We lost to Green Bay in the season opener, 27-20. I remember thinking at the time that the game felt like a playoff game. You could see that both teams were talented and well coached. There was a certain intensity that day that isn't evident in most regular season games, let alone season openers. The Packers made a few more plays and a couple of fewer mistakes and won the game.
Eagles fans came away from the game shocked at the performance of Michael Vick. He led the offense to 17 second-half points and made some highlight plays. Little did we know that we were seeing a season preview that day. Vick went on to have a great year and will likely finish second in MVP voting.
We now face a rematch with the Packers in an actual playoff game. Eagles fans are confident that Vick can work his magic and have the offense play well for a game instead of just a half. The prevailing thought in the media is that Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have a good game plan in place and will really slow Vick down. Capers built the September game plan for Kevin Kolb, not Vick. Now that Capers can prepare for Vick, we'll see a whole different outcome.
That is logical, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Vick came into the opener having spent the summer as the backup quarterback. He got some occasional reps with the starters, but mostly worked with backups. The big connection in the preseason was Vick to rookie Riley Cooper, not DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. Honestly, I had some concerns about Vick after watching him in the preseason. He wasn't setting the world on fire. So Capers has his chance to prepare for Vick, but Vick will also be better prepared this time around.
I think having a week of rest will be a huge help to Vick and the Eagles. Vick's style of play leads to him taking a lot of hits. Getting a week to rest his body and heal up was critical. That allowed Vick to also get perspective on things. Every week he was asked to carry the team on his back. He handled that well for the most part, but it did look as though it started to wear on him a bit recently. We saw some old habits creeping into this game. He started thinking big play more than just moving the chains.
Owen Schmitt caught eight passes from Vick in their first five full games together. In the last five, Schmitt caught just two passes. I'm not saying that we need to feed the ball to Schmitt, but rather that his lack of catches shows that Vick got away from the principle of getting the ball to the open receiver. He began forcing things more than he should. Find the open guy and get him the ball. That is the West Coast offense at its most basic level. The big plays will follow. You can be sure that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg are preaching to Vick to get back to his mid-season form.
The key skill player against the Packers will be LeSean McCoy. We must get him touches. Good things happen when he has the ball. McCoy was good on screen passes in the season opener. I'm sure the Packers will plan for that, but we're one of the best screen teams in the league. We should have counter measures for what they do. I'd love to see us run the ball more this week. That makes the play-action game much more effective. It also helps the offensive line get in a good rhythm. Green Bay can struggle against the run at times. The set up for more running is perfect, but we'll have to wait and see if the coaches actually go with that attack.
The key to our passing game is to attack the middle of the field. That's one area where guys were open in the opener. I watched the Packers last week against the Bears and that was again a vulnerable area. As much as we love big plays, there is some real logic to being more of a small ball attack this week. It makes the blitz less effective. It also keeps Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense on the sideline for more of the game. Vick can be a good passer on short throws and crossing routes.
Protection will be the magic word for our offense. Vick and the skill players can do nothing if Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, and Erik Walden are running wild in our backfield. We will be prepared for the Packers blitz. We know it is coming. We won't always know who is coming or where they are attacking from, but we should not be caught off guard. Knowing the blitz is coming and stopping it are two different things.
Reid and Mornhinweg will build the game plan around handling the blitz. They'll do this in a few ways. The first thing you can do is be creative with formations. You can have the backs line up as wings, just off the hip of the offensive tackle. This makes angles to the quarterback less favorable for rushers. You could go with two tight ends and have one on each side. In the past, we've had receivers line up tight to the formation. Jason Avant is a good blocker and he can pick up blitzers if they come or just release into his route.
Playcalling is obviously a big way to deal with the blitz. You need to be judicious about downfield pass plays. The longer Vick has to hold the ball the more vulnerable he is. You can mix in screen passes to help out. You can throw quick passes to wide receivers. Draw plays can burn the blitz if the runner is able to find a seam. You can mix in misdirection plays, but they can be risky. Faking a run up the middle and then giving the ball to Jackson on an end around can lead to a big play or a big loss. Just because a team blitzes doesn't mean you can't go deep. Max protection with only a couple of receivers going out can give the quarterback time to throw. Getting someone open is tougher. Jackson and Maclin do have the speed to beat multiple cover guys.
The players must adjust the way they play. Vick needs to be cognizant of the blitz when he sees it coming. He's got to make quick reads and get the ball out in a hurry. The receivers need to be aware of blitzes so they can expect the ball to come out quicker.
The offensive line has a major challenge in dealing with the blitz. Blocking the likes of Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and Cullen Jenkins is hard enough in standard sets. When they start moving around and other players blitz it can make life miserable. The Packers had 47 sacks this season and got regular pressure on quarterbacks. Winston Justice struggled with Matthews in the first meeting. Justice should have a better feel for things this time around. I don't think he knew just how good Matthews was back in September. The linemen need to communicate really well to handle all the stunts, loops, and blitzes.
I feel confident that the offense will have some success. The defense is more of a mystery. I do like some of the matchups. Our defensive line got very good pressure in the first meeting. I expect Trent Cole to have a good game. He knows that he must come up big. Juqua Parker will face a rookie right tackle in Bryan Bulaga. Parker must win that battle on a regular basis.
Sean McDermott won't just rely on his line for pressure. He will mix in some blitzes of his own. I'm interested to see how aggressive McDermott is. Scouting reports say not to blitz Rodgers. They said the same thing about Peyton Manning, but we went after him and got good results. The real key is to mix things up so that Rodgers isn't able to get in a comfort zone.
The Packers ran the ball well in the opener. That was before we made lineup changes. Since Antonio Dixon, Moise Fokou and Parker took over as starters the run defense has been greatly improved. Rookie Jamar Chaney has also played the run well since he took over at middle linebacker. I do not think Green Bay will have the same kind of success with their ground game.
Can we cover? This is really the million dollar question. A healthy Asante Samuel makes a big difference. His knee injury limited his effectiveness down the stretch. That was the same time that Dimitri Patterson started to struggle. If Samuel's knee is good and Patterson's confidence is restored, we'll be better than a lot of people expect.
I'm actually pretty confident in Kurt Coleman as the starting free safety. He's faced this offense before. He played in the opener as the third safety. Coleman played a lot this year and has the ability to be a solid player for us.
We don't need the defense to shut down the Packers. We need them to make key plays. Get us a couple of crucial third-down stops. Come up with a couple of sacks and a turnover or two. We were among league leaders in sacks, interceptions and takeaways when Samuel was fully healthy. This defense can make plays. We got into a rut when Samuel went down. You can't underestimate the importance of Samuel to this defense. He made big plays in our playoff run back in 2008. A good game from him will go a long way to us beating the Packers.
It is hard to believe this is our first home playoff game since the 2006 season. That is a lifetime ago. I hope Vick and the young players take advantage of the opportunity. We have a rested football team, a great quarterback and lots of talent. This is a game we can win. There is no reason we can't make a deep playoff run this year. It all starts today against Green Bay.