14 and 260 — That’s how many catches and receiving yards Davante Adams was on pace for the last time he played the Eagles.
For those who don’t remember, this was Week 4 of the 2019 season — a game in which the 1-2, 2-loss skid Eagles seemingly righted the ship by dominating the Packers on the ground and making some clutch red zone plays on defense. They won that game 34-27, and it was an important win — but there was a sense that it could have gone the other way if Adams were available for the entire game.
On only 70% of the snaps, Adams had 10 catches for 180 yards on 15 targets. The Eagles were a heavy zone team then, and Adams had his typically chemistry with QB Aaron Rodgers to keep the sticks moving. When he got man coverage from Sidney Jones, and later from Avonte Maddox, Adams was uncoverable, dominating in the full route tree and creating after the catch.
This year, the Eagles are a heavy man-coverage team, and they’re still relying on Avonte Maddox to play man coverage — and it’s not going well. But they acquired and extended Darius Slay largely for games like this one: in which they need to eliminate the opposing team’s WR1 in man coverage for four quarters.
Slay was unable to do so against DK Metcalf last week, and on a day in which the Eagles’ defense was otherwise strong, his failure was crippling. It was the worst game that Slay ever played, by his estimation, and now the 29-year-old corner comes into the Packers game questionable with a calf injury. Can he bounce back?
Historically, Slay has been good against players of Adams mold — and against Adams himself. Last year in shadow coverage on Adams, Slay allowed four catches for 63 yards on five targets. Now, Adams is playing at a higher level this year even than he did last year, but Slay’s quickness and route recognition is well-suited for a player as deceptive and agile as Adams.
Either way, this is the matchup that matters come Sunday. The only prayer the Eagles have of stopping Adams is a vintage Slay performance, but the odds are stacked up against him — and if you can’t stop Adams, you can’t stop the Packers offense as a whole.
6th — That’s the Packers’ offensive rate in both pre-snap motion and motion at the snap. It’s pretty new for their offense.
Robert Mays spoke with Rodgers for The Athletic on the integration of motion into their offense and how they’ve acclimated to the new approach, but the fruits speak for themselves. Rodgers is squarely in the MVP conversation, their offense is second in total DVOA only behind the Chiefs, and they’re scoring 0.1 more points per game than the Chiefs — just enough to hold on to the top spot in the league.
Offense is pretty good, folks.
The Packers use motion much like the Rams use motion, which makes sense: their head coach, Matt LaFleur, was the offensive coordinator with the Rams in 2017; before that, he was the quarterbacks coach under Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta from 2015-2016. The Packers use tight sets, under-center dropbacks, and zone running schemes to make all of their plays look the same for the first few moments. That concealment, paired with the urgency created by players flying across the formation at the snap, can put defensive players in impossible binds.
The Eagles’ defense really struggles with motion-heavy teams. The Eagles have played the five teams with the most motion-at-snap and only allowed fewer than 27 points to the San Francisco 49ers at the pinnacle of their offensive injuries.
- Washington Football Team (5th-most motion-at-snap): 27 points allowed
- Los Angeles Rams (2nd-most motion-at-snap): 37 points allowed
- San Francisco 49ers (3rd-most motion-at-snap): 20 points allowed
- Pittsburgh Steelers (4th-most motion-at-snap): 39 points allowed
- Baltimore Ravens (Most motion-at-snap): 30 points allowed
Why does the Eagles’ defense particularly struggle against motion? Well, as a team relying heavily on man coverage, their defenders are often racing across the formation to catch up with motion players, which can leave them with bad angles and surrender easy completions. When teams like the Rams and Packers use motion to get into and out of bunch sets, it forces the Eagles’ secondary to re-communicate their rules against those articular formations, and that’s been a challenge for Jim Schwartz secondaries for his entire tenure in Philadelphia: communication.
And that’s all passing game. The running game with motion forces linebackers to adjust which gaps they flow into and changes how safeties fit into the box, and with the struggling linebackers in Philadelphia this year fitting as aggressively as they do, adjustments on the fly are a tough ask.
In short, a well-coached, fluid, and talented defense can adjust to motion. The Eagles are rigid, oft-confused, and most importantly, not talented. If trends hold, it could be a long day for the Eagles’ defense.
1 — That’s how many times Doug Pederson has lost at least four consecutive games in his career.
It was actually 5 consecutive games, in Pederson’s first season as the head coach. Through Weeks 11-15 of 2016, the Eagles endured losses to the Seahawks, Bengals, Football Team and Ravens. Four teams they couldn’t beat then, and four teams they didn’t beat this year.
The fifth team in that losing streak? The Packers.
That was also a dominant Davante Adams game — 5 catches, 113 yards, 2 touchdowns — as Rodgers threw for 3 scores and only nine incompletions. The Eagles were 5-5 at the time and still in the fringe of the playoff conversation despite their rookie head coach and quarterback, and needed a win against the 4-6 Packers to stay in the conversation — they didn’t get it.
Different circumstances now, both for the teams and for the head coach staring down that 4-game skid. Pederson was considered a success in his first year even at a 7-9 finish, largely for the improvements that Carson Wentz made throughout his rookie season. Now, Pederson is under fire for Wentz’s decline and may be giving up his play-calling responsibilities.
The Eagles have historically rallied around their head coach around this stage of the season and at the end of skids. They delivered an overtime win against the Giants at the end of a 3-game skid last season which saved their year and put them on track to win the division; after opening the 2020 season 0-2-1, they rallied to a team-effort win over the 49ers to get their first dub on the season.
Will the team rally around Pederson again? At this stage, even a competitive effort for four quarters would be encouraging, if not just interesting to watch. I still have trust in Pederson as a head coach, and I think we see an effort to reflect that on Sunday afternoon.