3TFO: Eagles @ Packers, Week 10
John Castellane lays outs three key matchups that could decide if the Eagles, and their emerging QB, can beat the Packers and their backup QB.
3TFO: Eagles @ Packers, Week 10
The outlook of a team’s season can drastically change from week-to-week and play-to-play in the NFL. Never was this more evident than this past week for the Eagles and Packers, both of whom may have experienced season-altering moments.
Philadelphia came into their Week 9 game at Oakland on an offensive tailspin, desperate for some production out of an offense that had gone the previous two weeks without a touchdown. All they got was a record-setting seven touchdown explosion from Nick Foles that has rejuvenated their hopes to make a run in the second half of the season and claim an NFC East title. The performance by Foles should end all debate over who is the Eagles quarterback and allow Chip Kelly to formulate game plans each week that emphasize his skill-set. More good news for Philadelphia is that they are on the road again this week — the Eagles are 4-1 away from Lincoln Financial Field this season and winless in their last 10 home games.
Green Bay’s season also took a dramatic turn in their Week 9 contest against the Bears on Monday night. Franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a fractured collarbone and, although the timeframe for his return is unknown, it will most likely keep him out about a month. The Packers’ offense struggled when backup Seneca Wallace took the reins and will need to be much better in the coming weeks if Green Bay is going to stay in contention in the congested NFC North. Assuming Rodgers will miss four games, Wallace will probably need to engineer two victories to keep the Packers in the division race. In order for one of those two to come this week against the Eagles, Green Bay will need solid performances in these three key battles.
Eddie Lacy vs. Eagles Run Defense
With Rodgers out, there will naturally be a larger emphasis placed on the Green Bay running game. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been a pleasant surprise for the Packers and currently ranks eighth among running backs with a +8.5 overall grade. Compounding the importance of strong play from Lacy and the Packers’ rushing attack is that Seneca Wallace had a 102.7 QB rating when using play action last week and only a 24.7 QB rating without play action. Wallace was clearly more comfortable and getting better looks at the defense when baiting them with play action, something that will surely change if the running game is failing. Lacy has forced 25 missed tackles on running plays, the fifth-most in the NFL and is averaging 2.46 yards after contact per rush, making him very difficult for defenses to consistently shut down. Of course, most of these stats were against defenses that were more concerned with slowing down Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack, so it will be important to see how Lacy responds now that he will be the focal point of the offense, and the main concern of defenses.
The Philadelphia defense has been much better in recent weeks and despite ranking 15th overall in rushing yards allowed, they have the seventh-best run defense grade in the league. A lot of their success can be attributed to the play of their young defensive line. Cedric Thornton has emerged as one of the best players on the defense and his 14.5 Run Stop Percentage is the best in the NFL among 3-4 defensive ends. His fellow defensive line mates are also playing well, and last week’s trade of Isaac Sopoaga to the Patriots created an opportunity for rookie Bennie Logan, who played well in his first extensive game action. Logan recorded three stops on 13 plays against the run, a percentage that would rank him best in the league if he can maintain it through a larger sample size. While the defensive line has been strong against the run, Philadelphia’s linebackers have struggled. Inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks rank 24th and 30th respectively in RSP and Kendricks’ 15 missed tackles is the most in the NFL among inside linebackers. Ryans and Kendricks will need to be strong in the run game, but not too aggressive that they open up throwing lanes for Wallace. Lacy’s success will dictate the success of the entire Green Bay offense.
Eagles Wide Receivers vs. Packers Cornerbacks
Whenever your quarterback ties the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game there had to be some strong wide receiver play to go with it, and that is exactly what the Eagles got last week. Ever since Jeremy Maclin went down in the preseason Philadelphia has struggled to replace his presence at wide receiver opposite DeSean Jackson, but Riley Cooper emerged in a big way against the Raiders and was instrumental in Foles’ historic day. Cooper and Jackson both caught five of the six passes they were targeted on and averaged 27.8 and 30.0 yards per catch respectively, bringing back the explosive play to the Philadelphia passing attack. While Cooper is coming along in recent weeks, Jackson has been steady all season. Eagles quarterbacks have a 121.3 QB rating when targeting Jackson this season, including six touchdowns and only one interception. The 121.3 rating is the third-highest rating among wide receivers, first on the list is Jordy Nelson who will most likely slide a bit with the loss of Rodgers. Jackson also leads the league with 11 receptions on passes that are thrown 20 or more yards down the field, with 28.6% of his targets coming on such throws.
Trying to slow down the Eagles’ receivers and cool off Foles will be a Green Bay cornerback duo that has been average this season. Tramon Williams ranks 38th and Sam Shields is 47th in overall coverage grades, but they have been able to avoid giving up the big play, which Philadelphia thrives on. Williams is fifth in the NFL allowing a reception every 14.9 snaps he is in coverage for and has allowed just two receptions longer than 30 yards all season, with the longest being 32 yards. However, quarterbacks have a 97.4 rating when targeting Williams and he is yet to intercept a pass. Shields got off to a rough start on the season, but has been better of late. After allowing 13 receptions in the first two games of the year, he has allowed a total of 13 since. He has also not surrendered a reception longer than 20 yards since Week 2, a number that will certainly be tested this week. Foles is coming in red hot and is developing chemistry with his receivers, if the Packers’ cornerbacks don’t provide excellent coverage the Eagles will exploit them with a few big plays.
Packers Pass Rush
Continuing with the discussion on how Green Bay will attempt to bring Foles and the Eagles passing game back down to Earth, we must examine the Packers’ lack of a pass rush for most of the season. Much of Foles success last week can be attributed to the clean pocket he had to throw from and the tremendous job the Philadelphia offensive line did. Foles faced pressure on just nine of his 32 drop-backs, with four of his six incompletions coming on those plays. Six of his seven touchdowns came without pressure, so the Packers must find a way to pressure him and make him uncomfortable. The problem with that is Green Bay has the second-worst team pass rushing grade, ahead of only the Raiders, the team Foles shredded last week. There is a chance that outside linebacker, Clay Matthews will return from injury this week and that would be a major help for the Packers. Despite missing the past month, Matthews is second on the Packers with three sacks, just one behind Mike Daniels who has four. Outside linebacker, Mike Neal has been close with 25 QB hurries, seventh-most in the NFL among 3-4 outside linebackers, but hasn’t been able to seal the deal, recording just one sack. He ranks 11th in Pass Rushing Productivity among 3-4 outside linebackers and will be Green Bay’s biggest pass rushing threat if Matthews can’t play. No matter where it comes from, the Packers must find a way to pressure Foles and disrupt his rhythm or they will put Seneca Wallace in a situation where he needs to win a high scoring game, which is exactly what the Packers don’t want.
Follow John Castellane on Twitter.