Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Bowen: Birds and Packers enter game in same boat

A LOT HAS been said and written over the past week about how Monday night's Eagles-Packers game might trigger a string of victories that would revive playoff hopes.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.Read more(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

A LOT HAS been said and written over the past week about how Monday night's Eagles-Packers game might trigger a string of victories that would revive playoff hopes.

The thing is, those things have been said and written in both markets.

Eagles fans are looking at this game as their team's best chance to catch its breath for the stretch drive, which probably says more about the schedule the Birds have endured than the reality of the task at hand. Scroll back two or three months, when nobody knew any of the twists and turns ahead, and ask yourself: Was Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay coming to town in November being viewed as a cinch, a sure "W"? I don't recall that.

Packers fans, meanwhile, haven't seen their 4-6 team compile a losing season or miss the playoffs since 2008. They see the Eagles as you see the Packers - a chance for their pretty good team that has endured some tough losses to win a conference game and get some momentum behind it as it heads down the stretch.

In comparison to playing at Seattle last week, sure, this is a winnable game for the Birds. The Packers have lost four in a row, and five of six since a 4-2 start. The Eagles haven't played a team with a losing record since then-1-3 Detroit, back on Oct. 9. Think about that a minute. Six games in a row against teams with winning records. How often does that happen? And with the entire NFC East vying for the playoffs, is this the sort of thing we're going to have to come to expect?

But this also is true - the Eagles have lost three of four, and five of seven since their 3-0 start. They haven't scored more than 24 points in a game since Sept. 25, against the Steelers. There is an excellent chance they will need to score more than that Monday night; Green Bay has averaged 26.75 during its four-game losing streak.

Rodgers' 25 touchdown passes ranked him second only to New Orleans' Drew Brees, who had 26, entering this week's games.

"I feel like we can run the table," Rodgers said this week. "I really do. The offense is starting to click a little bit more. We've just got to get together a game where we're more consistent from the first snap to the last. We've been, I think, getting closer to that. We've really been clicking at times in the past few games."

"For us, it's no break" going from Russell Wilson to Rodgers, Eagles middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "The moment we let up and slip up, that's when big plays start to happen . . . You can never let down on him."

The Eagles are favored for a couple of reasons. One is their 4-0 home record, games in which they have outscored opponents by 108-38. Another is Green Bay's battered defense, which has been especially affected by injuries in the secondary. The Packers have given up 38.25 points a game during their loss streak, including 89 over the past two weeks, at Tennessee and at Washington.

The Eagles' offense will be missing running back Ryan Mathews (knee), who could be sidelined for more than just this week, and right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee), who should miss about a month. We don't know how effective running back/returner Darren Sproles can be with a broken rib.

This game ought to tell us whether the Eagles' lack of weapons is going to derail their playoff hopes, or if they can scrounge up enough offense to stay alive heading into another winnable game, next Sunday at Cincinnati.

The Eagles think they can hang their hat on a defense that hasn't allowed more than 15 points in a home game, that is giving up an average of 9.5 points in those games.

It's worth pondering why, if these guys are so good, that sort of thing never happens on the road, where the Eagles go next week, and where they have lost five in a row, in which they have given up an average of 26.8 points.

"I don't think it's anything teams are doing, it's just how we're playing," Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said this week. He contrasted two times when his team's offense turned the ball over twice very early - the home game against the Vikings and the away game against the Giants. The Vikings got no points, the Giants got 14. Of course, that might say as much about the capabilities of those respective offenses. To McLeod, it was more about making fatal coverage errors at the Giants that the Eagles didn't make at home against the Vikings.

"I really feel like ultimately, it's up to us," McLeod said.

In general, the Eagles have tended to fall behind early on the road and get a lead early at home - sometimes more because of things the offense has done, sometimes more because of the defense.

Hicks said the Eagles are a young team that is maturing. He pointed to "three or four plays" that have made the difference in each road game.

"Obviously, on defense, we feed off our crowd," he said. "There's nothing like playing in the Linc . . . Our offense executes better with less crowd noise, and we execute better with more crowd noise."

The Eagles' defense has 15 sacks in four home games, 11 in six road games. Carson Wentz has been sacked only twice at home, vs. 15 times on the road.

"When you're rushing the passer, that extra get-off means a lot," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "I think it also limits the opponent's ability to audible easily, becomes more hand signals."