On Monday, the Green Bay Packers face their second NFC East opponent in as many weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles. Adam Hermann of Bleeding Green Nation was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Eagles and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Carson Wentz started the year off as well as any rookie quarterback not named Dak Prescott, but he has since cooled off. What do you make of his season so far, and what do you expect from him on Sunday?
Wentz is essentially doing the best he can with the woeful talent around him. His receiving corps is quite possibly the worst in the league. He’s been missing his starting right tackle since Week 5, and now he’s missing the backup right tackle.
As a reaction to the minimal level of talent surrounding Wentz, Pederson has decided to reign his rookie quarterback in and guided his game towards a more conservative approach over the last few weeks. Wentz’s mistakes — interceptions, balls held on to for too long, etc. — have increased as the game plan has made the Eagles’ offense more predictable.
He’s still had his fair share of solid games since that hot start, though.
Against Atlanta, Wentz completed 70 percent of his passes for 231 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown because his guys couldn’t manage enough separation. But he didn’t throw an interception, the run game worked, and the Eagles won.
Right now, Wentz is making a few more mistakes than he was early in the season, but it certainly doesn’t help that he was short his two lead running backs for the majority of the Seattle game. A season of playing with no help on the outside is catching up to him. He needs to be smarter in certain situations, but there’s only so much he can do.
APC: While Wentz understandably garners most of the attention, the Eagles have another important first-timer -- head coach Doug Pederson. Through 11 weeks, how do you evaluate Pederson's performance and where does he still have room to grow?
Pederson’s had an interesting first year as a coach. He was given a rookie as his starting quarterback a week before the season, he lost his starting right tackle for 10 games, and his organization released a wide receiver after he was arrested for speeding while in possession of a gun and marijuana.
It’s been quite a start to the Pederson era.
As an avowed Andy Reid disciple, he has plenty of shortcomings that need refined. His clock management and timeout usage are both still subject to scrutiny, and his management of the Eagles’ offense oscillates between efficient and infuriating.
But he’s devised an offense which both lets Wentz use his tools, and also protects him from a bevy of mistakes. He’s earned the respect of his entire locker room through empathy rather than shock and awe, like the team’s last head coach, a strategy which seems eminently more sustainable in the long haul.
And he’s won five of his first 10 games, which is more than was expected of him with an entirely new staff and a rookie quarterback under center. All things considered, he’s been better than most Eagles fans expected.
APC: The Eagles have one of the better defenses in the league after struggling in that department for several years. How much of the credit goes to new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and how much goes to the development of the personnel?
There’s plenty of applause to go around.
Schwartz certainly deserves a good bit of credit. By implementing a system that avoids blitzing on an obscene amount of downs, and instead focuses on using the talent at his disposal to generate a rush with four players, he leaves linebackers like Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham back in coverage to help the team’s terribly weak cornerback corps. It’s a smart move on his part, and it’s made the Eagles’ defense much more sustainable.
There’s also plenty of credit for the guys on the field, in particular the team’s defensive line and linebackers. Between Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan in the middle, one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the league, and Brandon Graham having career at defensive end, the Eagles are getting quarterbacks off their spots and stuffing run games fairly often.
Now, a little more consistency would sure be nice. They’ve let teams like Washington, Seattle and Cleveland rack up over 100 yards on the ground. But in the long run, it’s been a much-welcome upgrade from the last few years.
APC: If you are game planning against the Eagles, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
It’s probably common sense, but you’re going to want to squash the run game before it gets started, and probably attack the left side of the line to do so. With Stefen Wisniewski at left guard and an aging Jason Peters at left tackle, if the run game can be stopped, it’ll probably be there. When the Eagles run at least 100 yards in a game, they’re 5-2 this season. Under 100 yards? 0-3.
I’d also try to get Wentz off his spots with a few blitzes now and again. He was solid under pressure early in the season, but in recent weeks his receivers have been unable to get even a modicum of separation, which means chasing him early in passing plays normally leads to success.
In terms of attack Jim Schwartz’s defense, you’ll want to establish the run game early if possible. I don’t possess much knowledge of the Packers’ offensive line, but in the games in which the Eagles’ opponents have run well, they’ve won well. The ultimate damage comes in the air, of course — the Eagles’ corners are replacement-level at best — but a functional run game brings linebackers like Hicks and Bradham to the line and opens up more space at the second level.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
I think the Eagles win on Sunday. They’ve been tremendous at home all season long, and against the (no offense) middling Packers, they have another favorable matchup lined up in Philadelphia. They’ve been able to answer after most of their stinkers this season, and the loss to Seattle was certainly one.
I’ll guess the Eagles win, 24-17, in a close one. Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers, after all. But with the lack of a truly potent running back, and the Eagles’ defense itching for a bounce-back game, Jim Schwartz should be able to dial up a potent-enough game plan to eke out win No. 6 on the year.
We'd like to thank Adam and Bleeding Green Nation for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there, as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Eagles. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Monday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Packers vs. Eagles.