Friday, January 7, 2011

So how do the Packers match up with the Eagles?

After sustaining enough injuries to fill a phonebook, the Packers have made the playoffs as the number 6 seed... in case you didn't hear already. They get to play the Eagles in Philadelphia, in the Wild Card round, and the question is, how do they match up? The excellent writers at Acme Packing Company and Bleeding Green Nation have been discussing the various facets of each team all week. And here's what I think:

The Packers match up very well with the most prominent parts of the Eagles Offense and Defense. On offense, the Eagles have Michael Vick (in case you haven't heard, he's been kind of good this year), Desean Jackson (in case you haven't heard, he's kind of fast), Lesean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Jason Avant to make up the skill players. The offensive line, from what I understand, is pretty average. Good enough to buy Vick some time, but his legs do the rest. This is good for the Packers. Green Bay's secondary is really, really good. Tramon Williams has pretty much shut down every receiver he's covered (he's allowed something like 1 TD against a receiver he's been covering all year), and he did a great job against Jackson in the Week 1 matchup, for what it's worth. Sam Shields as a Nickel Corner is really fast, and has made improvements in his overall abilities all year. If the Packers have to flip coverage around, Shields has the speed to keep up with Jackson.

And then there's Charles Woodson who obviously plays very physical football. I wouldn't look for him to be covering that much, as I think Dom Capers will have him blitzing very often. The Giants and Vikings seemed to have shown the proverbial chink in the armor of the Eagles by blitzing Defensive Backs to throw off Michael Vick. The Vikings in particular had great success blitzing Antoine Winfield, and I look for the Packers to do similar things with Woodson. Look for Woodson to blitz on the left side of the field, where Vick usually scrambles to, as Clay Matthews usually rushes from the right side. On paper, Matthews should have a field day against RT Winston Justice, who hasn't had a great season from what I gathered at Bleeding Green Nation all week. The point is, the Packers have the Secondary needed to fluster the Eagles. Williams can be kept on Jackson all game, Shields can be put on Maclin (this is a matchup that can be exploited, but not to the point where it's game breaking), and Woodson will be on Jason Avant and blitzing to pressure Vick.

On offense, Aaron Rodgers and company should have no problem putting up points. The Eagles secondary is beat up, aside from the excellent Asante Samuel, and the Packers have 4 receivers who are all really good at getting open and making plays by running after the catch. In addition, Greg Jennings usually lines up on the right, while Samuel usually lines up on the left, so Jennings will be against a rotation of DB's, and none of them where spoken well of by Bleeding Green Nation. James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Donald Driver should all have good days as well. Not that the Packers can usually run the ball, but the Eagles have a stout run Defense, so that doesn't match up too well for the Packers, but they haven't been able to run the ball well at all this year, so I don't feel like that hurts the Packers too bad.

So this should be a blowout for the Packers right? Well, not exactly. The Packers have a run defense that is suspect. Not horrible, but not great, and LeSean McCoy is a great running back. If Andy Reid actually decides to lean on the run game more (Note, there's a higher chance that I will vote for Barack Obama in 2012 than Andy Reid will create a game plan that emphasizes running), then it could be very bad for the Packers. Lesean McCoy is the key to victory for the Eagles, because he's a great runner, and a really great pass catcher, which is difficult for any defense, especially one that will likely look to keep constant pressure on Michael Vick. Plus, the more you run, the more time you take on your scoring drives, and the more you keep Aaron Rodgers off of the field. In addition, the Packers Defense isn't great against Tight Ends, and Brent Celek is a pretty good TE. The problem is, he's been needed in pass protection all year, and Vick got killed in the Vikings game when Celek was off running routes, so I think he's impact will be limited.

As for Special Teams, the Packers are awful. There was a glimmer of hope last week when Devin Hester was completely neutralized by the punting of Tim Masthay, but this unit could so easily revert back to the one that gave up a 70+ yard run to a large Offensive Lineman. They've been unable to get very many returns that set them up in good field position, and the coverage is very suspect.

The bottom line on Defense, is that you're still playing against Michael Vick. The key is not to shut him out completely, that's impossible. The key is to not allow big explosive plays. Especially in the beginning of the game, because the momentum that creates is huge, especially in a playoff game. That also allows the Eagles to focus more on attempting Turnovers, which is something they are really good at. The Packers have to be able to force Michael Vick to perform sustained drives with precise plays. There has to be pressure during these drives, because Vick tends to start running left very fast, as soon as he senses a tiny bit of pressure. That's when he's both dangerous and reckless. Dangerous with his legs, but his throws aren't very precise when he's forced to scramble like that, and he takes a beating because of all the plays he tries to make with his legs.

So will the Packers lean more on Offense or Defense? They'll lean on the Defense, but this isn't a game either unit can win on their own. Even with the weaknesses that have been examined, the Eagles are a complete team with a good coaching staff. The Packer Defense has the capability to limit this team to under 20 points, but I don't see it happening. At the same time, I'm confident in the Offense to score an excess of 27 points, which allows the Packers Defense to also play more for the Turnover. But still, neither unit can win this game on their own. The advantage of playing in Philadelphia is also significant in a playoff game.

Prediction? Packers win 34-30

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