The Green Bay Packers (4-7) are playing for their postseason lives on Sunday night when they visit the 9-1 Eagles (9-1) at Lincoln Financial Field. They’re also going to be faced with stopping future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
He’s someone Eagles’ defensive coordinator has a great familiarity with when Gannon was an assistant defensive backs coach with the Minnesota Vikings from 2014-17.
Even though Rodgers is not having “a Rodgers; type of season,” Gannon still holds great respect for the veteran.
“Part of it is because I played in the division with him for four years,” Gannon said, “so I think I’ve played him — been a part of teams that have played against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay both with [Mike] McCarthy and [Matt] LaFleur a good amount. Maybe the most ever, this quarterback. But he’s a special player. That’s all there is to it. He’s going to the Hall of Fame. He’s one of the best that’s ever done it.
“He can beat you a lot of different ways, so we’re going to have to be on it. But I have obviously a high respect for him because of watching him through the years and playing against him. He does things that other guys can’t do.”
Rodgers has had a tough time getting in sync with his new receiving corps this season. But a young receiver who is emerging is Christian Watson, who’s caught a combined five touchdowns on eight receptions for 155 yards in the Packers’ previous two games.
His emergence poses a threat to the Eagles.
“Yeah, big and fast,” Gannon said. “You talk to our guys, I like to talk especially about rookies because the guys I talk to about their rookie skill sets are our offensive coaches. Hey, did you like this guy, [Offensive Coordinator] Shane [Steichen], coming out? Did you like this guy, [Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead] A-Mo?
“And they’re all like, yeah, yeah, big and fast, and has got a big-time catch radius. We’ve got a big-time challenge because he’s got a guy that can deal it to him.”
Expect Rodgers to work out of a rolling pocket to offset the Eagles’ pass rush, and expect some balance, using backs A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones. The key number here is 120 yards rushing.
Three of the four Packer victories arrived when the Packers rushed for 120 yards or more. When they don’t reach that mark, they’re 1-6.
Newly acquired run-stuffers Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh played significant roles in shutting down the Indianapolis Colts last week in the Eagles’ 17-16 victory, putting the clamps on tailback Jonathon Taylor after the first drive of the game. The addition of Joseph and Suh has created a fresh rotation for the Eagles’ defensive interior.
That means fresh legs, which translates into constant heat on Rodgers, which could translate into an easy Eagles’ victory on Sunday night.
“You’ve got two new guys that played a bunch of snaps for us. He did a really good job to get those guys caught up,” Gannon said. “I think the other piece to that puzzle that allowed them to come in and play is the versatility and the flexibility of the other three up. I’m talking about Fletcher [Cox] and [Javon] Hargrave and Milton [Williams].
“We kind of left [Ndamukong] Suh and [Linval Joseph] L.J. in two spots within the certain fronts, and those guys plugged and played around them, which helped them that they didn’t have to know everything. So that was huge by those guys. Again, those guys that are up, they’re smart and they’re versatile, they can play different spots.
“I think that goes by the wayside, but that’s a huge piece to those guys being able to play that fast coming in here. Then obviously Suh and L.J. have played a lot of ball, and they’re smart individuals. They understand what’s going on once they put it into their language, then it was hey, go out and play, and that’s what they did.
“It was good to get those guys in here, and they played well, and the whole front played extremely well. Milton, Grave and Fletch, they did some big-time things in that game that really controlled the line of scrimmage. You see that’s when the D-line controls the line of scrimmage, you’re probably going to play pretty good run defense.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.