Points could be plentiful at Lambeau Field when the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers get together this afternoon on FOX. The Eagles (7-2) are fourth in the league in scoring at 31 points per game with the Packers (6-3) just a tick behind (30.8). Last week alone they outscored their opponents 100-65.
Philadelphia is percentage points ahead of Dallas (on bye this week) for the top spot in the NFC East while Green Bay trails NFC North leader Detroit by one game. The Eagles are coming off of a season-high 45 points in their Monday night win against Carolina, which also was Mark Sanchez’ first start in place of an injured Nick Foles.
The Packers are a perfect 4-0 at home following a dominating 55-14 victory over the archrival Bears. Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the first half against a helpless Chicago defense. Green Bay’s offense has been clicking lately, averaging 419 yards and 36 points over the past four games.
From a coaching standpoint, Chip Kelly is 1-0 against Mike McCarthy courtesy of a 27-13 victory at Lambeau last season. Foles tossed three touchdown passes in the win, but this game is more remembered because it was the first one Aaron Rodgers missed after breaking his collarbone the previous week. Seneca Wallace started in place of Rodgers, but he left after just one series with a groin injury, giving way to Scott Tolzien. In his first NFL action, Tolzien finished with 280 yards passing, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Green Bay -6.5
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Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Offensive Balance
On Monday night against the Panthers, Mark Sanchez completed just one of his first eight pass attempts, but eventually got it going. He finished with 332 yards passing and two touchdowns in the easy 45-21 victory. The 45 points were a season high, despite the fact that Philadelphia had just 37 yards rushing. While Sanchez’ final line looked impressive, he struggled with his accuracy (20-of-38 passing), mishandled two shotgun snaps and got a lot of help from both the defense (5 takeaways, 9 sacks, INT returned for a TD) and special teams (punt return TD).
One of the reasons why Chip Kelly’s offense has worked so well his first two seasons in the NFL is that it’s fueled by tempo and play-calling more than who is under center. The Eagles are fourth in the league in scoring and tied for seventh in offensive plays per game (71) even though they are second to last in time of possession (26:55). Kelly uses a diverse and creative running game to keep defenses off balance, and it is imperative Philadelphia runs the ball against Green Bay for several reasons. First and foremost, the more production the Eagles get on the ground from LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk, the better for Sanchez. From the offensive line to the tight ends, this is by far the best supporting cast Sanchez has had around him as a pro, so why not put it to use? Second, even though Philadelphia isn’t known for time-consuming drives, success running the ball should translate into more scoring opportunities, which would then put more pressure on Green Bay’s offense to respond. It also, to a degree, would reduce the amount of time Aaron Rodgers and company would be able to possess the ball. Lastly, the Eagles need to stay committed to the run because the Packers have done a poor job stopping it this season. Green Bay enters this game 30th in the league in rushing defense and this is after holding Chicago to 55 yards last Sunday. Prior to that game the Packers yielded 193 on the ground to New Orleans and have already given up 200-plus twice (Seattle and the Bears in their first meeting). Sanchez did just fine in his first start, but there’s no reason for Philadelphia’s offense to, well, run solely through him.
[inline_team_schedule team-id=25 date=20141001 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
Green Bay’s Key to Victory: Protect the Franchise
While Philadelphia managed its transition from Nick Foles to Mark Sanchez (at least for one game) under center seamlessly, there’s no question that the most important player on Green Bay’s roster, let alone the offense, is its No. 1 quarterback. Aaron Rodgers has been the MVP of both the regular season (2011) and the Super Bowl (XLV) and he is the career leader in passer rating (106.2). He’s 64-32 as a starter (39-11 at home) and if there was ever any doubt as to how much Rodgers means to the success of this team, look no further than last season. In 2013, the Packers got off to a 5-2 start and entered its Week 9 Monday night home date with the Bears on a four-game winning streak. But Chicago linebacker Shea McClellin sacked Rodgers in the first series, causing him to leave the game. Green Bay lost 27-20, but the real damage had already been done, as Rodgers was diagnosed with a broken collarbone. Beginning with the Monday night loss to the Bears, the Packers went 2-5-1 during Rodgers’ absence. He returned for the regular-season finale against the Bears and threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 46 seconds left to give Green Bay its third straight division title. With Rodgers under center, the Packers are a legitimate NFC and Super Bowl contender, regardless of how poorly the defense is playing or how little support he gets from the running game. Rodgers is a mobile quarterback capable of extending plays in the pocket and picking up yards on the ground when called upon, but he still needs his offensive line to give him time to find a receiver down field and to keep him upright. He has been sacked 20 times in nine games, but nine of those have come in the team’s losses to the Seahawks, Lions and Saints. Philadelphia has made a living putting pressure on the quarterback this season, ranking second in the NFL in sacks with 32. The Eagles sacked Cam Newton nine times on Monday night and have forced 16 (9 fumbles, 7 INTs) takeaways. Kelly’s Chip Kelly’s defense has been very opportunistic with those turnovers (six defensive touchdowns), but this unit also has given up a fair amount of big plays too. For Green Bay’s offense, it all starts under center, which is the one spot on the field Packer fans don’t want to see Matt Flynn. Unless of course their team is up 45-7 in the third quarter.
Unless the weather takes a drastic change for the worse (expected to be cold, but no precipitation or significant wind), this should be a fairly high-scoring affair. Yes, Chip Kelly is employing a backup quarterback, but Mark Sanchez is just part of the equation when it comes to Philadelphia’s up-tempo, creative offense. On the other hand, Aaron Rodgers is the engine that makes Mike McCarthy’s system hum and it’s hard to see this Eagles defense keep the Packers in check all game long. Defense will still play a part, especially if one unit is able to create some turnovers and chip in a big play or two of its own, but in the end this game could come down to which team has to settle for field goals instead of six points. The Lambeau Field tundra may not be frozen just yet, but the Packers are 32-3 in their last 35 regular-season games that Rodgers has started. The Eagles will put up a fight, but R-E-L-A-X Packer fans, your QB’s got this.