3 things to watch Sunday against the Eagles
The Packers have scored on their opening drive in five of the past six games with an offense that's been infallible at home. They've outscored Chicago, Carolina and Minnesota by a 98-3 margin in the first half of their past three games at Lambeau Field.
The Packers are averaging a league-best 41.5 points at home, where quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been nearly perfect. Rodgers has thrown his name into MVP consideration with a 140.1 passer rating and 15 touchdowns on his turf. Plus, he hasn't thrown an interception at home since Dec. 2, 2012.
The quick starts have allowed the defense to quickly settle in and the Packers to put away most games during that stretch by halftime. Philadelphia presents a different challenge, though.
Chip Kelly's offense is averaging the fourth-most points (31.0) in the league and fifth in total yards (404.3 yards per game). Like in the Packers' recent home success, the Eagles needed only two quarters to put away Carolina on Monday night with a 31-7 halftime lead. Philadelphia saw something it liked in Mark Sanchez this offseason.
The one-year, $2.25 million contract they gave the former New York Jets quarterback could help save the Eagles' season after losing Nick Foles indefinitely to a broken collarbone. Mike McCarthy and Kelly want to push the tempo and stress each other's defenses. The Eagles are averaging 71.0 plays per game with a quarterback-friendly system, but the Packers' offense is one of the hottest in the NFL. Something needs to give.
The secret is out on Clay Matthews, but Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told Philadelphia reporters this week he believes the Packers and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have more unscouted looks up their sleeve with the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker.
The Packers won't commit to Matthews' shift inside being permanent. They won't even refer to him as an inside linebacker, but his athleticism and sideline-to-sideline speed gave the defense something it sorely lacked at the position.
A.J. Hawk has his limitations, but is the most logical option to keep lining up as the lone inside linebacker in the dime with his knowledge of the defense. With the amount of nickel looks the Packers used against Chicago, you would expect the Packers to keep Matthews inside to counteract the Eagles' no-huddle offense. It's the Packers' best scheme for matching without substitution.
Whatever reservations Matthews had about a switch — his little brother, Casey, said he wasn't crazy about the move — he was the most explosive he's been since breaking his thumb twice during the 2013 season.
His 11 tackles were a career-high and Matthews would've finished with two sacks if his second wasn't negated for contact with Jay Cutler's helmet. He wasn't fined for the play. According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews dropped back into coverage 20 times and rushed the passer 18 times.
In the film room, Capers has taken notice of how quickly the Eagles are operating, running plays every 15 to 20 seconds. If the Packers can carry over their success from Chicago, it should bode well for keeping pace with Philadelphia.
ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH
This game could be won in the trenches with the game-time temperature expected to hover right around the freezing mark. Philadelphia blitzed Cam Newton into oblivion Monday, but that approach typically doesn't work well against Rodgers, who has a 127.4 passer rating when facing the blitz this season.
The key for the Eagles will be the generation of consistent pressure without selling out and deploying extra attackers. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who's second in the NFL with 10 1/2 sacks, is the crown jewel of defensive coordinator Bill Davis' 3-4 scheme.
Starting guards Josh Sitton (toe) and T.J. Lang (ankle) are probable. Their presence will help, but it'll be equally important for tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga to absorb the outside pressure. Defensively, the Packers held the Bears to 55 rushing yards to end their 12-game skid of allowing more than 100 yards on the ground to opposing offenses.
The Eagles traded for Darren Sproles to take some of the burden off LeSean McCoy, who had 366 touches last year. McCoy's production is down, but he's still only 26 and in the prime of his career. They'll need to establish the run against the Packers' 30th-ranked unit.
"I think we always thought we were always capable of playing the run," defensive lineman Josh Boyd said. "We just had to figure out the right way to do it, I guess. We work hard at what we do, our craft, and coaches always put us in the right spot. … Hopefully, we can continue that on."