Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Series history: 40th meeting. Packers lead 24-15. Green Bay's 24-13 lead in the regular-season series includes two straight wins, the latest of which was a 27-20 outcome at the start of this season, also at Philadelphia. The Eagles, though, have won the teams' two postseason encounters, both at home — 17-13 in the 1960 NFL Championship and 20-17 in overtime in an NFC divisional playoff game during the 2003 season. The Eagles had won nine straight home games in the series until the Week 1 result this season.
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By the numbers
8: Potential starters on offense and defense for the Packers in Sunday's wild-card game at Philadelphia who don't have a postseason start. They include halfback Brandon Jackson, fullback Quinn Johnson, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, nose tackle B.J. Raji, linebackers Desmond Bishop and Erik Walden, safety Charlie Peprah and nickel back Sam Shields.
4.4: In the last six games, the Eagles have allowed 4.4 yards per carry on first and second down. In the previous six games, they allowed 3.4 yards per carry on first and second down.
Keys to the game
QB Michael Vick took a beating the final month of the season as defenses became more aggressive and the Eagles struggled in blitz pickup. That's a major concern against the Packers, who racked up 47 sacks. Philadelphia combats pressure with a plethora of screen passes and the mobile Vick should be closer to full strength after sitting last week. However, he did turn the ball over eight times in his last five starts and the Packers enter with a plus-10 turnover margin.
Rodgers won't be facing the same defense that held him to a 73.1 passer rating to open the season. The Eagles have suffered injuries at linebacker and in the secondary, where CB Dimitri Patterson has been a popular target of late and FS Nate Allen was lost for the season and replaced by fellow rookie Kurt Coleman, who lacks Allen's range. Rodgers tends to carve up blitzes and the Eagles don't generate much pressure with just their front four, but Green Bay has to guard against becoming too one-dimensional as Philadelphia finished the regular season with 34 takeaways.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had an NFL-best 107.4 passer rating against the blitz during the regular season. ... OLB Clay Matthews is the first Packer with double-digit sacks in each of his first two NFL seasons. ... The Eagles set a franchise record with 439 points during the regular season.
Inside the Eagles
If the Eagles hope to beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and advance to the second round of the playoffs, they're going to have to find a way to get pressure on the Packers' white-hot quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
The Eagles did a decent job of that in their 27-20 Week 1 loss to the Packers and it showed in Rodgers' numbers. His 73.1 passer rating was his second lowest of the season if you don't include his early exit against Detroit last month with a concussion. It was one of just three games in which he has thrown multiple interceptions. Had his third lowest yards-per-attempt average (6.06) and fourth lowest completion percentage (61.3).
But that was Week 1, when McDermott had a deep, fresh supply of defensive linemen and a healthy secondary and linebacking corps to attack Rodgers with. Now, he's got neither.
Trent Cole celebrates his sack of Aaron Rodgers.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
McDermott's season-opening starting right corner (Ellis Hobbs), free safety (Nate Allen) and, possibly, middle linebacker (Stewart Bradley) are on the shelf with injuries. His other starting corner, Asante Samuel, is playing on one good leg.
McDermott knows he's got to find a way to get pressure on Rodgers Sunday or he'll pick his defense apart. But he can't count on his front four to do that, and blitzing him has been a losing proposition for just about every team that's tried it.
Rodgers has a league-best 107.4 passer rating against the blitz this season. Defenses have sent extra rushers after him on 166 dropbacks. He's completed 66.5 percent of his passes, thrown 11 touchdowns and four interceptions and been sacked only eight times against the blitz.
The Eagles are ranked 21st in the league in points allowed this season. They've given up 377 points, which is the second most by the club in the last 23 years (they allowed 388 in 2005).
The 36-year-old McDermott has taken a lot of heat for his unit's poor play. That probably would've been the case anyway, but the fact that he is following one of the best defensive coordinators in the history of the game — Jim Johnson — hasn't helped.
Every time something goes wrong, every time the Eagles give up another third-and-long completion or another red-zone touchdown, people openly wonder what Johnson would have done in a similar situation.
But Johnson seldom had to rely on as many new, young players at key positions as McDermott is right now. You can draw up the cleverest blitzes in the world, but if you don't have the players capable of executing them, it doesn't mean a damn thing.
"I come from Jim Johnson's system," McDermott said last week. "With so many new players, you can't just say, 'Hey, we've always run this blitz, (run) this blitz,' because those players don't know those blitzes. There's a period of acclimation that comes into play, so you want to get the players as comfortable as possible.
"And the execution, it's great to come up with all of these different schemes and everything. But what can these players execute? A lot of these players are in their first games in the NFL. If you had veteran players, you can bank on them being comfortable in an NFL game, and then they can execute whatever you draw up.
"That's part of the overall equation you take into the game plan, and say, 'OK, realistically, what can I expect these guys to handle?"'
McDermott found himself in a very similar blitz-or-don't blitz dilemma going into the playoffs last year. His unit had just 17 sacks in the last eight games in '09. Unable to count on his front four to get pressure on the Cowboys' Tony Romo, he tried to attack him with a heavy dose of blitzes in their playoff meeting. Romo made mincemeat of those blitzes, completing 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
"It's a balancing act," strong safety Quintin Mikell said. "You don't want to go out there and over-blitz because it's not very smart. At the same time, you can't let a quarterback, especially one as good as Aaron Rodgers, have all day.
"As a secondary, we have to make Sean comfortable with (blitzing). That means we have to put in the work and do the little things right so that he feels we're ready to go. When he does call our number, if we have a blitz on, you've got to get there. And if we have to cover for an extra half a second, you gotta do it. At the end of the day, we've got to make it easier on (McDermott)."
Unlike the season-opening meeting between the teams in Philadelphia, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have a plan in place to counter daring quarterback Michael Vick, who was supposed to be only a bit player in that game but wound up nearly rallying the Eagles to a big comeback victory after taking over for an injured Kevin Kolb. Capers still went heavy with pressure when Vick was in, and the Packers got to him for three sacks. Containment off the edges will be imperative if Capers blitzes liberally to thwart Vick, who ran for 103 yards and passed for 175 in the Week 1 game, on bootlegs and trying to extend plays with his feet.
Powerful back LeSean McCoy, who had only seven carries but gained 35 yards in the opener, also is a focal point for the defense. The Packers were mostly solid in coverage the last time around against the dynamic receiving duo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who had a combined eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
The rematch with the Eagles calls to mind that the Packers lost workhorse halfback Ryan Grant to a season-ending ankle injury in the second quarter of the season lid-lifter. Brandon Jackson had some success as Grant's replacement and carried the football 18 times for 63 yards. Getting a high volume of rushing attempts is the stated goal, but coach Mike McCarthy invariably will stick with the bread-and-butter passing game against Philadelphia's pressure-based, gambling defense. The Eagles' propensity for playing off coverage can be exploited with quick throws from Aaron Rodgers and short to intermediate pass patterns by the receivers.