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Examining The Defense With Packers Looming

The screen comes to life and Sean McDermott leans forward in his NovaCare Complex office. The Packers are his obsession now as he spends day and night watching plays, rewinding and watching again, looking for clues to help slow down one of the best passing attacks, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a great set of receivers, in the NFL.

There are few weaknesses. There are no glaring holes. Starting with a solid offensive line and moving through the skill position players, the Packers represent a great challenge for McDermott's defense. How do you attack them? How do you slow Rodgers, who is so accurate, so athletic, so strong in the pocket?

An Eagles defense that has yet to have its defining moment, its we-have-arrived game, must come together very quickly. The warts of this group have been much discussed over recent weeks. The Eagles don't have enough consistent pressure on the quarterback. There is no clear-cut starter at right cornerback. The secondary is so young. The linebackers have been inconsistent all season. The red zone defense hasn't been good enough.

Yet, McDermott believes in his players. He believes in his scheme. And he is waiting for the chance to rise up to the occasion on Sunday in the wild card playoff game.

The obvious question is how McDermott and the defense will go about defending Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. The Packers run the ball to keep defenses honest, only. They rely on brute and brawn to run the ball, not guile and speed. They want to batter a defense with the run only after they have exhausted it with the passing game.

The focus, of course, is on Rodgers. He enjoyed another brilliant season -- 3,922 passing yards, 28 touchdowns -- and he has made possible what many thought would never be gone in Green Bay, and that is replace and put in the rear-view mirror the shadow cast by Brett Favre. Rodgers is a Pro Bowl-caliber player, and what McDermott must do is move him, pressure him, hit him.

"The Eagles had a good scheme the first time the teams played," said NFL Network's Brian Baldinger. "It was about as good as you are going to do -- two interceptions, two touchdowns, 188 yards passing. The Eagles put a nice plan together."

What do they do this time? McDermott has a rested group, and that is a huge plus. He has a hungry team, a fast defense. He also has some youth in the back seven -- rookie Kurt Coleman at free safety, rookie Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker, second-year man Moise Fokou at SAM linebacker, Dimitri Patterson (I'm guessing) at right cornerback. How complex can McDermott be knowing that if there is a slip in communication, or a failure to recognize the checks the defense will be trained to know, Rodgers can score a touchdown from anywhere on the field?

How aggressive can McDermott be with a blitz package that got home on Sunday against Dallas, and did so in the first game against the Packers, sacking Rodgers three times in the first half? The Packers made adjustments, and Rodgers was clean in the second half. But some well-timed packages gave Rodgers fits in the fourth quarter as the Eagles mounted a comeback to get back in the game, so maybe McDermott can use what worked then and apply it now.

In a perfect world, all of the work the Eagles did to address their front four in the off-season would pay off now. But first-round draft pick Brandon Graham is injured and third-round pick Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is clearly in the developmental phase of his career. He showed promise on Sunday against Dallas, but there are no certainties that the rookie will be in uniform in this game.

Darryl Tapp has played well in a rotational role. Veteran Bobby McCray showed some burst on Sunday, so maybe now that he has the rust off he can help for a dozen snaps or so. Starters Trent Cole and Juqua Parker have to win their battles, and the Eagles have to squeeze the middle, and they have to take Rodgers out of his comfort zone.

It is a defining game, for certain. The personnel changes were significant in the months prior to the September 12 game against Green Bay. There have been many moves since that time as well. McDermott has described the defense as a "work in progress" all season. There is still work to be done. The personnel will be closely evaluated following the playoffs. There are so many players injured and so much youth. When will it all come together for this defense?

We hope it happens on Sunday. McDermott and his staff are burning the green energy at the NovaCare Complex preparing, searching for clues, hoping to happen upon a weakness to exploit. They won't find many. Green Bay has as good an offense, led by as good a quarterback, as there is in the NFC right now. That isn't going to change, no matter how much film the coaches watch.

To win this game, and to beat Rodgers, the defense has to step up and stand out. In a season of crossroads moments for this football team, this is one for the defense. How does it match up against the best of the best?

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