This crazy, confusing and exhilarating journey that is the Eagles' 2014 season chugs along with a 7-2 record going into Week 11 and, in my opinion, their toughest test of the season to date. Aaron Rodgers is in the midst of one of his ridiculous Aaron Rodgers streaks and looks goddamned unstoppable -- though playing against the Chicago Bears will do that for any quarterback. Nevertheless, the Eagles dodged a bullet at Lambeau last season by missing Rodgers, who broke his clavicle (hmmmmmmm) the game before, but have to face him now. The defense has been better than anyone could've anticipated and is playing ferocious football. However, the unit hasn't faced a quarterback of Rodgers' caliber -- who, by the way, gets to work with two of the best wide receivers in football in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. This is a true measuring stick game against the 6-3 Packers, who have hit their stride, in one of the hardest places to win in the NFL, and the majority of people aren't giving the Eagles much of a chance. Let's hit it.
1) Aaron Rodgers. Hey, that Aaron Rodgers guy, we should probably talk about him. What are you thinking about the red hot Packers offense against the red hot Eagles defense?
Klausner: Well, yeah, I'm terrified. I should be, Rodgers is on pace to just barely miss the QB rating record he set in 2011 but still post the third-best rating of all time (120.1). Going into this game, he's completing 67.5 percent of his passes for 2,407 yards (8.7 per attempt), 25 touchdowns and three (3) interceptions. It's not that I don't trust this Eagles defense -- OK, deep down I guess it's that I'm waiting for the unit to let me down because I'm a miserable pessimist. It's just that I want to see it put forth a Herculean effort against a guy like Rodgers, exactly whom they might face again down the road in the playoffs. By the way:
Eagles would win minimum 5 consecutive Super Bowls with Aaron Rodgers at QB in Chip's offense— Dan Klausner (@dklausner) November 10, 2014
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb is as dynamic a WR duo as there is in the NFL, and I think both have the speed, athleticism and overall skill set to give Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher fits. I also get the sense Davante Adams is going to make a few plays, if only because I liked him so much going into the draft. The matchup in the middle of the field will be fascinating, and we'll see how the reborn Casey Matthews fares as a target when he's out there. Man, I so desperately want to see Malcolm Jenkins pick Rodgers off. Matthews doing it with his brother on the sideline would be the ultimate feel-good football moment for a guy who's been nothing but dumped on (by yours truly included), particularly for not being his brother. If the defense as a whole can continue its outstanding play and somehow stifle Rodgers and the Packers' explosive offense at Lambeau -- where they're defeating opponents by an average of 25 points per game this season -- I'll be on board entirely as a believer down the stretch. Time for the Eagles to win a game they're "not supposed" to win.
Kaye: I know that Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher "turned it around" against the Panthers, but the Packers are on a whole different level. I have no faith in the Eagles secondary against what I think is the best starting wide receiver duo in the league. I think the only way to win against Aaron Rodgers is to hit him and keep him off the field. Chip Kelly doesn't really care about time of possession, so that second part isn't likely to happen. I don't see anything positive on the horizon here. Rodgers is easily the best player in the league in my opinion.
2) Whether you buy into it or not, Mark Sanchez has played some of his best football in frigid weather -- see: 2009 and 2010 playoffs -- and gets his second start with the Eagles at Lambeau Field, where the temperature is expected to be in the teens with wind chill. What do you see him doing for an encore in a showcase against the best quarterback in the NFL?
DK: I want to believe. Sanchez settled in nicely after a jittery first two drives (and one bad drop by Darren Sproles), but the offense still only had three legitimate scoring drives against a toothless Panthers defense. It looked smooth, efficient and deadly at times but then also stalled and struggled to move the ball. The consistency will need to be better in order to keep up with Rodgers and the Packers because I think this is going to be a high-scoring affair. With the Packers averaging over 40 points per game at home on the season, I'm not saying they will again -- but one would think the Eagles definitely need to be in the mid-to-high 30's in order to emerge victorious. That won't happen if Sanchez turns of the ball over. He had only one real bad throw against the Panthers that should have been intercepted (and was, but Josh Norman couldn't land his entire foot inbounds). Let's see what we have here with him going into his second game as the starting quarterback. I'm expecting an uneven performance.
MK: I agree with Dan wholeheartedly. I think Sanchez is going to have put something spectacular together in this one for the Eagles to win. If the run game continues to be hampered as it was against Carolina, I am not sure you're going to see the Eagles win this one. I fully expect Philadelphia to put up points, but it likely won't be at the pace of the Packers.
I think Sanchez played well against Carolina and loved his command and fearlessness in the pocket. The Eagles did a good job of stopping the Panthers pass rushers and hopefully they will do the same with Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. I think if Sanchez has time to throw, he will be able to take advantage. I love seeing him work the pocket and I think his connection with Jordan Matthews will continue blossom on Sunday. I want to see Jeremy Maclin involved a lot more than he was on Monday.
3) The Packers have struggled to defend the run, and many fans seem to think that's where the Eagles can expose them. Keep in mind, the Panthers were last in yards-per-carry allowed yet stacked the box and rendered the Eagles running game useless. It wasn't a good look for a whole in its first game for the rest of the season. Will they bounce back against the Packers? And what's up with LeSean McCoy?
DK: The Packers come into this game allowing 4.6 yards per attempt on the ground, 26th in the NFL. The Panthers were allowing 4.8 yards per attempt before holding the Eagles to 35 yards on 23 attempts (1.6 per), with a long of eight (8) yards. Expect Dom Capers and the Packers to follow a similar defensive plan and force Sanchez to beat them through the air, where they are much more effective as unit (essentially top-10 across the board), ranking sixth in the NFL in yards per attempt (6.5) and QB rating allowed (80.2). If the Eagles offense can't get anything going on the ground, I'm skeptical Sanchez will be able to have success through the air.
Hopefully the failure of the run game against Carolina was more a result of the offensive line adjusting to getting Evan Mathis back and Matt Tobin switching to right guard, but the unit got its shit handled up front in that regard. One thing's for sure: Averaging less than 2.0 yards per carry isn't going to get the job done. I'll give the offensive line the benefit of the doubt and say they bounce back against the Packers, helping the Eagles gain over 100 total rushing yards. Controlling the time of possession battle and keeping Rodgers off the field is a dream -- maybe one that Chip Kelly has too, despite one of his steadfast philosophies. But remember: The Eagles put together their longest drive of the season at Lambeau in 2013 to bleed the final nine-plus minutes off the game clock and seal the victory.
As for Shady, against the Panthers he looked like he did against the 49ers. The combination of no holes and no confidence is never a good one. Most concerning was how he looked physically -- cooked. No speed, no explosion, no jock strap-snapping shakes. Everything was hesitant, labored and slow. There was one play where he was one-on-one with the defensive end right at the edge of the tackle box but couldn't juke him to get outside -- instead he was easily wrapped up and thrown to the ground for a loss. That's not LeSean McCoy. What a weird, frustrating season for him. Here's hoping he has a repeat of the game he did last season in Lambeau. But if not, hey, give the rock to Darren Sproles and Chris Polk.
MK: Let's handle Part A first. I think this is a good matchup for Chris Polk to run through guys. I also think they can exploit the weakness with Darren Sproles' speed. However, I am not sure what to make of LeSean McCoy after the Carolina game. Everyone has bad games, but that effort on Monday just seemed really off.
Part B will be answered like this: I don't think Shady trusts the line nor himself. That has been pretty noticeable when he dances around for no reason. There are times where he hits the hole and is successful, but too frequently he reverts back to old habits. Shady doesn't look right mentally or physically, which is a shame. Hopefully, he will play to his competition and bounce back. He had a great stretch going for a while and then Carolina happened. He needs to play well for the Eagles to have a chance.
4) What's the matchup you're most concerned about against the Packers, and which are you most excited about?
DK: Rodgers is the obvious answer for what concerns me (and everyone), as is Nelson/Cobb going up against Williams/Fletcher. I'm most excited about seeing the Eagles' second-ranked pass rush go up against a Packers' offensive line that's 20th in sack percentage. Unlike what you'll see from Mike, I actually think the Packers' secondary of Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Davon House, Casey Hayward, Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde matches up well with the Eagles' array of receiving weapons for the most part. I imagine Capers will key on Jordan Matthews after his big game, but I think Sanchez will look to get Jeremy Maclin involved more than he did against the Panthers. This is also a game where Ertz needs to see the field a lot and get targets. The Eagles wanted to draft Clinton-Dix, but now I bet Chip Kelly is scheming specifically for ways to exploit the rookie who's had his ups and downs. That Packers pass rush has been middle-of-the-pack all season (2.4 sacks per game) but has seen an uptick over its last three games (3.0 per). It is led by Julius Peppers (5.0 sacks) and Clay Matthews (3.5 sacks) outside, with the underrated Mike Daniels (2.5 sacks) supplying pressure from the interior. Meanwhile, the Eagles are allowing the third-best sack percentage (3.12%) in the league. I think the Eagles have the advantage on the edges with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. How about this: Run behind Peters all freakin' game.
We haven't even mentioned the Eagles run defense at all, but that's because we now take for granted how dominant that offensive line has become. Eddie Lacy is averaging only 4.0 yards per carry but still runs like a wrecking ball. The Packers passing offense is already lethal without the threat of the run, so the Eagles can't cheat to stop that and get gashed on the ground as the result.
MK: My biggest fear is clearly Rodgers against the defense. As far as exciting matchups, I'd say Matthews, Zach Ertz and Brent Celek against Micah Hyde, Morgan Burnett and Davon House. I don't think the Packers have a bad secondary, but I like the size matchups against them. All three defensive backs are over six-foot, but the offensive weapons use their size well and could be the difference in the redzone.
Another interesting matchup will be the front seven against the Packers offensive line. The Eagles have gotten good pressure as of late, and you obviously would like to see that continue.
5) Game prediction and breakout player(s), let's hear 'em:
DK: I would have a much different feeling about this game if it were at Lincoln Financial Field instead of Lambeau, but alas. The Eagles haven't been blown out this season, as the one game in which they were thoroughly outplayed (against San Francisco), the defense and special teams contributed three scores to keep it close. I don't think they'll get completely run out of the stadium and lose by that 25-point average, but I do think they lose by double digit points: 38-27, Packers. No shame losing at Lambeau to Aaron Rodgers, but it'll mean the Eagles slide to 7-3 and a tie for first with Dallas in the NFC East with the Thanksgiving Day game coming up soon.
I did it last week and picked the wrong rookie wide receiver to have a breakout performance, but I'm doubling down for this game and going with Josh Huff, who got some snaps at running back in practice this week (motion jet sweep easy flip pass play to him, please!). Also calling a pick-six for Sanchez, which is in opposition to the spirit of the breakout prediction but whatever.
MK: Prediction: Packers 37, Eagles 24. I think the breakout player will finally be Zach Ertz. I think he is due, but that's really my only reasoning. I'll be bold and say that Shady will bounce back for 97 yards and a score. I also think special teams makes a BIG play (not so bold).