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Q+A With Eagles Examiner Gordie Jones

In preparation for the Packers-Eagles contest Sunday afternoon, I asked Philadelphia Eagles Examiner Gordie Jones five questions about the Eagles. Questions he asked me about the Packers can be found here. Here are his responses.

1. No one denies Michael Vick has had an MVP-worthy season in 2010, but is there any credibility to Andy Reid’s comments that he would consider pulling him if he fails to perform early?

I can’t believe he would ever do that. Kevin Kolb, who began the season as the starter, is a worthy backup. But I can’t envision a scenario (other than injury) under which Reid would pull the plug on the Michael Vick Experience at this point.

2. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems LeSean McCoy can get buried underneath the press and headlines Michael Vick and the Eagles’ high-octane pass attack gets. However, his split stats in wins and losses are extremely telling. Despite Vick’s prowess on the field, is it fair to say McCoy is the engine that makes the Eagles’ offense go?

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January 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet The Eagles’ Offense And How To (Attempt To) Stop Them

Being ranked as the top offense in the NFC is no easy task, especially with teams like the Packers, Saints, and Giants involved. But that’s exactly what Michael Vick and the rest of the Eagles’ high-powered offense have done this season, amassing 6,320 yards of offense in 2010. They ranked fifth in total offense through the air and led the NFC on the ground, and with Michael Vick in the lineup a serious argument could be made for them as the top offense in the conference.

The Packers’ defense, which has performed admirably despite handfuls of injuries to key players, will have its hands full trying to shut down Vick and the rest of the offense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have had a full week plus 17 weeks on game film to plan for Vick, something he didn’t have when Vick entered the Week 1 matchup against the Packers.

Here’s a look at the Eagles’ skill position players and how the Packers will have to go about shutting them down.

Quarterback Michael Vick

Anyone who has seen Vick play this season, and by now that should be just about everyone, knows how dynamic and game-changing he can be. One play he will bullet a pass down the field for a 50-yard gain and the next he’ll scramble for 20 more. Just when defenders think they have him in their grasp, he uses his sneaky strength and unparralled agility to escape pressure.

A three or four-man rush will not get the job done against Vick because it allows too much time for his receivers (and defenders) to get downfield, allowing him to find an open man or scramble for big yards. Luckily for the Packers, blitzing has been one of its strong suits in 2010. They led the NFC in sacks and, behind linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and cornerback Charles Woodson, can and will bring pressure from everywhere on the field.

Another added bonus for the Packers is the expected return of defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has missed the last four games with a nagging calf injury. He has tallied seven sacks on the season and will be a key pass rusher on the outside in both pressuring and containing Vick. Keeping Vick inside the hashmarks on passing downs with outside pressure and blitzes will be more effective than rushing up the middle, allowing Vick to move outside the pocket.

Through the air, Vick likes to take chances. His 8.11 yards per attempt ranks second in the NFC, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, so pressuring Vick and not allowing his receivers a chance to get downfield will keep him in check. He struggles with short passes because of his throwing motion and inaccuracy. Expect blitzes early and often to throw Vick’s timing.

Running Back LeSeasn McCoy

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January 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers Rout Giants 45-17, One Win Away from Playoffs: Game Balls

Anyone who thought the Packers did not look like a legitimate playoff team the last two weeks can quietly sit down. After disappointing losses to the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots, the Packers rebounded in a huge way by destroying the New York Giants 45-17 at Lambeau Field. The win put the Packers at 9-6 and one win away from a playoff berth. Here are game balls for performances in the Packers’ impressive win Sunday afternoon.

Aaron Rodgers: Returning from his one and a half game absence, Rodgers was nearly perfect. He passed for a regular season career-high 404 yards and threw four touchdowns to four different receivers in the win. He also scrambled twice for 26 yards, including a 15-yard run which he finished with a slide, being greeted by loud cheers from the Green Bay crowd. With one game to play, Rodgers needs 307 yards and three touchdown passes to finish with 4,000 yards and 30 TDs. Not too shabby.

John Kuhn: Dubbed the “folk hero” by many after yesterday’s performance, Kuhn finished with three touchdowns (two on the ground, one through the air) to help the Packers’ explosion on offense. In the past two games, 11 of Kuhn’s 17 touches have resulted in a first down or touchdown. He is a vital part of the offense and proved it Sunday, moving the chains and finding the endzone with ease. With Korey Hall out next week with a knee sprain, he will be that much more important.

Packers’ Secondary:

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December 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers’ Playoff Hopes Still Alive, But on Life Support

Let’s take a look at the playoff picture in the NFC and how it’s all shaping up for the Packers. Obviously the loss to the Lions hurts in the ever-so-tight NFC, but the fact that it was a division (and conference) game makes it sting that much worse. The Packers now sit at 8-5 and are at the bottom of what now looks to be a race between threes teams for one spot in the playoffs.

Beginning in the NFC South, the Falcons took care of business over the Panthers to move to an NFC-best 11-2, the Saints got a big win over the Rams to get to 10 wins, and the Buccaneers hung on and used a last-second blunder by the Redskins to improve to 8-5. It’s almost a certainty that two teams will come out of this ultra-competitive division, with the Falcons and Saints fighting for the division spot and the other, most likely the Saints at this point, with a firm grasp on a wildcard spot. The Buccaneers are fighting a few key injuries on defense and did not look impressive, but 8-5 currently has them ahead of the Packers and one Giants loss tomorrow night from being in the playoff picture.

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December 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Packers-Cardinals: Q+A With Examiner Scott Jones

To gain some insight for the Packers’ upcoming game against the Cardinals in round one of the NFL Playoffs, I caught up with Cardinals Examiner Scott Jones.  I asked him five questions regarding his team, and these were his responses:

Mark Strotman: The injury bug has hit the Cardinals hard as of late. If Anquan Boldin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Calais Campbell can not go, who fills in and how much of a dropoff is it at each spot?

Scott Jones: Boldin’s injury is generating the most attention, but the Cardinals have fared very well in games when he has not played. In fact, since 2008, the Cardinals are 5-1 without him in the lineup (that includes one playoff game last season). Of course with Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup, Kurt Warner does have other options. In those six games since 2008 when Boldin didn’t play, Fitzgerald has totaled 651 yards and nine TDs on 37 receptions. He has recorded 100+ receiving yards in each of the last four games he has played without Boldin.

Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not practice Wednesday and his status is uncertain. The second-year cornerback is a major force in the Cardinals defense and in his potential absence, Michael Adams will be asked to step up. Adams has one interception this season compared to six from Rodgers-Cromartie. My sense is that if there’s any way DRC (as the team has nicknamed him) will go, he’ll be out there.

MS: The Packers have trouble with mobile quarterbacks but have feasted on pocket passers. How much faith do you have in your offensive line and Kurt Warner to fend off Clay Matthews and the Packers’ rush?

SJ: Kurt Warner isn’t exactly the most mobile quarterback in the league for sure. However, he’s a savvy veteran who can read defenses quickly and get the ball to the open receivers despite a heavy pass rush. The Cardinals have only given up 26 sacks the entire season (the Packers gave up 51 by comparison), so barring injury to an offensive lineman, Warner should have time to throw.

The emergence of the Cardinals ground game in the second half of the season will take some of the pressure off Warner – but not completely. I’d watch for swing passes out of the backfield to both Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells.

MS: Who would the Packers be wise to key on in the backfield this Sunday, Beanie Wells on the ground or Tim Hightower in the backfield?

The health of Anquan Boldin will be key for the Cards passing attack, but not as important as you might think. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SJ: As I just mentioned, a growing wrinkle in the Cardinals offense is the delayed screen and toss to either Hightower or Wells coming out of the backfield. A little known Arizona stat is that Hightower was the team’s leading receiver through the first two weeks of the season. Wells runs with an attitude and can literally run over defenders. The Cardinals typically mix both backs into the game depending on the situation. The team’s long-range plans obviously center around Wells, who led the team with 793 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns. Hightower, who burst onto the scene last season, actually led the team with eight rushing touchdowns.

The key to the Cardinals rushing attack is that they hold onto the ball. Both Hightower and Wells have had their trouble keeping a handle on the football. The Cardinals have long sought a sustained ground game to match the high-voltage passing attack. Should Arizona get a lead, watch for a steady dose of both Wells and Hightower.

MS: Defensively, the Cardinals played as vanilla as they could. Will they come after Aaron Rodgers on Sunday against an average offensive line or drop 7 or 8 men into coverage to try and stop the passing attack?

SJ: The Cardinals have developed a strong pass rush, logging 42 sacks as a team. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett tied for the team lead with seven sacks (with Calais Campbell) and Bertrand Berry had six. The key to this game will be how much pressure they put on Aaron Rodgers. If they give him too much time to throw, he knows how to find the open receivers.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis does like to gamble and bring safety Adrian Wilson up the middle. Wilson has two sacks, picked off five passes and recovered a pair of fumbles this season. If Rodgers-Cromartie is able to play, it frees Wilson (who will be playing in his second straight Pro Bowl later this month) to wreck havoc on the Packers offensive line.

MS: Ken Whisenhunt was clearly upset by the Packers supposedly “running up the score” on the Cardinals. He also took some offense to the Packers game-planning in the pre-season. Knowing Whisenhunt, was he actually upset about this or just looking for a rallying cry for his team to build off of?

SJ: Some would say that he deserved what he got by not playing his starters longer. But, since there was no advantage to playing everyone AND after watching Rodgers-Cromartie carted off the field on the third play of the game, most Cardinal watchers are enjoying watching Whisenhunt’s “chess game” with Packers’ Coach Mike McCarthy.

Whisenhunt knows his team. They typically respond very well following losses, especially blow-outs. They certainly learned some things about the Packers last weekend and likely will come out very prepared not to be embarrassed at home for a second straight week.

MS: Prediction of the game?

SJ: Recent history has shown the Cardinals to be a hard team to predict. You expect them to pass and they run. When they should run, they pass. This game will come down to two key questions:

1) Do the Cardinals get a decent pass rush on Aaron Rodgers? If they don’t, he’ll pick the depleted Arizona secondary apart and a repeat of last Sunday is likely.
2) Can the Cardinals generate and hold a lead? Boldin’s potential absence could have a modest effect on third downs, but if Beanie Wells steps up and helps the Cardinals control the clock, they could surprise some people.

January 7, 2010 Posted by | Football, NFL | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NFC Wildcard Update: Packers Cheering For Philly From Here on Out

The Packers increased their 2009 playoff chances in a big way by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 27-14 last night.  In Green Bay’s second true test from the AFC, their top-ranked defense stifled Ray Rice and Joe Flacco while Aaron Rodgers passed for 263 yards and three touchdowns.  The win pushed the Packers to 8-4 and they currently own the sixth seed in the NFC if the season were to end to day.

While the Falcons stumbled in a big game against the Eagles, the Giants, in a do-or-die situation, defeated the division leading Cowboys at home and kept their playoff hopes alive.  The division leaders outside of the NFC East continue to gain ground on second place, with the Saints clinching the South last weekend.  In addition, the Vikings’ magic number is two over the Packers and the Cardinals hold a three game lead over the 49ers with four games to play.

Due to a Week Nine victory in Philadelphia, the Cowboys hold a tie-breaker over the Eagles for the lead in the NFC East at 8-4, with the Giants sitting just one game out at 7-5.  The Falcons are 6-6 but reeling fast so, for now, they will not be in the playoff discussion.

So the question for Packers fans is who to cheer for the rest of the way?

The Philadelphia Eagles have put together a fantastic season and have themselves in great position to take a Wildcard spot this year.  Their 8-4 record has them tied for first place but more important is their 7-2 conference record, which gives them the first tie-breaker advantage after head-to-head match-ups.  The Eagles have away games at the Giants and Cowboys left on the schedule and home meetings with the 49ers and Broncos sandwiched in between.

If the Eagles can defeat the Giants next week and the Packers take care of business in Chicago, the Giants would be two games out of the last Wildcard spot with three games to go and also have a lackluster 5-4 conference record, meaning their shot at the playoffs would be all but over.  Just as it was for the Falcons last week, the Packers would love to see borderline teams lose and fall out of the playoff race.  Once this happens, the Packers can focus on moving into the fifth spot instead of wondering if they will get in.

Another factor that comes in cheering for the Eagles is the hope that they can catch the Cowboys in the NFC East and move Dallas into a Wildcard spot.  The Packers’ head-t0-head victory against the Cowboys in Week 10 puts them ahead of them in any situation, assuming their records are the same.  Not only would this help the Packers make the playoffs, but they would move up to the five seed, giving them a slight chance of avoiding the Saints at home.

So now that we know what we want to happen, what is likely to happen?

Looking at the Packers remaining schedule, it seems they could start Matt Flynn and at least go 2-2.  While the rivalry between the Bears and Packers allows for anything to happen on a given Sunday, the two teams are headed in opposite directions and it should be a win for Green Bay.  Seattle is not a pushover but their 1-5 record outside of Seattle suggests that a snowy Lambeau Field will be rough going for Jim Mora and company.  Even the Steelers are looking very beatable right now, especially if Troy Polomalu is still out when the two teams meet in Week 15.

One team the Packers are sure to watch are the Cardinals, who sit at 8-4 and have a very favorable schedule remaining.  While their NFC West crown is all but theirs, beating out the NFC East Division Champ would ensure the third spot in the playoffs and a guarantee of  missing the Saints in the Divisional Round.  After playing the 49ers this week they play back-to-back games against the Lions and Rams, meaning 11 wins would almost be a given if they can take down San Francisco.

With three NFC East inter-division games still to be played, 11 wins should wrap up the third seed for the Cardinals, meaning their Week 17 game against the Packers would have no meaning.  With the Eagles playing the Cowboys and the Cardinals playing the Packers in Week 17, there’s a chance those same match-ups occur that next week in the first round of the playoffs.

The Giants could make things very interesting if they beat the Eagles next Sunday night.  With the Redskins and Panthers still left on the schedule, they have the potential to get to 10 wins in the next three weeks.  They then play the Vikings in Week 17 who would be playing for nothing and would more than likely rest their starters.  However, the Giants’ aforementioned conference record of 5-3 means a loss to the Eagles would basically take them out of  theplayoff equation.

The Cowboys have the toughest schedule remaining of any team in the NFC with home matchups against the Chargers and Eagles and a trip to New Orleans.  Even a road game against Washington looks a little more difficult than it did a month ago.  Because the Giants have defeated the Cowboys twice, there is an outside chance they can leapfrog Dallas for the last spot.

Packers fans should hope the Cardinals win their next three games while the NFC East opponents beat up on each other the rest of the way.  Where it stands right now, it looks like ten wins should get the Packers into the playoffs.  Looking at the schedule, that is a very reasonable goal and one that could be obtained before the last week of the season.

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Dallas Cowboys, Football, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles | , , , | Leave a comment