If the last game of the season was any representation of the 15 games before it, most people's preseason analysis of the Eagles would have been spot on. The Cowboys go on to win the division as Kolb is sacked and intercepted; leaving the Eagles with an 8-8 record tops, and ultimately watching the playoffs from their couches. But, this season was much different, wasn't it? Kolb was in as a reserve because the Eagles had locked their spot in the playoffs two weeks earlier with Michael Vick under center. And the Cowboys sucked. So what I am faced with now is writing another preview piece(s) rather than a scathing article about the rebuilding process. I guess that isn't so bad though.
The Eagles and Packers will meet in Philadelphia on Sunday night and it may just get a little wild. Despite the Packers' lower per game scoring average (24.3 to the Eagles' 27.4), they have the potential to put up huge numbers offensively. They also have one of the more feared defenses in the league, led by second-year caveman from USC, Clay Matthews. Aaron Rodgers is powerful and accurate, and has a very good and fast receiver in Greg Jennings who usually accompanies Desean Jackson atop the longest-catches-of-the-year list. Green Bay won the first match-up between the teams in Week 1, although Kolb was injured in the game and Vick came in as a back-up. Had Vick been in the entire time, perhaps the result would have been different. It's sure to be a spectacular display of offense, and the by far the best game of the weekend.
I'll focus on a few aspects of this match-up and see where we end up.
I mentioned Clay Matthews as a leader, but really this GB defense is a strong team defense with veterans like Nick Collins and Charles Woodson in the secondary and AJ Hawk at linebacker. They swarm to the ball and know how to tackle correctly. They are strong on the QB's right side for most quarterbacks, but Vick is left handed so he's going to be turned around. Usually this would be a bad thing for a quarterback, big mean linebackers coming from outside of your vision, just ask Steve Young. But Vick feels the rush better than most and can much more easily make a play scrambling to his left. Green Bay is smart and fundamental, but might be just a little too slow to keep up with Vick and Desean Jackson.
I would mention how it is a little easier to run on a 3-4 defense, and that Lesean McCoy could have a big game rushing, but we know that the run game is a moot point. Don't we, Andy...
The Eagles on the other hand have play makers in Trent Cole and Asante Samuel. Aside from those two, there are not many strengths. They stop the run sometimes, but give up big passing plays in the middle of the field. In the red zone, they don't stop either. Rookie 7th round picks Coleman and Chaney have filled in rather nicely at safety and MLB respectively, but a veteran QB in the playoffs should be able to pick them apart. And since we are on the topic of being picked apart, Dimitri Patterson gets picked apart like The Scarecrow when the flying monkeys get a hold of him.
Three or four play makers just can't match 11 solid defenders. I give the Packers the nod on defense.
-----Run Game-----(Separated from Offense because, well, come on.)
This section will be fairly short. Neither team has a great rushing offense, evidenced by both head coaches' propensity to call pass plays about 65% of the time. Where they differ though is the reason for their ratios. McCarthy throws because he has a good QB and a bad RB. Ryan Grant has been injured since the first meeting between these teams, and I suspect will be out for this meeting as well. Brandon Jackson, the back-up to Grant and leading carrier this year, is just not that good.
Reid, on the other hand, is addicted to passing despite have a pro-bowl RB in McCoy. McCoy isn't the biggest guy, but he can make cuts with the best of them. Generally he's used more for screens and draws, with Vick carrying it 7-10 times a game, but I believe he has a genuine opportunity to have a big game on Sunday. With only three defensive linemen, McCoy will have an extra yard or two to make a cut and shake a tackle. He can get to 100 yards on 18 carries, but I doubt Andy will give it to him 18 times.
Vick is the wild card. His rushes generally aren't designed, but it makes it that much worse for McCarthy's game plan. I'll get to Vick in a moment though. For now, Eagles have the edge in the run game.
This is gonna be one hell of a QB match up. On one hand, you have Aaron Rodgers who is poised and polished. An above average pocket passer, Rodgers has been very successful in Green Bay with the use of slants and big fast receivers. Even with a weak run game, he still manages to play-action well enough that he and Greg Jennings are one of the best big play tandems in football. A-Rodg can also handle himself well enough if he is forced to scramble, which is a lot since their offensive line and the Eagles' are similarly bad.
Vick Vick Vick.... I have to contradict a previous opinion on him. In my last post, I said that Vick needs to be more patient. If he does that in this game, he's going to get hurt. The health of the Philly's O-line is in question, and they still aren't very good with the starters playing. I'm sure Dom Capers (GB DC) has a blitz package in place that will have Matthews and Hawk, probably even Nick Collins, hungry to rip Vick's head off on every play. But if Vick is truly healthy like he says he is, he should be able to escape the rush. The field will be open for Jackson, Maclin, and Avant with all the blitzes likely to come. Vick has the arm to get it down field, or sling it into tight windows. Since Reid won't call run plays, expect screens to combat the blitz. Better yet, expect the commentators to discuss how the Eagles are the best screen team in the league. Happens every game.
If Vick doesn't get broken in half early on a blindside hit, I think the Eagles have a slightly more dynamic and consistent offense.
I don't know how good Green Bay is, and aside from Desean Jackson returning it for the Eagles it doesn't matter. The Eagles are atrocious on special teams. Period.
So to recap:
Eagles - Offense, Run Game
Green Bay - Special Teams, Defense
Home field advantage goes to Eagles.
My Pick: PHI 34 - 30