(I know DeSean isn’t playing Thursday night, but back in 2013 he inexplicably caught this ball for a touchdown.)
By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
I’m not typically a big believer in a week four game being considered a “must-win” game, but this game sure feels like one. The 1-2 Eagles, yes 1-2, travel to iconic Lambeau Field to battle the unbeaten Green Bay Packers under the Thursday night lights.
The Eagles find themselves at 1-2, but could easily be 3-0 entering Thursday night’s game if their receivers could do the main thing that’s expected of them: catch the ball.
Agholor dropped what would have been a game-winner week two in Atlanta, and Eagles receivers couldn’t catch a cold last weekend against Detroit (SEVEN drops). The biggest drop of them all came from rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who dropped a ball that hit him in both hands that, you guessed it, would have won the Eagles the game.
Obviously, there is a lot more that happened in those two games that led to the Eagles losing both contests. Injuries, slow starts, a no-call on a facemask that nearly saw Miles Sanders lose his head, and fumbles all played a part, among many other things, in the Eagles being where they are right now.
The Eagles certainly have their work cut out for them this week. Traveling to Green Bay, where the Packers have been historically fantastic since Rodgers took over at quarterback, combined with this being a Thursday night game make this a tough hill to climb for our Birds.
Eagles Offense vs. Packers Defense
Carson Wentz is not the problem. This offense has plenty of other problems, so let me get it out of the way early that this article will not contain any Carson Wentz slander. However, I will now detail all of the offense’s current problems.
First, and the most glaring, the injuries. Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Dallas Goedert (except for the fourth quarter last week) all missing the last two games has been far and away the biggest issue. This has caused Zach Ertz to be consistently double-teamed. It has also caused the Eagles to rely heavily on Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, and the aforementioned Arcega-Whiteside. If you’ve watched the last two games, you know why that’s a problem.
Second, the Eagles offensive line has not played anywhere close to their potential. It seems as though they aren’t getting good push off the ball on run plays. This is leading to a lot of 3-5 yard gains, and not a lot of big runs. Furthermore, with the rag-tag group of receivers getting absolutely no separation, Wentz has had to stand in the pocket forever. Obviously, the offensive line can’t hold 300+ pound men back that long.
Nevertheless, with a quarterback like Wentz, who can make something out of nothing, you can never give up on a play. Last week, there was a play in the fourth quarter, where Wentz was running around trying to make a play. All five offensive lineman literally stopped playing. If you haven’t seen the play, here it is. What a joke.
The final most glaring problem I see with this offense is the running back rotation. First and foremost, Jordan Howard needs to be getting the most caries. Miles Sanders has made it clear he isn’t quite ready to take the reins yet. I’m not saying the Eagles should give up on Sanders, that would be foolish.
However, there is no way that he should be getting more snaps than a player with the third most rushing yards in the whole league since 2016. Howard has done nothing to deserve being out-repped by an unproven rookie.
Also worth noting: Sanders fumbled TWICE on the SAME possession last week. That’s on Doug Pederson and running backs coach Duce Staley. Sanders shouldn’t have been out there the rest of that series once he put the ball on the floor the first time. Unacceptable.
There is some good news going into Thursday night: the Eagles will have both Alshon Jeffery and Dallas Goedert active. This will take the double coverage off of Ertz, and Wentz will get two playmakers back on the field. Not to mention, Wentz will be getting a reliable receiver back in Jeffery who doesn’t drop many passes. That alone should be cause for celebration
As for the Packers defense, they have some holes. It certainly isn’t the trainwreck it was last year, but it’s not top-tier. While it is true that Green Bay has given up the second-fewest points in the league, I attribute that to the quality of their opponents.
Let’s take a look at their opponents: the dumpster fire of an offense that is the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos, who are both in the bottom seven in terms of points per game. They also hosted the Minnesota Vikings, who are led by a quarterback that has a career record of 5-26 against teams with a winning record.
The Packers have been absolutely abused in the run game. They rank 25th in the league in rush defense, giving up a whopping 131 yards per game on the ground. The strength of this defense is the secondary. They are fifth in the league in pass defense, giving up just 197 pass yards per game. I’m hoping that the Eagles offense skews run-heavy Thursday night. If Doug Pederson doesn’t take advantage of Green Bay's horrid rush defense, it will be a bad night to be a television in my living room (sorry in advance to my roommates).
Eagles Defense vs. Packers Offense
This is where the game will be won or lost for the Eagles. There’s good news, bad news, and even worse news regarding the Eagles defense.
The good news: The Eagles have the second-best rush defense in the league, allowing just 57 yards per game so far this season. The bad news: The Eagles have the fourth-worst pass defense in the league, one spot behind the openly tanking Miami Dolphins. Honestly, it’s hard to believe there are three worse teams in the league against the pass. Oh, and the even worse news: The Eagles are playing a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
Other than the Atlanta game in week two when Matt Ryan threw passes directly to our defense, the Eagles haven’t forced any turnovers. It isn’t going to get any easier this week either, as Rodgers does not turn the ball over, ever. I think our inability to force turnovers is for a combination of reasons.
One of those reasons is the most obvious: the Eagles cornerbacks struggle mightily in coverage. They simply haven’t been in many positions to make plays on the receivers or the football when a pass is thrown. The other reason is that the Eagles have gotten absolutely nothing from their pass rush. They have two sacks through three games, which is second worst in the league, only to the Denver Broncos who have no sacks through three games. With the talent, as well as the money invested in the Eagles defensive line, that is absolutely unacceptable.
It won’t get easier for the Eagles pass rush, as they go against a Packers offensive line that is solid. They allowed seven sacks through the first two games, but allowed none last week against the aforementioned Broncos. Rodgers was appreciative of their performance.
While the Packers do have a lot of talent around Rodgers, they are yet to put it all together under new head coach Matt LaFleur. They rank fifth-worst in yards per game and tenth-worst in points per game. I’d imagine, though, that Rodgers won’t have many issues against our secondary.
Aaron Jones, their main running back, has only gotten better since his rookie season in 2017. He has three touchdowns in the last two games, and scored eight touchdowns in just 12 games last season.
Number one receiver Davante Adams is going to torch our secondary. There is simply no other way around it, so I’m warning you to prepare yourselves, you will see #17 in green and yellow a lot. They also have a good compliment of receivers around Adams, in Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Tight end Jimmy Graham isn’t the threat he once was, but he is definitely still a weapon.
Some good news on the injury-related front for the Eagles, though, is that they will be getting linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill back from injury. He was reportedly looking very good in training camp before suffering an MCL sprain that has sidelined him the first three games as well as most of the preseason. Ronald Darby is set to miss a few weeks with a hamstring injury. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his poor start to his hamstring. Hopefully, he can get back to 2017 form once he is fully healthy.
I’m very nervous for this game. I’m not even sure what my expectations for this game should be. To me, it feels like a must-win, especially with our schedule looking tough over the next seven weeks. But with the way the Eagles have looked the past two weeks, it’s hard for me to see them going up to Lambeau and getting a win on a short week.
For the first time this season, I am predicting the Eagles to lose. Packers 31, Eagles 21. I think the Packers will jump ahead early, and that will cause Pederson to abandon the run game early. As I noted, attempting to beat the Packers defense through the air isn’t the way to win.
Rodgers will have his best performance under LaFleur’s offense, passing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Davante Adams will expose our shaky cornerbacks for over 100 yards. Wentz will be hit a lot, and our running game won’t get the chance to get off the ground.
The fan in me wants me to believe they will win this game because they have to. The analytical side of me tells me there is no way I can justify picking the Eagles to win this game. Prove me wrong, fellas.
Time: 8:20 p.m.
TV: FOX or NFL Network
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass