Want to know where the Packers find themselves right now? In a game they basically must win to keep their season alive, they are more than a field goal underdog against a .500 team. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The desperate Packers face an equally desperate Eagles team tonight in a game that will likely make or break either team’s season. I say ‘likely’ because it’s conceivable that Green Bay could rebound from a loss by winning out and finishing 9-7. That week 17 game at Detroit would likely be for the North title, because the Lions could easily lose two games between now and then (they still have road games against the Saints, Giants and Cowboys).
But realistically, the Packers have a chance tonight to make a statement in a tough spot. Philly is 4-0 at home this season, with impressive wins over the Steelers and Vikings among them (The Vikes were 5-0 at the time so it seemed impressive then–work with me here).
The matchup is more attractive because the Eagles offense doesn’t scare you as much as the last four the Packers have faced. They get a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who has cooled off a bit after a hot start, with just six TDs and seven picks in his last seven games.
One of the reasons is Wentz doesn’t have a Julio Jones, TY Hilton, Delanie Walker or Jordan Reed. He has an average to below average group of skill position players around him, so rookie coach Doug Pederson has implemented a safe West Coast offense built around running the ball, then using play action and quick hitting passes to move the chains. They’ve struggled, ranked 29th in third down efficiency, so the Pack’s D must try to make stops and get off the field.
It sounds like there’s a good chance the unit will get back linebacker Jake Ryan and corner Damarius Randall for this game. Ryan is the more important guy tonight. The Pack’s leading tackler will be called upon to take care of the dangerous running backs the Eagles will use. With starter Ryan Mathews out, Philly will rotate rookie Wendell Smallwood, who gained 79 yards on 17 carries in Seattle last week and the ageless Darren Sproles. We all know the damage he can inflict. Both are capable of being big play backs out of the backfield who are equally dangerous as receivers.
If the secondary can’t handle the Eagles’ group of pass catchers, we know our problems are unfixable this season. Jordan Matthews has regressed, former #1 pick Nelson Agholor has been benched and Dorian Green-Bekham was plucked off the Titans’ scrap pile. Obviously, they can and have made big plays, but they’re the definition of mediocre and the Packers need to keep them covered and maybe pick off one or two. The Pack’s been beaten by good tight ends the past two weeks, and in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, the Eagles can take advantage there tonight.
Where the Eagles have flourished this season is on defense, where Jim Schwartz has completely remade a unit that is now close to elite in the front seven. Overall, they’re 4th in points, 8th in yards and 9th in takeaways and they’re led up front by two all-pro type players, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, the latter has five sacks and 41 pressures and will be up against Bryan Bulaga and possibly rookie Jason Spriggs. It’s a matchup to watch all night.
The defense is weak on the back end, with th best of the bunch, veteran Malcolm Jenkins, playing a safety/corner combo–he’ll likely be tasked with keeping tight end Jared Cook under wraps. Cook’s 100 yard day was what we were waiting to see all season–the fourth quarter fumble kind of took the shine off, however. The other corners are eminently beatable, so Nelson, Cobb and Adams should all be able to win a majority of their battles, provided Rodgers has time to find them.
Hopefully, the running game will get a jolt with the debut of Christine Michael. We have no idea how many snaps he’ll get, but if he can show us something of an improvement over James Starks, it will only help the passing game.
The Pack will once again have to be careful on kickoffs–the unit has struggled of late and Smallwoo is averaging more than 31 yards per return, while sharing time with the dangerous Kenjon Barner.
The Packers will be without Blake Martinez, but with Ryan likely returning, it may prevent the need to move Matthews inside. That said, the Eagles’ offense is most dangerous in the middle of the field, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clay playing some inside tonight.
Over the past 25 years, we seen stretches where the team has been in a funk and then has risen up and won a game they had to have. The Packers are in one of those spots right now and the last three performances have many fans looking to the future, one with new leadership. That’s not something we’ve done much in the past 25 years.
Can this team rise up once again and beat a team they should beat? A win would put them in position to get on a bit of a roll, with home games the next two weeks and then three division games to close the season. Their quarterback believes they can ‘run the table.’ I want to believe, but the effort and performance the last three weeks has put me in a ‘show me’ mood.
Eagles 24 Packers 20