Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia, PA, Lincoln Financial Field
Sunday, January 9, 2011 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Laying the scene
This game is a rematch of the Week 1 matchup that saw Michael Vick's career resurgence start when presumed starter Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game. Vick got better and better with each game he played, and expectations in Philadelphia quickly went from that of a rebuilding year, to Super Bowl contention. This game is important for Michael Vick to bounce back from his struggles against the blitz the past few weeks, or the offseason will be filled with television personalities saying Vick has faded back to his poor play of his Atlanta days. For the Packers, winning this game and making a serious playoff run will make a big statement, as the Packers had a Super Bowl-level roster but were derailed by countless injuries to key players.
What Philadelphia has to do to win
The offensive line absolutely has to play better than it has. For the second year in a row, the Eagles' offensive line has had issues with communication and protection towards the end of the year. If the line can protect and adjust to Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers' creative blitzes, then the Eagles' skill position players will be in much better position to make plays and tale the game over. Vick, for his part, has to read the blitzes pre-snap and adjust protection schemes to give himself more time in the pocket. In reality, you should want Vick to hand off the football most of the time in this game. Not only is Vick coming off of a quadriceps injury that could greatly hinder his mobility and ability to plant his feet, but the Packers have shown against the Patriots that they are vulnerable to the run when the offense spreads the field.
On defense, the Eagles should go back to the double A-gap blitz look that late defensive coordinator Jim Johnson made famous. This look involves two linebackers creeping up to the line of scrimmage on either side of the center, threatening to blitz. Even if the Eagles don't blitz from this formation, the offense has to audible into a play with shorter routes just in case they do blitz, so it keeps the Packers from attacking the entire field. Also, because the Eagles have athletic defensive ends who can drop back into coverage in the flats if necessary, they can use the double A-gap blitz look to confuse Aaron Rodgers and keep him from knowing ahead of time who's rushing him and who's dropping into coverage. They also need to be aware that Aaron Rodgers is capable of running for a first down with ease if none of his receivers are open, and so they should adjust their defensive schemes accordingly. This means using zone coverage, so that the receivers aren't turning their backs to Rodgers in man-to-man coverage.
What Green Bay has to do to win
Slowing Michael Vick down, while much easier said than done, is definitely doable. The most obvious solution is to blitz a defensive back from Vick's left side, so that he has to run to his right and can't throw without turning his hips and slowing down. Because it's the most obvious solution, the Eagles will be as prepared as possible for it, so sticking to that one strategy alone will not suffice. Like the Eagles, The Packers will have to play a lot of zone coverage, because if they play man-to-man, their opponent's quarterback will hurt them on the ground. One other solution would be to sprinkle in some plays that have zone coverage Vick's left side, and man coverage on his right side. That way, he'll see zone coverage in front of him, and if he tries to throw the football to the other side of the field, he'll think he's throwing into a gap between the zones. While risky, if this strategy were to work, it would pay off big dividends, including possible turnovers. On offense, the Packers are going to want to spread the field, but they have to be cautious because the Eagles' pass rush is dangerous. If they use their empty-backfield sets that they usually employ to success, they will need one or two of their receivers to be running short routes that lead to easy completions, so that they can bail Rodgers out if he is under duress.
Warning to gamblers: I picked all four Wild Card games incorrectly last year and quit picking for the rest of the postseason, so don't bet your life savings on my predictions. With that being said, I'm going to go with the theme of picking teams with the least off-field distractions to win. Michael Vick, regardless of his level of play, has been a distraction because of the nature of both his crimes and his comeback. With Vick struggling in recent weeks, he's come under even more media scrutiny, and the fact that there is a talented backup waiting in the wings only adds to the speculation regarding whether Vick can or should play this week. From a schematic standpoint, this game will be am intriguing chess match between Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. - Hank Koebler,IV
Hank Koebler, IV is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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