The Eagles' matchup against the Green Bay Packers took on quite a different feel following Monday Night Football, as word filtered out that superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers had fractured his clavicle during the game and would be out multiple weeks.
Seneca Wallace is the Packers' backup and, as he did against the Chicago Bears, must step into the starter's role and attempt to lead the Packers to victory. While no defensive coordinator will complain about not having to face Rodgers, Bill Davis, who is intimately familiar with Wallace from their time together as members of the Cleveland Browns in 2011 and 2012, acknowledged that the spirit of the Packers offense does not change with the latter under center, even if some formation deployments do.
"I think the first thing that jumped out at me was they put a fullback in the game (when Wallace came in against the Bears)," Davis said. "With Aaron Rodgers, it's really three wide (receivers) and one back. I don't know if it was the plan against Chicago or not, but when Seneca went in, there was more of a two-back run feel to it. They're still running the same offense. It's a high-efficiency offense. I know Seneca from being in Cleveland last year, he was with us the last two years and I was in that division and coached against him. He's a (Mike) Holmgren-raised West Coast Offense (disciple), so is Mike McCarthy. It's a high-efficiency offense that's really built for the quarterback to quickly distribute the ball, and they didn't come too far off of that (when Wallace came in), and I think they'll stay with that type of plan with Seneca."
The Bears were able to get pressure on Wallace with the front four, particularly on third down, and disrupt the Packers' passing attack. Wallace, who obviously did not get any first-team practice reps during the week, was out of sync with his receivers and had trouble establishing much of a rhythm. He finished the game 11-for-19 for 114 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. On third downs, Wallace was 2-for-6 for a mere 15 yards, including taking a sack, and the Packers offense converted just one of eight opportunities with him in the game.
"I think (the Bears') four-man pass rush got after (Wallace), it really did," Davis said of the Bears' success in getting off the field on third downs. "They didn't pressure (with the blitz) a whole lot, they pressured (with the blitz) some, but their four-man rush with Peppers and those big guys put a little pressure on Seneca. That's what benefited (the Bears defense) on third down."
The Eagles are hoping their front four can get to Wallace in a similar fashion and force the Packers offense into three-and-outs.
Davis cautioned that just because Rodgers will not be able to play, does not mean the Packers offense become completely toothless. There are still a number of playmakers on that side of the ball who can hurt a defense, especially if they are not allotted the proper respect.
"They've got their share of weapons," Davis said. "The running backs are really playing well, they're getting James (Jones) back, they've got Jordy Nelson who's playing outstandingly. There are a lot of weapons on the field for them, and the quarterback they put in there will distribute to the weapons, and that's what we have to defend."
Even before Rodgers got hurt, the Packers had started to incorporate a physical, ground-and-pound run game into an offense that has been dominated by explosive aerial displays in recent seasons. Against the Packers, rookie Eddie Lacy – who has been a revelation as the primary ball-carrier – and James Starks – a bruising backup who had his breakout performance against the Eagles in the 2010 Wild Card Playoff game – combined for 190 yards on 28 carries. That duo will be relied upon more heavily than ever in the upcoming weeks.
"That's what they've been doing as of late, shifting to the (run game) because these running backs have been playing real well," Davis said. "They're downhill, run-you-over, angry runners, and they're getting a lot of production out of them, so we've got our hands full to stop their run game, along with this high-efficiency passing game that they've always had. When they commit to the run, like they have lately, they have a solid offensive line, and the (running backs) run behind their pads well. It's a downhill, get-what's-there type of smash-mouth running game that you haven't seen in Green Bay for years, but it's there now."
Though the Eagles defense was able to stuff the Raiders on their designed runs for most of the game, a lot of damage was done on the ground by Terrelle Pryor when the Raiders quarterback was able to get outside the pocket and scramble (as well as in the fourth quarter when the game had been decided and the Eagles were not really concerned with stopping the run). The defense will have to again be mindful of Wallace's athletic ability and that he can make big plays with his legs if he gets loose.
"Our guys did a great job of stopping the designed runs (against Oakland)," Davis said. "It was the breakaway runs or the two-minute runs that really hurt us in that game. Other than (Pryor) getting his, the running backs got theirs when we were in our pass rush mode near the end when we had the big lead. We felt good about the run defense against their designed runs."
Despite giving up a gaudy 560 yards of offense to the Raiders – a lot of which came in garbage time – Davis was most pleased with the fact that his first-team defense only allowed 13 points, the fifth straight game in which that unit as a whole has decreased its points allowed total. The improvement on defense is continuing, and with the Packers' star quarterback on the mend this week, the unit will look to put together a truly dominant performance.
"I do believe the guys' fundamentals and techniques are improving," Davis said. "Our effort is there. The turnovers are showing up a little bit more, that's a product of running to the football and being where you're supposed to be and communicating with the guys in your area. We're moving in the right direction. The (total) yards were way more than we would've liked, but the points were where we wanted them, and that's the goal."
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