Rodgers punishes Eagles in signature win
This was not like blowing out the Chicago Bears or Carolina Panthers or Minnesota Vikings.
This was a Philadelphia Eagles team that came into Lambeau Field on Sunday with a 7-2 record.
Yes, you have to take into account the Eagles were playing with a backup quarterback in Mark Sanchez, who on Sunday looked more like the guy who bombed out with the New York Jets than the one who led the Eagles to wins the past two weeks.
But while injured starter Nick Foles is better than Sanchez, it's not like he was a top-10 quarterback in the league, maybe not even top-15, before he sustained a broken collarbone two weeks ago.
No, these Eagles were winning more because of their skill-position talent and coach Chip Kelly's quarterback-friendly system. But the result Sunday was no different than the Green Bay Packers' recent home wins over the Bears (55-14 last week), Panthers (38-17 on Oct. 19) and Vikings (42-10 on Oct. 2). Like those games, this 53-20 win basically was over by halftime.
There's still more than a third of the regular season to play, and winning games in November doesn't necessarily help a team in January — just ask the 2011 Packers about that. But it's hard to ignore the decisive nature of the Packers' recent wins, the dominant play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and a defense that might have gained new life with the recent move of Clay Matthews to an inside linebacker position that probably can more accurately be called a rover.
"It's great to see now especially," Matthews said, "because we talk about separating and really playing our best football in these November and December months. Coming off the bye week, we've strung together two impressive victories. So we have to keep this thing going."
The caveat from this game is Sanchez, whose issues with throwing accuracy were apparent. He was a liability Sunday, and his 346 passing yards meant nothing in a game that was out of reach by halftime. Foles is the better player, though as his 27th-ranked passer rating (78.6) suggests, his 2014 season has been a disappointment after his promising play last year (27 touchdown passes, two interceptions). Defensive coordinators have figured out some things, and his response was only OK at best.
Regardless of that caveat, when a team has a quarterback playing at Rodgers' level, all possibilities for the 7-3 Packers are open. In the seven games since coach Mike McCarthy came out with a heavy throw-first mindset against Chicago in the teams' first meeting in Week 4, Rodgers' rating is an off-the-charts 134.2.
By Monday morning, it won't be a surprise at all if the Las Vegas oddsmakers give him the best chances of winning the NFL's MVP award.
"He was as advertised," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "He's playing as good as anybody in the league."
The unusual thing in this game is that the Eagles often played only a single safety deep, which is the kind of coverage Rodgers and the Packers have eviscerated going back to 2011. Most teams instead have opted for a two-deep shell to take away the big play and make Rodgers beat them throwing underneath and with the run game.
But the Eagles have been playing that one-deep coverage all season, and it's allowed defensive coordinator Bill Davis to send extra rushers and zone blitzes for a defense that came into the game tied for No. 12 in the league in points allowed. But that coverage also regularly gave the Packers one-on-one matchups with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
Davis no doubt knew that Rodgers historically has been good against the blitz and the one-high safety look. But he wasn't going to change his defense's aggressive identity.
"You cannot let them scare you out of bringing any pressure," Davis said after the game. "You've got to make the pressure get there, and you have to cover behind it. We didn't get it done today on either."
Rodgers punished the Eagles by hitting on almost every shot he took against the single-safety look.
On the game's third play, Nelson ran past Bradley Fletcher's single coverage for a 64-yard catch that set up a field goal. In the second quarter, Nelson beat Fletcher's press coverage for a 27-yard touchdown. Later in the second quarter, Nelson drew a pass-interference call on Fletcher in the end zone on a similar play that set up another score. Nelson dropped what would have been a big play on the first snap of the third quarter.
"That's when we're in a great situation to win," Nelson said of the single-high look.
Said Davis: "Aaron Rodgers is on fire right now. We gave him our best shot and it wasn't close to good enough today."
The Packers also seem to be a different defense with Matthews playing mostly at inside linebacker, though even in that role he's liable to line up almost anywhere near the line of scrimmage. Like last week in his debut there, he made a greater impact than he had been at outside linebacker.
Matthews finished Sunday with five tackles, including a third-down sack that forced the Eagles to kick a field goal, plus a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. Matthews might prefer to rush the passer every snap, and he might not like the idea of being called an inside linebacker, even if that only partially describes his role as a run stopper, blitzer and cover man.
The Eagles finished with 429 yards and 20 points, but most of both came in garbage time.
"Obviously around here it's about winning division titles," Rodgers said, "getting a home playoff game and taking care of that advantage that we have here at home with the weather, with the way the weather affects the football and the footing. We seem to do a good job in these conditions. So we need to have a home playoff game, and it starts with winning your division."