The Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) and Green Bay Packers (3-0) are set to play at Lambeau Field on Thursday Night Football. In order to preview this Week 4 matchup, I reached out to our associates over at Acme Packing Company. The jovial Jason B. Hirschhorn (@by_JBH) kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at his answers! (Also, don’t forget to check out my side of the Q&A exchange over at APC.)
1 - There’s been a lot of talk about the Packers having an improved defense. What’s gone into that?
The Packers’ defensive improvement stems from a concerted effort to improve the talent on that side of the ball this offseason as well as the decision to retain defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. General manager Brian Gutekunst invested heavily in pass rushers this offseason, signing free agents Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to lucrative multiyear deals and drafting Rashan Gary in the first round. Gutekunst also stabilized the secondary by adding Adrian Amos and rookie Darnell Savage. Each of those players has made an impact through three weeks, combining for 8.5 sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
But the new talent wouldn’t have made such a significant difference if not for the man strategically deploying them, and Pettine deserves considerable credit for how he has coordinated the defense. He has found ways to use all of his new weapons simultaneously while also covering up for areas where the defense lacks field-tilting talent (inside linebacker). While the unit does have weaknesses -- mainly against the run -- Pettine’s ability to scheme pressure via stunts, defensive back blitzes, and linebacker mug looks has made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
2 - What’s going on with the Packers’ injury situation?
The Packers entered the season with depth issues at inside linebacker. Behind starter Blake Martinez, Oren Burks remains out with a pectoral injury, exciting rookie Curtis Bolton suffered a season-ending injury, and safety-linebacker hybrid Raven Greene landed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Combined with recent injuries to defensive linemen Montravius Adams, the run defense has taken a noticeable hit.
On offense, the only major injury occurred at guard. Starter Lane Taylor suffered a biceps injury last week in practice that will require surgery and possibly end his season. Even so, Green Bay had begun rotating Taylor with second-round pick Elgton Jenkins, signaling their intent to make a change there. The injury probably just sped up the process by a week or two, and Jenkins has played outstanding since working with the No. 1 offense.
3 - If you were building a game plan for the Packers, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
Because the Packers haven’t done well against the run, I would try to exploit them in the running game. The Broncos did this well this past Sunday during the first half before the score forced them to pass more frequently, and the Eagles could do so as well with Miles Sanders leading the way. I would also try to force the Packers into more base personnel when looking to pass to create matchups between linebacker B.J. Goodson and my tight ends and slot receivers.
On the other side of the ball, stopping the Packers’ outside-zone and split-zone runs will force them to become one dimensional and limit the damage from Aaron Rodgers. Both the Bears and Broncos did this well, and for whatever reason it limited how much play-action head coach Matt LaFleur felt comfortable calling.
4 - If you could pick one Eagles player to add to the Packers’ roster, who would it be? And why?
Though defensive tackle Fletcher Cox would make an already fearsome defensive front even more intimidating, the Packers would most benefit from the addition of tight end Zach Ertz. LaFleur’s offensive system makes extensive use of tight ends, and the roster currently doesn’t include one capable of performing all of the roles asked of the position. Ertz would give Rodgers a reliable target on crossers and backside throwbacks, adding an important dimension to the offense.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Packers season?
The Packers catch the Eagles at a good time. Injuries have depleted Philly’s depth and taken away some of the team’s top players. Meanwhile, Green Bay enters the week relatively healthy and has home-field advantage. I never predict scores, but I expect the Packers to take this one.
As for the season, the Packers have already outperformed my expectations for them early and set themselves up to compete for playoffs. The hardest part of their schedule comes later on -- six of their final nine games take place away from Lambeau Field -- but they might have enough wins banked to survive that period.
Regardless, for the Packers to reach their full potential, the new offense will have to find its rhythm. That hasn’t happened for a full game thus far, and it remains unclear why. Perhaps the quality of opponents played a role (each of the three defenses Green Bay has played finished in the top 5 in DVOA last season) or maybe the lack of playing time during the preseason continues to affect the unit. But until we see the offense perform at a high level consistently, it remains a major question for the team moving forward.