There are six games left in the 2016 season. The Eagles need to win four, maybe five of those games to have a shot at making the playoffs. Their first chance to get one of those wins will come on Monday night when the Eagles host the Packers at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles come into the game at 5-5. The Packers are 4-6. Green Bay has lost four in a row and five of the last six games. Its season is basically on the line. The Packers might be able to afford one loss, but two would seal their postseason fate. With that in mind, expect the Packers to play like a desperate team. They will do anything and everything they can to win the game.
Green Bay's losing streak has largely been a result of bad defense. Its best showing in the last four games is when the Colts were held to 31 points. The Packers have allowed just over 38 points a game in that stretch. The Eagles haven't given up 30 points in a game all year. The biggest problem has been injuries to the Packers' secondary. They have a pair of cornerbacks on Injured Reserve. Another is out and a fourth is questionable for Monday's game. They have rookies, slot cornerbacks and safeties trying to cover wide receivers in man coverage and really struggling. No team can have that many injuries at one spot and not feel it.
With that in mind, this is a game where Carson Wentz and the Eagles' passing attack must step up and play well. Three of the last four quarterbacks to face the Packers finished the game with a passer rating of 129 or higher. There are going to be some open receivers. There are going to be chances to make plays. The line must block well. Wentz must make good reads and good throws. The receivers have to catch the passes that come their way.
That sounds simple enough, but the Eagles' passing attack has had some ups and downs this year. Let's start with the protection. That's really where it all begins for any offense. The Eagles will be starting a new line combination. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is out this week with a knee injury, so Allen Barbre will slide out to right tackle to take his place. Veteran Stefen Wisniewski will take the left guard spot with Barbre now on the outside. This lineup finished the Seattle game and also worked together this summer when news broke of Lane Johnson's possible suspension. The time together should help them, as well as the fact Barbre and Wisniewski are veteran players. This won't be a repeat of the Washington game, where Vaitai struggled early on and the line had its worst performance of the year.
The stage is set for Monday Night Football in Philadelphia. Check out some of the key players on the Packers roster that the Eagles will have to keep an eye on this weekend.
While Green Bay has a banged up secondary, it does have a strong front seven. Trying to block Mike Daniels, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews isn't easy. The Eagles' offensive line has been a pleasant surprise this year. Even with the new lineup, the Eagles should be able to give Wentz solid protection most of the time. When there are breakdowns, Wentz must be smart. He needs to make plays with his feet or be able to get rid of the ball.
Wentz has averaged 271 yards per game through the air in the last three weeks. That's the highest three-game total for him this year. Part of that was by design, part by necessity. The bottom line is that Wentz has been relied on to be a bigger part of the offense in recent weeks. After dealing with Seattle's elite secondary last week, facing the Packers will be very different. This is the kind of game where you want to spread the defense out and attack through the air. Wentz needs to find the open receiver and get him the ball. Some of those are going to need to be aggressive, downfield throws. The whole point in spreading the defense out is to get one-on-one matchups in space.
The receivers also have to do their part. Dorial Green-Beckham and Jordan Matthews played well last week, combining for 10 catches and a touchdown. Matthews has been the top wideout all year, but Green-Beckham has been inconsistent. Playing well against such a good defense should help his confidence and could give him a boost down the home stretch. Nelson Agholor's struggles have been well-documented. We don't know how the coaches will use him, Bryce Treggs or Paul Turner, who was just added to the active roster this week.
Playing against a banged-up secondary means the Eagles' receiving corps will have chances to make plays. The receivers have to step up. All it takes is a couple of catches and players start to feel good about themselves. The light can go on that quickly, and this is the week when that needs to happen.
The Eagles will be without Ryan Mathews so the run game won't be at full strength. Green Bay's run defense was outstanding until the last couple of weeks. I don't expect the Eagles to pound the ball, but Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner have shown that they are talented runners who can get the job done. Darren Sproles will get some touches, but he's hurt and the coaches may limit his touches as a runner. He could be more valuable as a receiver.
No matter how they do it, the Eagles need to score points. The Packers average 26 points a game over the last five weeks. Aaron Rodgers isn't playing up to his normal level, but he remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he can still put some points on the board.
The Eagles have shut down some good offenses this year. Both the Falcons and Steelers came to Philly with star quarterbacks and elite receivers, only to have their worst game of the year when going up against Jim Schwartz's defense.
The key to shutting down explosive offenses is to win the battle up front. Getting pressure on Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger is different than doing it against Rodgers. He has outstanding mobility and does a great job of extending plays with his feet. The rushers have to be very disciplined when going after him.
Defensive backs are under a lot of pressure when facing Rodgers. They have to cover well on the average play, but really are up against it when he extends plays. The Eagles had to deal with this last week in Seattle, so hopefully that will help them on Monday night.
Jordy Nelson is still the Packers' top receiver, but Rodgers loves to spread the ball around. Seven different players had a reception last week against Washington. Each of them had at least three receptions, so it isn't as if Rodgers is just getting them one play. He truly does spread the ball. Four different receivers had 30 or more yards. Another reason the defensive line needs to rush well is that linebackers and defensive backs will be needed in coverage.
This is going to be a huge game, as it so often feels is the case when the Packers and Eagles get together. The Packers are desperate to keep their season alive and the Eagles want to get back above .500 as they head into the stretch run. The Eagles are undefeated at home this year and want that streak to keep going. Monday night should, no, will be exciting.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.