Eagle Eye: Eagles-Packers Predictions
Against the Eagles in the 2010-11 playoffs, James Starks ran for 123 yards. (AP)
The Eagles caught their biggest break of the season Monday night, and they didn’t even play.
A little more than 24 hours after Nick Foles’ record-setting performance against the Raiders, the Eagles watched Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers go down with a broken collarbone that will sideline the MVP against them Sunday and a few more weeks.
Instead of facing a Super Bowl champion and one of the NFL’s most prolific passing attacks, the Eagles get career backup Seneca Wallace, who’s 6-15 as a starter and didn’t sign with Green Bay until after the roster cutdown.
Wallace has some strong points. He’s mobile in the pocket and generally accurate. Despite his lopsided starting record, he’s completed almost 60 percent of his career passes and doesn’t throw many interceptions. His career passer rating is 80.6.
From Seattle to Cleveland to Green Bay, Wallace has come up through Mike Holmgren’s West Coast offense, the same offense the Packers run under coach Mike McCarthy, a Holmgren disciple. Wallace knows the playbook inside-out and won’t be overwhelmed by starting or unfamiliar with the offensive concept. He generally makes smart decisions, but lacks plus arm strength and gets skittish in the pocket quickly.
Without Rodgers, the Packers will lean heavily on their explosive running game, which ranks third in the NFL (148.6 yards per game) and averages 5.0 yards per carry, second only to the Redskins (see story).
The bellcow is rookie Eddie Lacy, the former Alabama star whose 545 rushing yards since Week 3 is most in the NFL. Backup running back James Starks has rushing TDs of 25 and 32 yards in his past two games. Eagles fans may recall Starks, a street free-agent signing in 2010, rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries as Green Bay handed the Eagles a first-round playoff loss at the Linc.
The 231-pound Lacy is a strong, powerful runner who rarely goes down on first contact. He’s surprisingly elusive in the second level and makes sharp cuts despite his size. The Eagles need Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox to keep dominating up front and open holes for linebackers Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks is getting better at using his quickness to get around big lineman and fullbacks to take down ball carriers, but Lacy’s size could be problematic for the 5-foot-10, 240-pound linebacker.
Cox, Thornton and rookie Bennie Logan have their hands full against Packers left guard Josh Sitton, Green Bay’s best overall lineman. Sitton is an excellent pass blocker and an athletic lead blocker in the running game. The Packers are starting a rookie fourth-round pick at left tackle (David Bakhtiari) and a 2010 rookie free agent at right tackle (Don Barclay), but they’ve been OK in pass protection. Their 22 sacks allowed is middle of the pack, but that’s also mainly because Rodgers is one of the league’s best at eluding the rush and getting the ball out quickly.
Given Wallace’s penchant for getting itchy in the pocket, there’s a chance for Trent Cole, Vinny Curry and coordinator Billy Davis’ blitz schemes to generate pressure and create turnovers, or at least force Wallace into a rough passing day.
The Packers have one of the NFL’s best receiving corps, led by Pro Bowl wideout Jordy Nelson, the NFL’s sixth-leading receiver (716 yards). Nelson moves inside in three-wide formations, where his lateral quickness against nickel corners creates a mismatch. So it’s another big test for second-year slot corner Brandon Boykin, who might be the Eagles’ most indispensable player in the secondary, if not the whole defense.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who is nursing a pectoral injury, will see plenty of James Jones on the outside, especially in press coverage when Davis blitzes. Jones averages 17.4 yards per reception, sixth-best in the league among receivers with at least 20 catches, though he’s prone to drops.
The receiving group really misses tight end Jermichael Finley, who was averaging 50 yards per game but is out for the season after suffering a spinal injury. His replacement, Andrew Quarless, has good hands but lacks the downfield presence Finley brought.
With Rodgers, the Packers are a no-huddle, spread offense that puts pressure on opposing defenses. With Wallace, Green Bay uses more formations with a fullback or two tight ends, going big up front to spring the running game.
For the Eagles, it’s all about stopping the run. They have the NFL’s third-best rush defense, but they haven’t faced a running back tandem as big and explosive as Green Bay’s.
(To read the Eagles' offensive scouting report, click here.)