NFL Playoff Previews: Eagles Versus Packers

Posted: January 9, 2011 in NFL
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See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

Michael Vick pulled off one of the most remarkable career turn-arounds in league history this season.  Vick was an other-worldly talent with Atlanta early in his career, making multiple Pro-Bowls and playing the quarterback position like we’ve never seen before.  Then the dog-fighting scandal happened.  Two years out of the league, a stint in Leavenworth and an ugly bankruptcy followed.

Even when given a chance by the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick, with his play, showed little to indicate that he could return to glory as a starting QB.  Kevin Kolb was anointed the starter, then he got hurt in Week 1 against these same Green Bay Packers, Vick came in the game, and the rest is history.

Green Bay started out well enough, 7-3 after ten games and dreams of a division title and a playoff bye looking realistic.  Then they lost three out of four to Atlanta, New England and an embarrassing 7-3 loss to Detroit where Aaron Rodgers got banged up.  Only after coming back to lead Green Bay to big wins over the Giants and the Bears, did Rodgers even get the team into the playoffs at all.

It’s fitting that Green Bay has drawn the Eagles in their first playoff game.  They created Michael Vick, so to speak, or at least created the circumstance that allowed him to get on the field.  If Kolb doesn’t leave that game in week 1, would Vick have even gotten a start this season?  And if so, could things have worked out as well as they did?  They unleashed this guy on the rest of the league, and now it’s up to them to either find a way to stop him or be destroyed by him.  It’s epic, a little like Frankenstein.

Home field advantage?

Philadelphia was only 4-4 at home this season, the worst home record of all the teams in the playoffs.  But look a little closer.  One of those losses was against Green Bay in Week 1 and, when Vick entered the game, the Eagles were already in a big hole.  Another was to Washington in Week 4, the game where Vick was hurt early and Kolb played the majority of the game.  And the loss to Dallas last week where Vick didn’t play at all.

The only team to beat a Vick-led Eagles team in Philadelphia was Minnesota, and they did it behind Adrian Peterson and a running game the Packers simply don’t have.  Kolb did lead the big win over the Falcons earlier this year, but he really did little else.

Green Bay, conversely, was only 3-5 on the road, the second worst road record among playoff teams.  They did, however, beat these Eagles, and shut out the Jets in the Meadowlands.  Both these teams won big games and lost bad games, Philly at home and Green Bay on the road.  I’m not convinced the home field really means anything between these two teams.  Philadelphia fans are colorful, to put it diplomatically, but Green Bay doesn’t strike me as the type of team that will affect much.  In fact, it could help them get a little fired up.

Case in point(s)

Green Bay has the potential to hang a big number on the scoreboard every game.  They don’t always do it, but the possibility exists.  They put 45 on opponents twice this season, Dallas and the Giants, in what was ultimately a playoff game in Week 16.  The topped 30 three other times, going 5-0 in those games where the offense is rolling.

Defensively, however, only one team has reached 30 against them, and that was New England who scored 31 in beating the Packers in Week 15.  Six times this year, they held teams to seven points or less, including the Bears and the Jets.  They went 5-1 in those game, losing only to Detroit.

The Eagles topped 30 points six times on the season, but only one of those teams was playoff team, Atlanta, and Kevin Kolb started that game.  They were 2-2 against playoff teams, beating Indianapolis and Atlanta and losing to Green Bay and Chicago.

The Eagles defense is a little different story than the Packers.  They allowed 30 or more points four times, but went 2-2 in those games, thanks to big games by Vick against both the Lions and the remarkable comeback against the Giants in Week 15.  They only held teams under 24 points five times all season.

The Packers can score and the Eagles give up points.  The Eagles can score, but the Packers can keep points off the board.

The guys under center

This is, by far, the best quarterback matchup of the playoffs thus far.  Rodgers and Vick and the third and fourth ranked quarterbacks in the league, two of only four guys to have a rating over 100 (Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers being the other two).  Vick gets most of his accolades for his legs, but this season, he’s really become a very, very good passing quarterback.  Rodgers is seen as a prototypical franchise quarterback in a lot of ways Vick never was, but looking at their performance so far this season, Vick’s numbers are comparable to Rodgers in virtually every way you can look at them.  If anything, Vick is a more explosive passer.  He has nearly the same number of 20+ yard pass plays as Rodgers on the year in 100 fewer attempts.

The biggest difference is Vick’s ability to run.  He posted 676 yards and nine touchdowns rushing this year, making him the team’s second leading rusher and behind only receiver Jeremy Maclin in TDs.  If you can pass like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and run like one of the best running backs, that’s really difficult to control.

Rodgers, by the way, is no slouch with his feet.  He rushed for over 350 yards and four touchdowns himself this season.

Green Bay is fifth in the league in passing offense, with Philadelphia right behind at ninth.  It’s on the defensive side where things show through again.  The Packers are fourth in the league allowing touchdown passes, having given up only 16 all season.  Philly is third-worst, having allowed twice as many TDs as Green Bay on the year.  The Eagles also give up big plays at a greater rate than the Packers, as well.

Playing in a game where both sides have strong passing games, but only one side has a strong pass defense is going to make someone very frustrated.  Both these quarterbacks have oodles of receivers and backs that they throw to.  The only question is can Green Bay slow down Vick?

Can anyone run the ball?

Green Bay earns its living on defense behind a great pass rush, they finished one sack behind Pittsburgh for the league lead, and interceptions from a ball hawking secondary, they finished one INT behind New England for the league lead.  However, they aren’t really a great run stuffing team.  They give up over 115 yards on the ground.  LeSean McCoy of the Eagles averages over five yards per carry.  Vick averages almost seven.  Plus, the Eagles pass blocking is horrible.  They allowed 49 sacks this year.  And their quarterbacks were knocked out of games three times, Kolb once, Vick twice.  You see where I’m going with this?  Maybe Andy Reid should run the ball.

When Ryan Grant went down early in the year, the Green Bay rushing attack went with it.  The Packers own the 24th rated run game in the league, but watching them play sometimes makes that ranking seem generous.  Green Bay is one of the worst teams in the league running the ball.  Plus, they’re offensive line isn’t exactly stellar, either.  Green Bay gave up 38 sacks themselves, and had Rodgers knocked out of a game and have to miss time. And the Eagles defense are in the top 10 in sacks themselves.

The Packers are going to have to run the ball to keep Aaron Rodgers upright.  The Eagles run defense is in the middle of league at 14th.  Whichever team stops the run best is going to have a great opportunity to win.

Who will win?

Provided no one gets hurt,this game looks like it could be a good, old-fashioned shootout.  Both teams have enough offensive weapons to put points on the board in a variety of ways.  Neither defense is dominant, although Green Bay’s is better, and both rely on pressuring the quarterback.  If the QBs stay upright most of the day, it’s going to be a high scoring one.

Of course, we could also be watching Kevin Kolb vs Matt Flynn by the third quarter, too.  I look for a couple turnovers on both sides, a few sacks to go with it, but lots and lots of big plays.  The difference will be a couple big special teams plays for the Eagles that affect field position, and LeSean McCoy running the ball.

Green Bay can’t run consistently or effectively.  Rodgers will throw for a lot of yards and the Packers will put up points.  But the Eagles and Vick will put up more.

Final Score:  Eagles 36, Packers 33

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