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What to watch in the Eagles-Packers matchup | Early Birds

Breaking down the biggest matchups and story lines going into the Eagles' Week 13 game at Green Bay.

Quarterbacks coach Press Taylor (left) talks with Eagles QBs Carson Wentz (center) and Jalen Hurts at practice.
Quarterbacks coach Press Taylor (left) talks with Eagles QBs Carson Wentz (center) and Jalen Hurts at practice.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. Congratulations on making it to another Friday. I come with good news: There are only three more Fridays in 2020. Depending on how you feel about this Eagles season, it might be good news to know that we’re five games away from the end of the season, too.

If you’re reading this Friday morning, Doug Pederson will speak with reporters shortly. The team will practice around 1 p.m., and a few players should be available afterward.

If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here​. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @EJSmith94.

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Keys to the game

1. Aaron Rodgers just turned 37, but you wouldn’t guess it when you watch him play. The Packers quarterback has been one of the best in the league this season, leading the NFL with 33 touchdown passes and a 117.6 passer rating. Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who hails from the Mike/Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, has gotten the best out of Rodgers in his second year at the helm in Green Bay. The Eagles beat Rodgers at Lambeau last year, but it’s remarkable just how rare that is. Rodgers is 75-19-1 at home in his career, and the Packers have lost just one game at home this season.

Rodgers still has dynamic arm talent, is excellent at exploiting anything he can pick up pre-snap, and has a track record of gashing teams that try to blitz him. As is the case with most elite quarterbacks, the Eagles’ only real hope is to generate pressure with their front four, but that will be significantly harder if Fletcher Cox can’t play. Cox has missed practice the last two days because of a neck injury. Even if Cox is able to go, Rodgers is getting the ball out in 2.7 seconds per attempt, right around the league average. It’s hard to see many ways the Eagles are going to slow Rodgers, but getting pressure will certainly help.

2. Davante Adams vs. Darius Slay is the matchup to watch in this game. The two have a history of going head-to-head dating all the way to 2014, when Adams was drafted and Slay was with the Detroit Lions. In the last matchup, Adams was targeted seven times with Slay in coverage and managed four catches for 63 yards, although it’s worth noting that Slay was limping for the entire second half after missing some time with an injury.

The Eagles made Slay the fourth-highest-paid cornerback in the league in annual salary over the offseason with the idea that he’d be shadowing and taking away elite receivers, and Adams is one of them. Slay is fresh off surrendering 10 catches for 177 yards to DK Metcalf, and he’ll have a similarly difficult matchup this week presumably without much help from the rest of the secondary.

Underestimating Adams’ ability to wreck a game is unwise, but there’s some reason to believe Slay could have more success against Adams than he did against Metcalf. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, Metcalf is an imposing receiver who pairs explosiveness with raw strength and size. Slay frequently lost at the catch point even when he was in good coverage simply because Metcalf was so imposing. Adams is more of a route-running technician and is around the same height and weight as Slay. There’s also a familiarity there, so it’s possible Slay will have a better chance at living up to his shutdown corner expectations this weekend.

3. It seems Carson Wentz played just well enough to lessen the calls for his job from a deafening roar to a more tolerable roar. Don’t be mistaken: Wentz is still showing concerning regression and making critical mistakes each week, even if his stat line from Monday night’s loss to the Seahawks would suggest an improvement. It’s hard to believe it’s been just 14 months since Wentz outdueled Rodgers at Lambeau and that this 2020 version of Wentz is the same guy.

Wentz made progress in getting the ball out faster against the Seahawks, averaging 2.7 seconds to throw compared to his 2.9-second season average. Wentz got the ball out quickly (less than 2.5 seconds) on half of his dropbacks, the highest percentage of quick throws he’s had all season. Green Bay’s pass defense is ranked 18th, according to Football Outsiders, which is significantly better than the Seahawks’ or Browns’. Still, this could either be the week Wentz turns things around, or be the week Jalen Hurts finally gets a real opportunity to take over.

4. Miles Sanders ran for 72 yards against the Packers last season and was instrumental in the team’s win. This season, he’s yet to fully embrace the featured running back role he was expected to have coming into the season. But it’s not for lack of production. Sanders’ 5.6 yards per carry are second among running backs behind only Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, but Sanders’ touches don’t match that of an elite running back. He’s averaging just 13.5 carries, significantly lower than top backs and, for reference, just three carries more than Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson averages. Could this be the game in which Sanders finally gets consistent and frequent touches?

5. Jim Schwartz put together a solid game plan against the Seahawks, all things considered. His reward? Planning for Green Bay’s high-powered offense on a short week. The Packers offense is ranked second in the NFL by Football Outsiders, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. Earlier in the week, Schwartz sounded tempted to employ a man-coverage-heavy scheme against the Packers, similar to how he approached the Seattle game. But Rodgers has dominated against man coverage this season, going 78-for-128 for 1,038 yards and 22 touchdowns, according to USA Today. If Schwartz sticks with man, it will be interesting to see if the Eagles can fare any better than the rest of the league against Rodgers.

6. The Eagles offensive line might be in store for yet another shuffle Sunday. If Jack Driscoll ends up starting at right tackle, it would be the team’s 11th combination of starters up front in 12 games. Driscoll has been getting reps with Jason Peters in practice and is fully healthy after suffering a knee injury earlier in the season. Driscoll has started two games for the Eagles this season and has played a decent number of snaps in relief of Lane Johnson in two others. If he ends up replacing Matt Pryor at right tackle, a strong performance against the Packers could help solidify his spot as a starter.

On the opposite side, Jordan Mailata played one of his best games to date Monday against the Seahawks. In a season full of disappointment, Mailata’s progression should tentatively be seen as a serious bright spot. Even if he becomes a replacement-level left tackle, getting that type of value out of a former seventh-round draft pick is uncommon.

7. Travis Fulgham and Alshon Jeffery split snaps against the Seahawks. The Eagles’ infatuation with the veteran receiver becomes more confounding by the week, and letting him interfere with the playing time of a promising second-year player such as Fulgham is one of the biggest head-scratchers of the season. Jeffery and Fulgham were each on the field for 50% of the team’s passing plays against Seattle, and it doesn’t sound like that will be changing this weekend based on Doug Pederson’s comments about the matter. Still, at some point, this team will have to get younger, and it could be this weekend.

8. Speaking of younger players, the Eagles’ third safety spot is up for grabs after the team waived Will Parks, who was claimed by the Denver Broncos. His dozen or so snaps will likely be split between Marcus Epps and K’Von Wallace, who shared the role while Parks was injured earlier in the season. Wallace, the team’s fourth-round pick, will be worth watching if he gets extra playing time.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. A few days after Doug Pederson said it was possible he’d give up play-calling duties, Jeff McLane reports that the Eagles head coach already started doing so earlier this season.

  2. Be sure to study up on the ins and outs of the Eagles-Packers matchup with Paul Domowitch’s scouting report.

  3. Still need some game-preview stuff after you finish Domo’s scouting report? We’ve got you covered for your next drive with the Early Birds podcast discussing the game.

  4. With Fletcher Cox and Darius Slay both limited in Thursday’s practice, the Eagles seem to be limping their way into the game against the Packers. Les Bowen has the story.

  5. The Eagles hope a Zach Ertz-Dallas Goedert reunion at tight end will provide a boost for Wentz and the struggling offense, Domo writes.

  6. This Sunday will be Brandon Graham’s 155th game as an Eagle. Bowen writes about the defensive end, who has been a beacon of leadership for the team, especially during this turbulent season.

  7. Thinking of putting some money on the game? Ed Barkowitz offers his insights on the lines going into Sunday.

From the mailbag

What do you think their biggest draft misses have been the last two drafts? Either position based or selection. — from JRB (@jberardi1996) on Twitter

Good question, JRB. The obvious answer is wide receiver. The decisions to pass on DK Metcalf and Justin Jefferson are well-documented and don’t need to be rehashed here. Outside of that, I’d argue the inability to find elite talent on the offensive and defensive lines is just as costly to the team. The Eagles have talent in both position groups. But all the players (Cox, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Jason Kelce) are older than 30, and injuries are starting to mount.

Derek Barnett is a decent starter, but he’s not a game-breaker. Andre Dillard might not even be a starting-level tackle next season. T.J. Watt was drafted 16 picks after Barnett and became one of the best edge rushers in the league with the Steelers. Now, obviously, plenty of teams missed on Watt. But the Eagles haven’t had many picks in the drafts, so misses like that become all the more important. They had their pick of every edge rusher outside of Myles Garrett, and they didn’t get the second-best rusher in the draft.