team. They can win games with a backup quarterback.
Wallace is a veteran player and knows the West Coast offense inside-out. He has spent the week practicing and working on his timing with the receivers. Last week, Wallace was thrown into action. He hadn't had much of a chance to work with the starting offense. That showed as he struggled. Do not expect him to struggle like that. He won't be Rodgers, but the passing game should be effective.
Obviously, the Packers will focus on running the ball. Eddie Lacy ran for 150 yards last week. The rookie is a very impressive player. He's over 230 pounds and runs angry. He will break arm tackles. Defenders must get into proper position and make strong tackles. Don't reach or lunge. That won't do you any good against a player this big and strong. Backup James Starks had a 32-yard touchdown run last week and he's burned the Eagles in the past.
The Eagles have played good run defense this year. That sounds funny to say since they gave up 210 yards last week, but Terrelle Pryor had 94 of those yards and running backs also got yards late in the game against the backup defense. If you focus on the Eagles starters against the Raiders running backs, the Eagles did a good job.
I was very impressed with
I don't anticipate the Eagles completely shutting down the run game, but I think they'll keep the Packers under control. Third-down conversions will be key to the Packers sustaining drives and moving the ball. For the year, Green Bay is outstanding on third downs. But that was with Rodgers. Last week, they were awful. I expect them to be better, but I'm not sure how good they'll be. Wallace made quick throws last week. He was getting the ball out of his hands rather than making ideal reads.
The Eagles must pressure Wallace and make him uncomfortable.
The player under the biggest spotlight will be Nick Foles. He threw seven touchdown passes last week, but that's now ancient history. Foles has to show that he can play well consistently. The Packers do not have a great pass defense. They are 20th in the league in passing yards allowed. Opposing quarterbacks have passer rating of 95.3 against them.
Don't expect another seven touchdown passes. That's an anomaly. Foles just needs to have a good game. He needs to make good reads and good decisions. He needs to be accurate and make good throws. One trick the Packers like to try is late pre-snap movement by the defensive backs. They'll show Cover 2 and then shift to a single high safety. I'm sure the coaches will point this out, but Foles needs to make sure to remember it during the game. He's got enough experience that simple tricks shouldn't work against him. Foles will have a chance to make plays and move the ball.
Green Bay does get Clay Matthews back on the field. The star linebacker has missed time with a bad thumb injury. He's got a giant cast on it and will have to see how effective he can be playing with a "club" on his hand. The Eagles struggled with him back in 2010, but this is a different team with different players. Matthews is the one pass rusher who must be accounted for on every play.
The Packers have been great against the run this year. They are fifth in the NFL in run defense. B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett are a big pair of defensive linemen who are tough to block. They move around to give the offense different looks. Raji is a massive guy, but he is also a good athlete. He is quick and nimble for a big guy. Controlling these two will be the focus for the Eagles interior blockers.
I am interested to see if the Eagles try to run up the middle from spread sets. The Packers give some looks in the nickel defense where they don't line anyone directly over the center. I could see Chip Kelly trying some quick hitters up middle. The Eagles have had success with runs like this in some other games.
One weapon the Eagles have against the big defensive linemen is the up-tempo offense. If the Eagles can sustain drives, Raji and Pickett will get tired. That's when they'll struggle to get off blocks and be vulnerable to big runs. The Eagles used the up-tempo attack very effectively last week and the Raiders were limited with what they could do on defense.
The Packers will need their special teams to help with Rodgers being out. They did last week. The Packers blocked a punt, which set up a touchdown. They have a dangerous punt returner in Micah Hyde. He's already got one touchdown this year. The Eagles have played better on special teams in recent weeks and they need to keep that up.
Going to Lambeau and winning is never easy. This is a good challenge for Foles and the Eagles. The Packers are 5-3. The Eagles have yet to beat a team with a winning record. The Eagles need to show they can beat a winning team. It would also be huge to get to 5-5 and stay in the hunt for the NFC East title. Big game on Sunday.