Preview: Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles

This might be my least favorite preview to write of the season because I haven't seen either the Green Bay Packers or the Philadelphia Eagles yet in a regular season game. And I haven't seen one particular player yet either.

QB Kevin Kolb.

I've never watched him closely in a game, and I'm not even sure what to expect. With only 130 career pass attempts, there hasn't been any pattern established. I'm not sure if he'll be Captain Checkdown, as he's done in some games, or whether he'll be looking to go deep. During a regular season game in 2008, he had 23 pass attempts for only 73 yards (3.2/attempt) which is similar to his performances in 2009 against the Panthers, and this preseason against the Chiefs. However, in his two 2009 starts, he opened it up and attempted 85 passes for 718 yards (8.5/attempt). Jason over at Bleeding Green Nation doesn't "think the offense will change that much." I think I'll stick with that assumption too.

According to the Journal-Sentinel, both teams are coming into the game in good health, so injuries should not be a factor. I'll take a closer look at their offense and defense based on their 2009 season.

Eagles pass defense. The official 2009 NFL stats only rank them 17th overall based on yardage, but they were 4th overall with 25 INTs and tied for 3rd with 44 sacks. They only helped themselves by adding 1st round pick DE Brandon Graham, who's looked good this preseason, to improve their pass rush. They've also added 2nd round pick FS Nate Allen so they don't have to rely on former starting FS Macho Harris anymore, and they've gone so far as to release Harris. However they traded away top cover CB Sheldon Brown. Now former Patriots CB Ellis Hobbs is set to start in place of Brown. Although Hobbs started 32 straight games for the Patriots from 2007-2008, he only appeared in 8 games last season for the Eagles. While I expect QB Aaron Rodgers will throw for around 250 yards with 2 TDs, the Eagles aggressive coverage style and blitzing pass rush could force an INT or two.

Eagles run defense. While they are not an elite run defense, they squeaked into the Top 10 at No. 9 overall in the official 2009 NFL stats. DT Mike Patterson and DT Brodrick Bunkley are a solid duo inside, but the rest of the front seven is in a little flux because of the addition of Graham, the trade for ex-Lion LB Ernie Sims, and the move of LB Akeem Jordan over to the strong side. RB Ryan Grant will never be the focal point of the offense, but he could be productive if the Eagles over-commit to stopping the pass.

Eagles pass offense. Assuming Kolb is at least as good as QB Donovan McNabb, the 10th best passing offense in 2009 (according to NFL.com) should once again be potent. If the Cardinals can run through the Packers pass defense like a buzz saw during the playoffs, the Eagles can do it too. Their big play weapon WR DeSean Jackson returns, and WR Jeremy Maclin should be better with his rookie season now behind him. After Kolb, the next significant question will be the play of C Jamaal Jackson and LG Todd Herremans because only Herremans played at all during the preseason as they rehabbed from injuries. If the Packers can bring a consistent pass rush up the middle, the Eagles offense will struggle to go anywhere.

Eagles run offense. Andy Reid's aversion to the run is legendary, so this isn't really a key to their offensive game plan. RB LeSean McCoy takes over as the starting running back, after the departure of long time veteran RB Brian Westbrook, and like Maclin, McCoy too should improve in his second season. One other note is that Kolb is not a mobile QB. He's only "ran" for -1 yard in his NFL career. While McNabb is not the mobile QB he once was, his 140 yards rushing in 2009 will not be replaced by Kolb this season. The great Packers run defense of 2009 returns nearly intact in 2010, and I don't expect the Eagles will test it much.

I'm comparing this matchup to the Ravens at Packers in 2009. While the Ravens offense and defense are about as good as the Eagles, the Packers played the Ravens during a night game in December which was a lot colder than the game on Sunday will be in Philadelphia. I wouldn't expect both QBs to struggle this Sunday like Rodgers and QB Joe Flacco did in the cold. The Eagles only lost twice at home in 2009, but they played in a lot of close games. I'll expect this game to stay close too: Packers 21, Eagles 17. 

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