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Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow Sunday night vs. Packers

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

One team is 9-1 and battling to stay atop the NFC and the opportunity to have the best record in the conference and get the single bye week in the conference playoffs. The other is 4-7 and desperate to stay alive in the postseason picture.

The Eagles host the Packers on Sunday night in Philadelphia's much-anticipated "blackout" game (black helmets to go along with black jerseys and pants) in prime time once again at Lincoln Financial Field.

Bring. It. On. Here are some storylines to watch for Sunday night ...

1. Eagles pass defense ranks second in NFL

With only 178 yards per game allowed in the air, the Eagles have been so, so stingy with their pass defense in 2022. What's interesting about that number is that the Eagles have led at halftime in eight of their 10 games, so opposing offenses have had to throw the football and the defense has still been outstanding.

Green Bay has had twice as many pass attempts as rushing attempts in five games this season and the Packers are 0-5 in those games. What does it mean for Sunday night? It means the Eagles would love to get an early lead and make the Packers one-dimensional in their offensive approach because then Philadelphia's pass rush can get after quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Otherwise, it's a bit of a guessing game against Rodgers, who has 19 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions this season. In the last two games, one win (over Dallas) and one loss (to Tennessee), Rodgers has 5 touchdown passes – all to wide receiver Christian Watson – and zero interceptions. Oh, and this reason for getting an early lead: The Eagles have allowed 5.8 points per game in the second half since Week 2, a truly remarkable number.

2. Philadelphia: Six giveaways in the last two games after just three in the first eight games

The offense hasn't been as explosive and high scoring in the last couple of weeks – a loss to Washington and the win on Sunday against Indianapolis. Those four turnovers against the Commanders obviously hurt the cause. Two second-half turnovers at the Colts stopped drives. There is always an emphasis on ball security, so this week is no different, but we see how vital that giveaway number is and what it means to the team's success. Nine giveaways is still tied for the second-fewest in the league, so overall the ball security has been outstanding. Still, the Eagles want to stop cold the way it's gone the last two games. Period.

3. Jalen Hurts is 12-1 in his last 13 regular season starts

This is a huge statistic and one that is largely overlooked in this game since so much of the attention has gone to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. He has done it in every manner and has impressed more and more along the way, but the fact is that Hurts has been on an incredible roll and has grown so much as a quarterback in the last year. Since Week 15 of the 2021 season, then, Hurts has a .923 winning percentage in the regular season, best in the NFL. There are measurements of growth and maturity throughout the league, but none more than winning football games, and Hurts has been the best in the entire league in that time.

4. Don't let RB Aaron Jones get hot

Philadelphia knows how well the Packers can run the football. As much attention that is paid to Rodgers, the fact is that if the Packers – Jones, in particular – establish the ground game, defenses are in trouble. Jones ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing with 778 yards and in three games he has 130 or more yards, most in the league. With that, look for the Eagles' run defense to take another step forward this week as new tackles Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph become even more acclimated to their surroundings on and off the field.

"It's coming along," Joseph said on Friday. "I think I did OK in my first game (26 snaps, 4 total tackles, 0.5 quarterback sack), but there is a lot of room for improvement. I feel great. My body came through fine. I'm used to playing 60, 70 snaps, so to play only 26, it wasn't overly taxing. I'm comfortable in the defense and I'm looking forward to doing what I can to help this team win on Sunday night. That's what I'm here to do."

The Eagles will wear an all-black uniform featuring this season's new helmet against the Packers on Sunday night. Here's a first look!

5. Third down is huge, as usual

Win on third down and you win the game? It certainly helps, that's for sure. The Eagles are playing a Green Bay defense that ranks eighth in the NFL on third downs – allowing only a 35 percent success rate. The Eagles convert on third downs at a 46.5 percent clip, good for fourth-best in the league, so something has to give. Conversely, the Eagles' defense ranks tied for 18th, allowing opponents to convert on 40.5 percent of their third downs, while Green Bay's offense converts at a rate of 41.4, 14th in the league.

Maybe it's not all about third down, though. The Eagles have converted 72.2 percent of their fourth downs, third-best in the NFL, while the Packers have converted just 22 percent of their fourth downs, 30th in the league. It is a four-down NFL these days, for sure.

6. The Eagles need to continue to flourish in the red zone

The Jalen Hurts 7-yard touchdown run last week to provide the winning points wasn't a shocker by any means. While everyone watching was sweating it out, the Eagles knew what they were doing: Philadelphia ranks fourth in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, at 71.4 percent. Green Bay's defense ranks 13th in the NFL – so it's pretty darn good – allowing a touchdown percentage of 54.3 percent.

The lesson for the Eagles: Score touchdowns in the red zone. They've been doing it all season. The best way to get up on the Packers and to stay up is to score seven points, not three, on trips to the red zone.

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