Sports

Packers @ Eagles: Preview, Keys, Prediction

The Green Bay Packers (4-6) face their first true must-win game of 2016 as they travel to Philadelphia for a Monday night contest with the Eagles (5-5), with kickoff slated for 7:30 PM CST. Details on the matchup:

  • The game will be televised nationally on ESPN with Sean McDonough, Jon Gruden and Lisa Salters on the call. Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren call the action for Packers flagship 620 WTMJ, carrying the broadcast over the 50-station Packers Radio Network. The game can also be heard across the country on Westwood One Sports, with Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason and Steve Tasker providing coverage.

  • Monday night will mark the 40th regular season meeting between the two teams, with Green Bay holding a 25-14 advantage.

  • The Packers won the most recent meeting, a 53-20 beating at Lambeau Field in 2014.

  • Green Bay has won its last two games in Philadelphia – 27-20 in the 2010 season opener and 21-16 in the 2010 Wild Card playoffs.

  • The last time the two teams met on Monday Night Football was in 2006, with the Eagles winning by a 31-9 score.

  • The Packers look to improve to .500 all-time in Monday night games, as they enter this one with a 30-31-1 record in such contests.

Here’s how Green Bay’s offense stacks up against the Eagles defense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 24.7 ppg (10th)

Philadelphia: 18.6 ppg (4th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 362.7 ypg (13th)

Philadelphia: 334.6 ypg (8th)

Passing

Green Bay: 262 ypg (10th)

Philadelphia: 229 ypg (9th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 100.6 ypg (20th)

Philadelphia: 105.7 ypg (19th)

And how the Packers defense matches up with the Eagles offense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 27.6 ppg (27th)

Philadelphia: 24.1 ppg (14th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 356.7 ypg (18th)

Philadelphia: 340.4 (19th)

Passing

Green Bay: 266 ypg (23rd)

Philadelphia: 222 ypg (25th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 91.1 ypg (6th)

Philadelphia: 118.3 ypg (t-6th)

What does it all mean?

Not a whole lot, it seems. Although the numbers would point to this being a fairly even matchup, recent performance would indicate otherwise. The Packers have given up nearly 421 yards of offense per game during their 4-game losing streak while also allowing at least 30 points in all four of those contests. The silver lining – for lack of a better term – in that span has been the production of the offense. Although still inconsistent, Green Bay has posted at least 400 yards of offense three times in the past four weeks, and hasn’t been held under 20 points since week six.

When Green Bay is on offense…

The Packers could very well get a boost in the running game this week, though it remains to be seen how big a role newly acquired running back Christine Michael will play. Earlier in the week, Aaron Rodgers referred to Michael as a change of pace back, which would seem to indicate James Starks and Ty Montgomery will still be getting the majority of that work. With TJ Lang and JC Tretter out, it looks like the Packers may once again to establish any kind of running game.

The passing game is no doubt where Green Bay will look to do most of its damage. Due to injuries, Philadelphia has used rookie cornerback Jalen Mills against top receivers to not much success. The Eagles do get Leodis McKelvin back this week, but that shouldn’t make a significant enough impact to throw the Packers air attack off its game. That will be up to Fletcher Cox and Connor Barwin, whose job will be made a little easier with the absence of Tretter and Lang along the line.

Green Bay saw some success in the short passing game last week, and I would expect that to continue. The Packers can negate any pass rush with the use of a rhythm-based passing game, which they are fully capable of implementing. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will be better than the players lining up across from them, and they’ll need to take full advantage, especially if they find themselves facing the rookie in man coverage. It should be interesting to see if Jared Cook’s role in the passing game broadens after his 105-yard performance against Washington. Despite his late fumble, Cook was certainly a bright spot for the Packers last week.

When Green Bay is on defense…

It seems like one step up, one step back for the Packers defense almost every week. While the unit should get a slight boost with the expected return of cornerback Damarious Randall and linebacker Jake Ryan, they’ll be without the services of Blake Martinez and Demetri Goodson, who both left last week’s game with knee injuries.

Randall, if his role is near normal, could potentially provide the secondary with a massive shot in the arm after seeing the group mercilessly torn apart by opposing quarterbacks the past four weeks. While it may not seem like it, there just might be light at the end of the tunnel this time around. Philadelphia’s passing game is essentially devoid of playmaking pass-catchers. Jordan Matthews leads the team with just under 70 yards per game, while tight end Zach Ertz and running back Darren Sproles both average more catches and yards than receivers Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor. Agholor has struggled with drops and mental mistakes, and reportedly may not even be active Monday night.

The return of Ryan means that Clay Matthews likely won’t have to move back inside against the Eagles, although Matthews did mention earlier in the week he’d been brushing up on his assignments in case of emergency. Philadelphia will be without leading rusher Ryan Mathews, meaning diminutive speedster Sproles should see the brunt of the workload in the Eagles running game. Like the Packers, Philadelphia will be dealing with injuries on the offensive line. Former Packer Allen Barbre will switch from left guard to right tackle. The move will put Barbre, who Packer fans may remember as possible the worst offensive lineman in franchise history, up against Nick Perry. Stefan Wisniewski will take Barbre’s spot.

One of the bigger storylines Monday night will be how the Packers fare against second-overall pick Carson Wentz. The rookie started the season with 100-plus passer ratings in three of his first four NFL starts, but has cooled down considerably since. Make no mistake about it, Wentz has shown the poise and talent that will one day make him a star. But right now, he’s still beatable. He has thrown two interceptions in three of his last five games, against just four touchdowns. Granted, the Packers secondary hasn’t exactly been worthy of praise of late, but if there’s a “get right” game remaining on the schedule for the Green Bay, this is it.

Keys to the Game

Score Early, Often. The Packers haven’t broken the ice since their week seven win against Chicago – coincidentally, that was also their last win. Since then, the offense has been forced, mostly unsuccessfully, to play catch-up. What is the best way to remedy that? Avoid empty possessions, for one. Last week, Green Bay began the game at Washington with three consecutive three-and-outs offensively. Although the Packers eventually led the game, you can’t help but wonder if things would have gone differently had they scored any points on those three drives.

Ball Control. While scoring a lot of points is great, the Packers have proven they can lose even when they put points on the board. Controlling the time of possession will be huge against a Philadelphia team who is one of two teams undefeated at home in 2016. The Eagles have played significantly better football at Lincoln Financial Field this season, so a few long, time-consuming drives for Green Bay would go a long way in taking the crowd out of the game and keeping their beleaguered defense off the field.

Special Teams. The Packers are dead last in the league in yards per return allowed at 30.5. Philadelphia leads the league in yards per return with just under 34. Green Bay would do well to ensure that kickoffs go out of the end zone and punts are placed correctly. Punter Jacob Schum hasn’t wowed since taking Tim Masthay’s spot during training camp, and a bad kick tomorrow could cost the Packers dearly. On the flip side, Green Bay hasn’t done anything noteworthy in the return game in 2016. Could lightning strike this week?

Turn Up the Heat. Carson Wentz has shown he can be pressured into mistakes. With a shaky receiving corps around him, the Packers could force the rookie to either hold on to the ball longer than normal or force the ball into unreliable hands. The question will be whether or not Green Bay can create the requisite pressure with their front end. If not, and Dom Capers is forced to blitz from the secondary, the Packers could find themselves in trouble once again.

Prediction

Aaron Rodgers is on pace to throw for over 4,400 yards, 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. While he has perhaps been inconsistent at times, he will not be to blame if the season ends in complete and total failure. If the Packers lose to the Eagles Monday night, you can stick a fork in ‘em, regardless of whether they’re mathematically still alive or not. And so, logically, Aaron Rodgers will not be responsible for a failure in Philly. If the Packers are to win the game and keep their slim hopes alive, it will take a passable effort from the defense. Throwing the fact that this is a must-win out the window, and looking solely at the games remaining on the schedule, this is the best chance for the defense to get back on track. I think they do, at least for a week. Packers 31, Eagles 24.