NFL Preview - Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made the pocket his own personal carving station and will try to slice up the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week and threw six touchdown passes, all in the first half, of Sunday's 55-14 beatdown of the NFC North-rival Chicago Bears. He completed 18-of-27 passes for 315 yards, compiling a 145.8 passer rating, and was not sacked.
"Good win for us. We did a lot of good things on offense. We got into a rhythm early. The key tonight was the offensive line," said Rodgers, who leads the league with 11 completions of 40 yards or more. "I'm not surprised by our performance tonight."
Rodgers, who has 25 TD passes to just three INTs, had four TD passes of 18 or more yards versus the Bears, including a 73-yard strike to red-hot wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Rodgers has led the Packers to a 6-3 record and five wins in the last six tries. Green Bay is only a game behind 7-2 Detroit for the division lead.
The Packers were able to rebound from a 44-23 loss in New Orleans on Oct. 26 and are 4-0 at home. Rodgers has thrown three or more touchdown passes six times this season and has posted a passer rating of 100 or better five times. The former Cal standout has 15 TD passes at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay is 10th in passing yards with 256.4 per game and 12th in total yards (357.8). It is averaging 30.8 points and has scored more than 30 points in each of the first four home games (31, 42, 38, 55). The Packers have outscored their opponents, 166-65, at home this season.
Sunday's game will be the second of four home games over a five-week stretch for Green Bay. Including this week, the Packers will face two teams over the next three games that won their division last season in Philadelphia and New England.
Another key for Green Bay's success is that the team has scored a touchdown on the opening drive in five of the last six games and in each of the previous four. The Packers lead the NFL with 35 points on the first offensive possession and have scored 22 TDs in the first half of games this season to lead the league.
Nelson and Randall Cobb are expected to give the Eagles' defense fits and both are on pace for 1,000-yard seasons. Nelson leads the Packers with 889 yards on 56 receptions, while Cobb has caught 44 passes for 650 yards and a team-high 10 receiving scores. Of the 25 touchdown passes for Rodgers, 18 have landed in the arms of Nelson or Cobb.
The Eagles have been playing well on defense and special teams, and hope that continues Sunday. They are 22nd against the pass, allowing 251.7 yards per game, and cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are in for a tough challenge. The tandem played well in Monday's 45-21 demolition of the Carolina Panthers, who committed five turnovers. Cam Newton threw three INTs, including one that was returned 34 yards for a score by Fletcher.
Philadelphia is facing a different beast in Rodgers and will need over-the-top help from safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen.
"We know what's ahead of us, but our thing is we have to just keep playing our game and doing what we're doing," Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham said. "It's really about us. It's about playing football the way we know we are capable of playing and then we'll see what happens after that."
The Eagles are 19th against the rush and will have to slow down Packers running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy has 300 yards from scrimmage in the last two games and goes against a Philly defense allowing 115.2 rushing yards a game. He hasn't ran for more than 63 yards in each of his past four games.
Philadelphia is allowing 22.0 points and sits 21st in total yards allowed (366.9) and 22nd in passing yards allowed (251.7). It has produced 32.0 sacks this season and 25.0 in the previous five games, including nine Monday.
Linebacker Connor Barwin had 3 1/2 sacks versus the Panthers and leads the NFC with 10 1/2 on the season.
The Eagles, who have won two in a row and four of five games, trail the all- time series with the Packers, 26-16. Philadelphia ended a three-game losing streak in this matchup with last season's 27-13 win at Lambeau Field on Nov. 10. Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper had 102 yards and two TDs.
Philly is 6-3 in the last nine games in this series, including the playoffs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Eagles are first in the NFC East with a 7-2 record, just ahead of the idle Dallas Cowboys (7-3).
Rodgers isn't the only quarterback under the spotlight, as Mark Sanchez will make his second start in as many weeks for the injured Nick Foles (clavicle). Sanchez made his Eagles debut versus the Panthers and was impressive, passing for 332 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Sanchez said it was good to get back under center and is happy to be in head coach Chip Kelly's system. The Panthers shut down Philly's run game and forced Sanchez to beat them. He did convincingly and strengthened his rapport with rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who caught seven passes (9 targets) for 138 yards and two TDs.
"Jordan finds a way to get open," Sanchez said. "Jordan had a heck of a night."
Veteran tight end Brent Celek made an appearance with five catches for 116 yards, while leading receiver Jeremy Maclin was held to 38 yards on three catches. Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said the key to stopping Philadelphia is stopping Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy. Maclin still has 828 yards and eight TDs on 48 receptions, and owns four touchdown catches in the past two on the road.
Look for Maclin, Matthews, Cooper and perhaps tight end Zach Ertz taking turns against Green Bay's defense, which is ninth against the pass (229.1 ypg), 23rd in total yards (371.7 ypg) and 30th against the run (142.6 ypg). McCoy was held to only 19 yards on 12 carries Monday and had at least 80 yards, including two 100-yard efforts, in the previous four games.
Darren Sproles is another weapon for the Eagles and is the reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Sproles can help the Eagles offense set up in decent territory Sunday and gives them a change-of-pace back.
"You can't look ahead and we're not doing that," Celek said. "Beating Carolina was just a step. Now we have a short week to prepare for Green Bay. We need to get our bodies back and play our best football to beat the Packers. They're a great team. It's going to be a fun atmosphere on Sunday. I think everybody is excited about it."
Green Bay's defense has played extremely well and has given up 17 points or less in each of the last three home games (14, 17, 10). The Eagles are averaging 31.0 points this season and will have to protect Sanchez from the likes of Green Bay defensive stalwarts Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews.
Peppers leads the Packers with five sacks and Matthews is second with 3 1/2. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been moving Matthews around in order to challenge opposing offenses. Matthews will face his brother, Casey, again at Lambeau Field.
"We try not to treat the situation any bigger than it is," Casey said. "We just need to treat it like any other game week."
The Packers are stingy against the pass, which could lure the Eagles right into their hands. Green Bay has outscored opponents at home 114-24 in the first half this season.
Sunday's game could effect the way the NFC playoffs unfold. Both the Eagles and Packers are battling for a division title and are the cream of the conference thus far.
Rodgers is on top of his game and is the best QB in the NFC.
Kelly expressed that sentiment.
"That's the huge challenge," Kelly said of facing Rodgers. "I think, I said it to our guys yesterday, I think he's playing as good as any quarterback in the league right now, and probably the best quarterback in the league right now. He's on top of his game. It doesn't seem like you can fool him. He's always kind of a play ahead, a step ahead of defense and defensive coordinators. He always seems to find the open receiver, no matter how it kind of unveils itself pre-snap. He's extremely accurate, as good a thrower as there is in this league. He can keep things alive because he's such a good athlete. It's an exciting challenge for us to go against the best."
For how well the Eagles have been playing in recent weeks, they're going to take one on the chin at Lambeau Field.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 41, Eagles 21
11/13 14:18:34 ET