On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers take on the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation was kind enough to answer some questions about the Eagles and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Other than the ACL tear for Carson Palmer, no injury suffered by a quarterback could have as dramatic of an effect on a team as Nick Foles' collarbone fracture two weeks ago. How has his replacement Mark Sanchez performed thus far in his stead, and what kind of a dropoff (or improvement) do you expect as a result of the change?
Mark Sanchez has really been a pleasant surprise for Philadelphia. When the team first signed him in the offseason, it was easy to understand why a number of people were less than thrilled with signing. The veteran quarterback has proved his skeptics wrong to this point. He's come in off the bench and played pretty well. Sanchez has been far from perfect and he still has a lot to prove but, so far, so good.
There hasn't been much of a drop off from Nick Foles to Sanchez. Foles was struggling prior to his injury; he led all quarterbacks in turnovers. Sanchez threw two interceptions in Week 9 but took care of the ball in the team's win over Carolina.
Sanchez's pocket presence has been really impressive. That's another key area where Foles was really struggling. Sanchez is also executing much better in the red zone than Foles had been (small sample size pending): 7 for 7 (100%) versus 8 for 23 (34.8%).
The Eagles generally seem to be in good hands with Sanchez. To be determined if that continues.
APC: After leading the league in rushing last year with 1,607 yards, LeSean McCoy hasn't shown the same dynamic, game-breaking ability in 2014. What has led to his struggles, and is there reason to believe he can return to form?
Part of the struggle has been due to the plethora of injuries sustained on Philadelphia's offensive line. All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis returned in Week 9 after leaving the team's Week 1 game with an MCL sprain. Starting center Jason Kelce missed a few games due to a sports hernia. Right tackle Lane Johnson started off the season serving a four-game suspension. Johnson's backup (and former Packers player!) Allen Barbre also went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1. Now starting right guard Todd Herremans is out for the season. The Eagles were very fortunate to have a healthy offensive line in 2013 but they just haven't had the same luck this season.
With that said, McCoy had a healthy offensive line to work with in Week 9 and still struggled. This was due to the Panthers selling out on stopping the run. While this strategy worked for Carolina's run defense, it left their secondary completely exposed and Sanchez took advantage.
So while McCoy hasn't exactly looked like the same player in 2013, the threat of his ability alone is still valuable. Moving forward, there's reason to believe he can get back on track. Sanchez is proving that teams need to respect his arm and not solely sell out on the run.
APC: This offseason, the Eagles added veteran tailback Darren Sproles for Chip Kelly to play with. How has Kelly utilized Sproles in the offense, and what do you expect to see from him on Sunday?
Darren Sproles is ridiculous. The 31-year old veteran has been a complete revelation for Philadelphia. The struggling New Orleans Saints look incredibly foolish for shipping Sproles away for only the cost of a mere fifth round pick.
Sproles is most dangerous on screen plays where he gets the ball in space with room to run but Kelly also gives him a few handoffs per game. His role is limited but he's extremely effective when he's on the field.
Perhaps where Sproles is most dangerous is as a punt returner. He currently averages a whopping 17 yards per return. Sproles has also scored two punt return touchdowns this season which has led to him being named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice in 2014.
APC: If you were game planning against the Eagles, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
On offense, airing it out is really the way to go. The Eagles front seven is strong so getting the run game going could be a challenge. The Philadelphia secondary, however, is not so savvy. Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are far from lockdown cornerbacks and safety Nate Allen can be a liability in the secondary. I would throw the ball and test their ability to cover.
On defense, it would make the most sense to sell out on the run. The Panthers tried that, however, and Sanchez torched Carolina's secondary through the air. Still, as an opposing defense it's better that the ball is in the hands of Sanchez than it is in the hands of an effective LeSean McCoy.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
Before I give my prediction, just let me say that I expect this to be an awesome game. Last year's Eagles-Packers contest was weird because Rodgers was out and Scott Tolzien was playing. This game should be a lot of fun. It features two of the best teams in the NFC both coming off of blowout victories in Week 10. I'm really excited to watch this one.
I don't have a good idea of what's going to happen, and that's part of why I'm looking forward to it so much. The Packers obviously have the advantage of being on a hot streak and playing at home in Lambeau but the Eagles have been very good lately as well.
This one goes down to the wire. Eagles win, 33-30.
We'd like to thank Brandon 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 Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Eagles vs. Packers.