2010 NFL Wildcard Round: Eagles-Packers

The Packers will be looking for a big game from DB Charles Woodson when they take on the host Philadelphia Eagles at the Linc in the 2010 NFL Wildcard Round

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), Sunday Jan. 9th, 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and field reporters Pam Oliver and Chris Meyers

This Sunday afternoon’s Wildcard game will be a “Let’s Do It Again” moment, as the Green Bay Packers (NFC No. 6 seed) and Philadelphia Eagles (NFC No. 3 seed) will return right back where they started the 2010 NFL Season, facing each other at Lincoln Financial Field.  Their Week 1 game, which ended with Green Bay winning over the Eagles by a score of 27-20, set the tone for both teams in an improbable NFL Season that no one could have predicted. 

Green Packers head coach Mike McCarthy (2-1 for his career against the Eagles) said of making the playoffs, “I’m just proud of this team. We’ve had a difficult road we traveled this year and we’ve met every challenge.  We’re at 10 wins and one of the six teams in the NFC playoffs.  We’re excited as a football team.  We’re really looking forward to preparing this week and competing against Philadelphia in this tournament.” 

In that early September battle, no play was bigger than when Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews (2nd in NFC w/ 13.5 sacks) ran down then-Eagles starting quarterback Kevin Kolb, knocking him out of the game with a concussion.  That play and then set the wheels in motion for the headlining redemption return of the Michael Vick Experience to the NFL.  In the Week 1 loss, backup QB Vick rallied the Eagles from a 17-point hole only to have everything come down to a Birds’ potential fourth-and-1 conversion on the Green Bay 42-yard line with two minutes left and a chance to tie the game at 27 points. However on that crucial 4th down play, Eagles head coach Andy Reid decided that Vick – who lined up in the shotgun formation —  should run a quarterback draw up the middle instead passing or getting the speedster to the edge. 

The Packers easily diagnosed the play and stuffed Vick for no gain to the ire of the Philadelphia Faithful.  The 4th down non-conversion was the cherry on top of game that saw the Eagles have injuries, poor offensive execution in first half, poor offensive line play, and penalties…I bet the Eagles will not wear the 1960 throwback jerseys that they wore in the loss.  But a lot has changed from both teams since their September match-up.  Vick said of the ‘new” Packers, “This is a totally different football team we’re talking about right now. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. (They’ve) definitely stepped it up when they needed to so. This is not the same football team we played earlier in the year, I can tell you that now.”

Surprisingly these two teams are only meeting for the 3rd time in the postseason with Philadelphia winning both prior postseason meetings.  The Birds defeated the Packers 17-13 in the 1960 NFL Championship Game – the Eagles last championships, which came 50 years ago — and no one can forget their 2003 NFC Divisional Playoff Game.  That game won by the Eagles by of score of 20-17 in overtime, will forever be known as the 4th and 26 Game, where QB Donovan McNabb found WR Freddie “FredEx” Mitchell to convert an almost improbable conversion on their way to a dramatic overtime win.  For those interested, Green Bay leads the all-time series 24-15, including the playoffs. Alright that is enough strolling down memory lane as fans are more interested in the game that will be played on Sunday between two teams that sport two top-rated passers that love to “Air it out”. 

Reid (10-8 for his career in the playoffs) said of the challenge of facing the Packers, “Both teams are better than they were at the time.  We look forward to the challenge.  They have a good football team and we have a good football team.  It should be a heck of a game.”  The interesting thing with Green Bay is that they are red-hot have won 3 of their last 5 games including two consecutive wins to make the playoffs.  But don’t forget, that Green Bay despite all their big offensive stats are still searching for their first postseason win of the Aaron Rodgers’ era.

Rodgers, a surprising Pro Bowl snub, led the NFC conference with a 101.2 passer rating.  While his counterpart, Vick (bruised quad), has been the greatest story of the 2010 NFL Season.  The once vilified convicted dogfighter became the NFC’s starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl by doing the right things off the field and becoming the league’s most surprising pocket passer at age 30.  And this game is another opportunity for Vick and Reid to show that their young Birds (average age 26) are ready for playoff glory.  Vick (2010 passing numbers of 233-372, 3018 yards, 21 TDs and 6 INTs plus 678 rushing yards and 9 TDs) was second to Rodgers in quarterback rating (100.2),  but it was his explosiveness and symbiotic relationship with big play receiver DeSean Jackson that has everyone in the NFL buzzing.  Vick, who had a career-defining win over the Packers way back in a 2002 postseason as a Falcon,  became the NFL’s first player with at least 3,000 passing yards (3,018), 20 touchdowns passes (21), 500 rushing yards (678) and seven rushing touchdowns (nine) in the same season.

Offensively, the Packers  love leaning on Rodgers throwing the football to his bevy of receivers including James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and Greg Jennings (76 receptions for 1,265 yards, 16.6 ypc, and 12 TDs – 1st in NFC).  But I think one of the biggest keys on Sunday will be Green Bay’s ability to establish the run with unknown rushers Brandon Jackson (18 carries for 63 yards in Week 1 win over Philadelphia), John Kuhn (6 TDs) and rookie James Starks .  Getting a running game against the Eagles — allowed an average of over 100 rushing yards per game — should tire-out Philadelphia’s smallish defense while keeping Vick, Jackson, and the rest of the Birds fastbreak offense on the sidelines. 

Conversely the Eagles sometimes maligned defense – allowed opponents to score 77% in the redzone, which was the worst in the NFL in 25 years — will need to get a solid effort from rookie MLB Jamar Chaney and the rest of their defense to move on to the divisional round.  All season, the Eagles have allowed a ton of offensive yards ( average of 327.2 yards per game) but have routinely come-up with timely turnovers when it has mattered most (+9 in turnover ratio for 3rd in NFC and produced 22 INTs).  But these are the playoffs and turnovers cannot be counted on, so my key for the Eagles’ defense is not allowing Rodgers to stay clean in the pocket.  Look for Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to dial-up “pressure” against the Rodgers (312-475, 3922 yards, 28 TDs and 11 INTs), as he still maybe feeling the effects of a concussion that forced him to miss a game late in the regular season.  It is now or never for McDermott and his defensive unit — allowed 377 points for an average of almost 23.5 points per game -– as the white-hot glare of the playoffs is upon them.  The most pressure has to be on the Eagles young secondary, which is starting a rookie free safety (Kurt Coleman) and an undrafted free agent journeyman type corner (Dimitri Patterson).  The Packers put up an average of 358.1 offensive yards a game and scored 388 points in 2010.  So the challenge will be for the Eagles’ Defense finding help from players, like DE Darryl Tapp, as injuries have been hard on this unit in 2010 — players like DT Jeff Owens (knee) FS Nate Allen (knee), DE Brandon Graham (knee) and starting MLB Stewart Bradley (elbow).  Definitely expect McDermott, as is the case almost every week, to lean on his two defensive star players, Pro Bowl CB Asante Samuel (First in NFC w/ 7 INTs) and DE Trent Cole (10 sacks).

When the 2010 NFC East Champion Eagles have the ball offensively, they will need to get more out of their running game (called 55 passes and only ran it 16 times in their crucial Week 16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings) and establish emerging RB LeSean McCoy(207 rushes for 1080 yards, 5.2 ypr, and 7 TDs plus 78 receptions for 592 yards and 2 TDs) on  draws and screens.  Of course any mention of running the ball on the Packers starts with blocking huge NT BJ Raji and I am not sure the Eagles underachieving O-line (Vick sacked over 50 times) is ready for the challenge.  The Eagles lack of a running game and their recent offensive line woes must be corrected for them to have any chance to win.  Late season match-ups with the NY Giants (first half) and Vikings showed that Vick can be affected by blitzing (completing around 55% when blitzed). 

The Vikings, in particular, may have written the anti-Vick handbook as they harassed the Pro Bowl player all-day – finished with 6 sacks and hit him double-digit times.  In the Vikings game, the constant pressure on Vick also caused his timing with explosive Pro Bowl WR Jackson (only 3 catches) to be thrown off as well .   To combat the Packers anticipated attacking scheme — ranked among the top five in the NFL in nearly every pass defense category plus had 24 INTs — the Eagles will need for McCoy, Jackson, his receiving partner Jeremy Maclin, and TE Brent Celek  to get their touches early.  All season, Philadelphia has been a different team when playing with an early lead.  However you can count on Matthews and his fellow linebackers that play in Dom Capers 3-4 scheme plus former 2009 Defensive MVP DB Charles Woodson (make Vick nemesis Antoine Winfield look like a baby) to bring their A-game against the Eagles. Vick said of the challenge of facing the Packers’ tough defense, “I’m gonna be me.  Still play my game, still play with confidence, still rally the guys around me, make sure they’re focused in tune with what we’re trying to do, what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s what’s important. You can’t change your game at this point of the season. You can’t point fingers and say, ‘If this would have happened, if that would have happened.'”

If the Eagles are to have any success against Matthews and his mates, Vick will need to make plays in and out of the pocket plus spread the ball around to everyone especially, the recently-hot Celek. McCarthy said of the challenge of facing Vick, “Having a week to prepare for him, having a full season to study him will definitely be a benefit going into this game, as opposed to playing in the opener preparing for a quarterback with his first big-time start and Vick came in as the backup. I think it gives us a better chance to be a little more rehearsed in some of the things in exactly how they’re going to come at us.”  Vick summed up the playoffs succinctly by recently saying, “It’s the postseason. Win or go home. That should motivate everybody. Do your job or you won’t be playing next week.” 

LV’s Pick: I have been wrestling with this one all week as the Packers have an offense that strikes fear around the entire NFL and the Eagles have struggled recently both offensively and defensively.  However the Packers have only won three out of eight road victories this season. Plus also in play is the fact that the Eagles have lost their final two home games of the 2010 regular season and  have the worst home record (4-4) of any playoff team.  But I believe a phase no one is talking about, special teams, will be a huge factor in this game.  And you have to give the edge to the Eagles here as they have Pro Bowl kicker David Akers (led NFL with 143 points) and Jackson will be back returning punts in this important battle. Another deciding factor for me, is that Reid is 3-0 at home in the Wildcard Round and Big Red also knows how to get his team ready for their first playoffs game (7-1 in openers). So all that said, I am going with the Eagles in a nail-biter — Eagles win 23-20

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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