The Green Bay Packers are wearing their blue and tan throwback uniforms, circa 1929 and the team’s first championship. Why am I leading with that? Because the Packers have won three straight wearing that combo and the pants were deemed so comfortable by a lovable quarterback named Rodgers (well, lovable in the state of Wisconsin), that the team uses the same material for their gold pants as well.
Next question is: why is there a picture of Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles holding up a jersey? Of all of the images this game could produce, you chose that one? Well, it was one of the only images of Sproles with the Eagles and. . .it’s symbolic. If the Packers don’t do what they should do to defend Sproles, that’s the view of his jersey they will also have.
I used to write “Keys to the Game” and I would often highlight a player such as Sproles as one the Packers were likely to have problems with. Small, speedy and shifty back who is dangerous in space and on special teams. The Packers have been tackling much better this season compared to the last three, but Sproles can juke the best of the best out of their shoes. Some of you are shaking your heads and wondering why I’m spending all of this time on Sproles when the Eagles feature back is actually LeSean “Shady” McCoy. Patience, friends, patience.
It’s not that I’m overlooking McCoy, it’s that the Packers have a tendency to get this one-track mind when it comes to certain aspects of defending an opponent. Knowing McCoy is potentially the most dangerous weapon to be wearing white and green, they’ll likely key on him and try to cut off his running lanes and cutbacks as well (good luck). They may even succeed in limiting McCoy’s production early on. But will they leave enough out there to account for everyone else in Phily’s offense? Sproles, receivers Jeremy Maclin & Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz? Sure, it’s 11 on 11, but the Eagles have the type of offense that makes it seem like they’re outnumbering the Packers two-to-one.
Green Bay has likely poured through all of the tape of the Eagles offense, and there is a king’s ransom of tape to be seen. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has already been tabbed as one of the best offensive minds in the game and he just arrived from the college ranks last season. Even Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has been said to want to emulate some of Kelly’s core principles: certain number of offensive snaps per game, emphasis on player diet and scheduling. One thing Kelly does well is game plan and exploit negative tendencies in his opponent. A porous run defense and linebackers who can’t match up on pass catchers would be two good examples and they’re hardly a secret.
Even with Clay Matthews moving inside, Kelly can surely find a way to run him out of the play and leave some space for his guys to make a play. This is the type of game where the defense has to do their homework and communicate flawlessly. Even with Mark Sanchez. . yes, that Mark Sanchez. . throwing the ball, he will find the one guy in that one split second the Packers failed to cover their zone. Make all of the jokes you want about the maligned former Jets quarterback, he’s not making those types of mistakes in Philadelphia.
At least not yet. But has he seen a pass rush like Green Bay’s? Technically, yes. In the game when Eagles starter Nick Foles went out with a broken collarbone, the Houston Texans had four sacks. The Eagles have given up just 12 sacks all season long. For the Packers to score four in this game would likely mean good things. Like turnover things which then put the ball in the hands of the hottest offensive player in the game on his home turf. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been picked off at Lambeau Field since December of 2012. He’s thrown a ton of touchdown passes there since as well and holds the current NFL record for touchdowns thrown without an interception at home. No specific numbers here, as I don’t want to be any more responsible as a jinx for having written and shared these nuggets. Bottom line: Rodgers is really good at home.
And that’s the X-factor in this game. The Packers offense will have to get it done against a fairly solid Eagles defense, even without their best defensive player and spiritual leader in linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Sure, the Green Bay defense has a lot of work to do on their end to keep the score out of the 40’s, but ultimately the offense is going to have to punch it in when they get within striking distance. Even if this becomes a shootout, it’s still Sanchez vs. Rodgers.
A win for the Packers would be a step towards establishing dominance at home and the ability to beat good teams. A lot of the edge in today’s NFL seems to be mental and when teams start wanting to avoid the Packers or worry about facing them, it means some good things are happening in the tough games for the Pack. A big win this week followed by a solid performance against the Minnesota Vikings next week sets up high confidence for the Packers heading into their showdown with the New England Patriots, another really good team, at Lambeau Field.
One thing at a time, though. As McCarthy said this week when asked about playoff potential for this team, the focus is squarely on Philadelphia. And for crying out loud, please no 4th and long scenario’s for the Eagles offense, OK boys?——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: