Red Zone Means Green Light Against Eagles

The Packers' superb red-zone offense has a big advantage over the Eagles' woeful red-zone defense. It's the most dramatic difference between these 10-win teams leading up to Sunday's wild-card clash at Philadelphia.

Defensively, the Green Bay Packers rank fifth in the league with 309.1 yards allowed per game.

Their opponent for Sunday's NFC wild card game, the Philadelphia Eagles, rank 12th with 327.2 yards per game. The Eagles have a 34-32 edge in takeaways, narrowing that yardage disparity a bit.

But when it comes to keeping teams from scoring, the Packers enter the playoffs with an overwhelming edge. Green Bay is allowing a second-ranked 15.0 points per game. Way down the list is Philadelphia, which is allowing a 21st-ranked 23.6 points per game.

How can less than two first downs per game turn into such a difference on the scoreboard? Look no further than the red zone, where the Eagles' defense has been bad on an historic level.

The Eagles are a dead-last 32nd in red zone defense. Those final 20 yards are supposed to be the toughest yards in football, but opponents have managed to score touchdowns a stunning 76.7 percent of the time.

By contrast, the Packers rank 12th in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns 48.4 percent of the time — including a huge stop against Chicago last week when Erik Walden's sack on third-and-goal from the 4 forced the Bears to settle for a field goal.

No defense had a worse red zone performance than the Eagles in more than two decades. The Packers scored touchdowns on both of their trips inside the 20 when the teams met in Week 1 and finished the season ranked sixth by scoring touchdowns 60.4 percent of the time.

"I think statistics can be deceiving," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said on Thursday, trying his best to downplay an overwhelming advantage for his unit. "Obviously, they're probably not playing as well as they'd like to be. Probably a little bit of everything. I'm sure there's probably been some communication errors. Just fundamentals — containing the quarterback. Probably a wide variety of things. I don't know that it's one thing, specifically. It's not like one DB has been beaten 10 times on a fade route. It's not like teams just line up and run the ball. It's probably a myriad of factors."


Donald Driver scores against the Eagles in Week 1.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Injuries certainly are an issue. The Eagles started the season with veterans Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs at cornerback and two rookies, end Brandon Graham and safety Nate Allen, joining them in the starting lineup, as well. Hobbs, Graham and Allen are on injured reserve while Samuel, who's healthy now, missed six games. The backups, especially cornerback Dimitri Patterson, have faltered down the stretch. And the Eagles' pass rush petered out down the stretch.

"Keep them off the board," was defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's wishful thinking-sounding solution when asked by Eagles beat reporters on Thursday. "And it's not about lowering percentages right now. It's about winning the football game. And we're on a one-game season, sudden death, and our players know that, our staff understands that, and there's an urgency that comes with that. So, we're going to do whatever we can to win the game. If it's shutting a team out in the red zone, that's what we'll do. If it's not allowing them into the red zone, that's what we're going to try and do. Red zone is a part of giving up points and that's where we've needed to work on in some areas of our defense this year. We're working hard at that right now."

No doubt the Eagles' coaches are burning the midnight oil. For his career, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 55 touchdowns and one interception in the red zone. This year, it's 19 touchdowns, one interception and a third-ranked passer rating of 107.4.

While repeating what he told his players — that the stats will mean nothing once the game kicks off — Philbin admitted to liking the matchups as long as the line protects Rodgers and the receivers catch the ball.

"We devote time to it in the practice plan and the meeting schedule," said Philbin, pointing to quarterbacks coach Tom Clements' role in preparing the red zone plan every week. "We know the value of it in the outcome of games. I think our guys have bought into it and I think we have a solid plan every week. Other than that, it's playing football. It's still playing football like you do on the 30 or the 50 or your own 10. I think our guys maybe smell the cash register and they know there's something at the end of the rainbow."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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