Eagle Eye: Eagles-Packers Predictions
LeSean McCoy has not had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 6 at Tampa Bay. (AP)
Here’s a fairly safe assumption for Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field: Nick Foles won’t throw seven touchdown passes.
The Packers are going through another spate of injuries to starters, including MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they’re getting healthier on defense. Two significant pieces of their pass rush are expected back from injuries, which should only augment a defense that allows 21.3 points per game this year -- 14th in the NFL -- but just 17.3 at historic Lambeau.
One is All-Pro rush linebacker Clay Matthews (broken hand), who had three sacks in his first four games, hasn’t played since Oct. 6. Matthews still isn’t 100 percent. He’ll play with a club on the mending hand that could cause him problems finishing sacks or wrapping up tackles. But when Matthews is on the field, the Packers are much more dangerous in the pass rush.
Outside linebacker Nick Perry, their first-round pick last season, is expected to play after missing some time with a broken foot. Perry actually lost his starting job after three games but responded with three sacks in his next two before breaking his foot. Even with the injuries, only 12 teams have more sacks than Green Bay.
Green Bay’s 3-4 defense starts with its massive, imposing defensive line, anchored by three mammoths who each weigh north of 320 pounds: nose tackle Ryan Pickett and ends B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly. These guys pose the biggest threat to an Eagles offensive line that struggles against big bodies, especially center Jason Kelce and right guard Todd Herremans. Look for the Packers to get Raji on Herremans on pass-rushing downs given Herremans’ struggles in pass protection. Rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, coming off his best game, and left tackle Jason Peters, who’s pushing through three separate injuries, will really get tested against Matthews, Perry and Green Bay’s rotation of pass rushers.
Don’t look for LeSean McCoy’s streak of sub-100-yard rushing games to end this week. The Packers have the NFL’s fifth-best rush defense, allowing just 94.5 yards per game. They can stop the run out of their nickel package but like to creep safety Morgan Burnett into the box at the last second to get an extra body at scrimmage.
The Packers move linemen all around and employ a variety of five- and six-man pressures. First-round pick Datone Jones has slowly worked into the mix. He picked up his first sack Monday night against Chicago.
The key to veteran coordinator Dom Capers’ hybrid scheme is heavy personnel rotations and pressure from all angles, directions and with disguises. Capers likes to mix and match personnel depending on down and distance, which can be counteracted by the Eagles’ no-huddle offense if Foles is consistently moving the ball.
The Eagles should be plenty prepared for Capers’ schemes. They’re similar to the ones they go against every day in practice. Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis was mentored by Capers. Davis' coaching career started in 1994 in Pittsburgh, where Capers served as defensive coordinator until leaving to become Panthers head coach in 1995 and taking Davis with him to be an assistant.
The weak link in the Packers' defense is linebacker A.J. Hawk, who’s not very fast and struggles in coverage. If the Eagles can get Brent Celek and Zach Ertz matched up against Hawk in the passing game, they can make big plays. They’ve done a nice job getting McCoy isolated on linebackers lately, another matchup they can exploit if the offensive line is protecting Foles.
Packers cornerback Tramon Williams isn’t coming up with the big plays he normally does. After 10 interceptions in 2010 and 2011, he’s only had two in his past 24 games. He’s still a good corner, but the Eagles are bound to test him with DeSean Jackson.
Left cornerback Sam Shields is only 5-foot-11, so look for the Eagles to get Riley Cooper matched up against him, but Shields is Green Bay’s fastest corner and he’s had good games this season against A.J Green and Torrey Smith.
Bottom line: The Eagles’ biggest concern should be winning in the trenches. If they can’t block Green Bay’s front six, they’re headed for trouble.
(To read the Eagles' defensive scouting report, click here.)