With the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers scheduled to face off on Sunday, I reached out to our friends/enemies over at Acme Packing Company for some inside perspective. The great Jason Hirschhorn kindly took the time to answer my questions.
Let's take a look at his answers.
1) Aaron Rodgers is awesome. He's been on fire this season. Packers fans are very lucky that they don't have to root against him. With that said, put yourself on the opposition's side for a moment. How would you plan to slow him down? What are his biggest weaknesses?
We get a version of this question every week and the answer is pretty much the same. The only proven way to slow down Aaron Rodgers and quarterbacks of his ilk is to create pressure without blitzing. The Chicago Bears used to do this regularly during the Lovie Smith era, sending only their front four and dropping their linebackers into coverage.
However, if the Philadelphia Eagles try this, the Packers are likely to counter by running Eddie Lacy up the gut. After a slow start to the season, the ground game is starting to round into form. Lacy averages 2.54 yards per carry after contact (14th highest mark in the NFL among running backs), suggesting that he can eat up a thinner front.
Still, if the decision comes between slowing down Rodgers or Lacy then the choice is obvious.
2) The Packers' run defense hasn't been so hot this season. Green Bay moved stud linebacker Clay Matthews lined up at inside linebacker in non-obvious passing situations against Chicago in Week 10 to help counter some of those issues. Moving forward, does this move completely fix the run defense or are there still issues?
Though the NBC broadcast made it seem as though Clay Matthews was making a colossal shift to inside linebacker, this is actually something that he's done in the past to a lesser degree. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers moved Matthews around a lot in 2009 and 2010 when the Packers had more playmakers around the defense, but left him mostly at right outside linebacker for the past few seasons. Now with Julius Peppers roaming around and rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix making an impact, Capers feels more comfortable shifting Matthews around again.
As for whether this fixes the run defense, it's a little early to jump to that conclusion. The Bears certainly didn't post any big rushing numbers last week, but that had more to with Marc Trestman abandoning the run game after Green Bay sprinted out to a multi-touchdown lead in the first quarter.
3) Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy recently received a contract extension. To what extent are Packers fans satisfied with the team's head coach?
Most of them are pretty happy. Though the exact details of the deal haven't been announced, it's believed that McCarthy's extension will keep him in Green Bay for the same timeframe as general manager Ted Thompson and Aaron Rodgers. Protecting the continuity at those three levels of the organization is key to maintaining a winner, and that's exactly what the Packers appear to have done. Already recognized as one of the franchise's best coaches, McCarthy will soon pass the legendary Vince Lombardi in wins and, should Green Bay make another title run during his tenure, could tie Lombardi and Mike Holmgren for most trips to the Super Bowl.
Still, there are always fans that believe that despite five straight trips to the playoffs and a championship this regime isn't doing a good enough job. It's silly, but every fan base has those types. However, as loud as they may seem, they're still the minority.
4) Name one match-up that really favors the Packers and one match-up that really favors the Eagles.
Honestly, it's difficult to find an area where one team holds a decided advantage over the other. As strong as the Packers' aerial attack has been, Philadelphia has defended the pass very well this season. On the opposite end, Green Bay's porous run defense shouldn't be too seriously exploited by the Eagles' mediocre ground game.
If pressed, I'd say the Packers should have somewhat of an advantage defending the pass against the Mark Sanchez-led Eagles offense. The secondary is healthy again with Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett back in the lineup, and Micah Hyde did a stellar job shadowing the tight end last week. Football Outsiders rates Green Bay 12th in pass defense while placing Philadelphia's passing game 18th, which is a small but not insignificant difference.
As for the Eagles' biggest advantage, it has to be special teams. Dave Fipp has that unit playing better than any other in the league, whereas the Packers have been more or less average. DVOA agrees, ranking Philly as 1st in special teams while Green Bay comes in at 15.
5) Let's hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
The Eagles have shown themselves to be one of the league's better teams. In just a short time, Chip Kelly has taken the mantle from Sean Payton as one of the most creative, aggressive play callers. I expect to see that on display on Sunday. Still, this is a Packers team that has looked as dynamic as any over the past seven weeks. No one at any position is playing better football right now than Aaron Rodgers, and he tends to play up the challenge in big games at home.
I'm terrible at forecasting scores so I won't bother. I will, however, predict a close game through three quarters with the Packers pulling away by a touchdown late.