World's Best Preview: Been in Wallace's Shoes

Alex Van Pelt knows the difference between going in cold and getting a week to prepare at quarterback. Plus, whatever happened to forcing fumbles? Is anything wrong with Tramon Williams? Does the Eagles' defense really stink? That and much more in a 3,900-word notebook overflowing with great information you won't find anywhere else.

The belief — or hope — is that Seneca Wallace will take a big step forward after a dismal performance in relief of Aaron Rodgers last week.

Alex Van Pelt has been in Wallace's shoes and can lend some first-hand experience to what very well could be a make-or-break period in the Green Bay Packers' season.

In 2001 with Buffalo, Van Pelt — now the Green Bay Packers' running backs coach — relieved Rob Johnson against New England and was just 2-of-7 for 37 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a rating of 49.1.

"It's challenging because you're cold," Van Pelt said. "You're ready but you're not really practice-ready. You're doing it all mentally during the week. That's the beauty of that position. There's no time to feel your way into it. You have to go in and try to perform at the highest level like the starter was. With a week of preparation, it was always easier."

Given the week of reps, Van Pelt went 28-of-42 for 316 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 104.9 against Seattle. The following week, Van Pelt went 21-of-34 for 309 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 108.6 against Miami. In terms of passer rating, they were the second- and third-best games of Van Pelt's nine-year career.

"A lot smoother," Van Pelt said of the next week. "Just the nerves, you're calm. You know what you're expecting going in – I'm starting. You know how to prepare. He's a veteran. He's done it a million times. He's prepared to start whereas a young guy may get thrown into the mix and, ‘Hey, I'm all of a sudden the starter, how do I handle that?' Seneca has been great this week. He's done it many times before. I think we all expect him to come out and perform at a high level."

Recall 2010, when Matt Flynn came off the bench to replace Rodgers, who had sustained a concussion at Detroit. Flynn completed 15-of-26 passes for 177 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 62.5 in a 7-3 loss. Given the week of practice, Flynn almost upset New England with a 24-of-37 performance for 251 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a rating of 100.2.

Can Wallace duplicate those success stories? Last week, Rodgers estimated Wallace took six snaps of 11-on-11 at practice. Wallace said it was "almost like survival mode" facing the Bears' defense. This week, Wallace got most of the action at practice. Coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements can craft a game plan around Wallace's skill-set.

"It makes a huge difference," Wallace said. "When you're able to get snaps with the ones and you're able to see things clearly, that helps you out big time figuring out the timing and things like that with the receivers. And just from a comfortable level it helps out."

To a man, the Packers spoke with confidence that Wallace would play well enough to help the team succeed during this key stretch of games.

"You watch a guy like (Rodgers) go out, it's a terrible feeling," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "You hate to see it for him and everyone around this whole state is in a state of mourning for Aaron going down. The great thing is, we have a guy like Seneca who's been around the league for a long time and knows what he's doing and is going to play really well. We have a ton of confidence in him. It's not like we're throwing a 20-year-old rookie in there that doesn't know the offense. Seneca is a very smart guy who can do it."

Added the new No. 2 quarterback, Scott Tolzien: "I've been super-impressed with how poised he is. That's not an easy thing to do when the quarterback goes down and you're thrown in the fire just like that with very minimal reps during the practice week. I was extremely impressed. I think everyone in this locker room was really impressed with how he handled it on (Monday). He's calm, collected. Probably speaking for a lot of the guys in here, we trust him."

Now, it's up to Wallace to back up everyone's belief. These are winnable games for a team that sits in eighth place in the NFC.

"I would hope they have a lot of confidence in me," Wallace said. "That's the reason I was brought here."

2. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FUMBLES?

The Packers had two major offseason focal points. One has been a resounding success: the running game. The other has been a resounding failure: forcing fumbles.

"Statistically, we have not done very well in the area of creating fumbles," McCarthy said in May. "Our rankings speak for themselves. It's definitely an emphasis of ours. We need to create more fumbles, and that starts with the awareness, footwork, balance, getting your body in position."

Forcing fumbles hasn't been a strong suit at any point over the past four seasons, and the Packers had gone from mediocre to flat-out bad. After forcing a 13th-ranked 24 fumbles in 2009, Green Bay forced a 14th-ranked 22 fumbles in 2010, a 20th-ranked 19 fumbles and 2011 and a 20th-ranked 18 fumbles in 2012.

So, throughout the offseason practices and into training camp, defenders swarmed to the football and tried to rip it away from the ball-carrier.

Whether it was tackling or reducing penalties, the Packers typically have shown leaps-and-bounds improvement when McCarthy has made something an emphasis. No such luck with fumbles, though. Green Bay ranks 25th with eight forced fumbles. Unbelievably, five of them came against Cincinnati in Week 3. After forcing one against Detroit in Week 5 and two at Baltimore in Week 6, the Packers have gone three consecutive games without forcing even one.

"I've been through this before," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday. "I think what we're doing is the right stuff. You saw us four straight series in the Bengals game … that's kind of the way things go sometimes."

Under Capers, the Packers had been a turnover-producing machine. They entered the season ranked third in takeaways since he became defensive coordinator in 2009. This season, they're tied for 29th with seven. They've gone back-to-back games without a takeaway for just the second time in Capers' tenure.

Given the situation at quarterback, the Packers badly need the defense to provide a game-changing play or two.

"What we've got to do is what we haven't done. We've had our hands on the ball and not converted them," Capers said. "That's always been a strength of ours. When we've got our hands on balls, we've normally turned them into takeaways. Just have to continue to work. We're doing all those things in practice that we've always done. I just feel like sometimes when they come, they start to come. You've got to keep working, keep believing in what you're doing. We've seen it work before. We've been darned good. We've just hit a little bit of a drought. It's like a hitter that goes into a slump."

3. WHERE HAVE INTERCEPTIONS, WILLIAMS GONE?


Williams is looking for a pick.
Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports
The Packers wouldn't have won the Super Bowl without Tramon Williams intercepting nine passes (including playoffs) in 2010. However, after intercepting two passes against Chicago in Week 2 of last season, Williams hasn't picked off a pass since, though he had chances the last two weeks. That's a streak of 22 consecutive games.

For this season, Williams has been penalized six times — three for pass interference and two for unnecessary roughness and one for holding. Only Cleveland's Joe Haden and Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu have been penalized more among defensive backs (seven apiece), and only Houston's Kareem Jackson and Minnesota's Xavier Rhodes have been flagged more often for defensive pass interference (four apiece).

The Packers are deep at cornerback. Williams and Sam Shields have been the every-down cornerbacks, with Davon House, Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde rotating in when the Packers use their sub packages. That's five players at a position where they typically use three and only use four on third-and-long.

Still, Williams' spot doesn't seem to be in jeopardy.

"We've been moving him around," Capers said. "He's been playing inside, he's been playing outside. I think he's had good coverage, done a really nice job in our zone coverage stuff. We'll continue to play different combinations. We're going to go with what we think the best combinations are for that point in time."

Williams' coverage has been fine, based on the numbers at ProFootballFocus.com. Of the 107 cornerbacks who have played 25 percent of their teams' defensive snaps, Williams ranks 28th with a completion percentage allowed of 54.1 and 49th with 286 yards allowed. With one catch allowed for every 14.9 snaps in coverage, Williams is an outstanding sixth.

"Tramon has done a nice job inside," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said last week. "At the nickel, we're asking him to do something he hasn't done since probably in '08 with the other staff and some in '09. He's done a good job of getting that. He's had a couple penalties called on him that, right or wrong, they've been called. So that's going to negatively affect some looks on him. He's covered well. We need to pull the ball off of people and he's had a couple opportunities. In all points, I've been pleased with what Tramon's done."

THE OTHER SIDELINE

— 4. The Eagles' defense looks bad on paper but has improved a great deal. In the first four games of the season, the Eagles allowed 27.5 points per game, ranked 27th with a passer rating allowed of 107.2, tied for 29th with 4.0 touchdowns allowed per game and 32nd with 11 punts forced. In the last five games, the Eagles have allowed 18.6 points per game. They've allowed a second-ranked passer rating of 68.6, a seventh-ranked 1.8 touchdowns per game and forced a top-ranked 33 punts. The Eagles have allowed 21 or fewer points in each of those games.

"It's a better knowledge of the scheme," Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews said in a conference call. "We went from a wide-9 to a 3-4. We learn stuff every week. If you see the development of our defense, we've been letting yards up but we've played together. Early on, we had mistakes that led to big, explosive plays. Now, we have trust in the guys around us and know that they're going to do their job, which has made it that much easier. With the knowledge of the defense and knowing where people are going to be, playing to your leverage, it helps out. You can't break away from the game plan when things don't go right initially. That's one thing we've done a good job with: continue to play the game plan that was called and don't lose faith in it."

McCarthy said the scheme run by Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who assisted on the Packers' defensive line in 2000, will challenge Wallace and the revamped offense.

"They're a multiple defense, I'd call them," Clements said. "They're a 3-4 base is their starting point and then they get to different looks out of that. When they go sub, they give you some different looks with standup defensive linemen types, whether it's the outside backers or guys inside, and they have a lot of different pressure packages. They're a multiple defense. They throw a lot of things at you and you have to prepare for a lot of things."

— 5. Why did the Eagles hang onto Riley Cooper following the receiver's use of a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert? Because he's produced. He's caught 25 passes for 453 yards (18.1 average) and five touchdowns. He's had a pair of 120-yard games, including five catches for 139 yards and three scores vs. Oakland last week. His 360 receiving yards over the past four games ranks fourth in the league.

"We came together as a team," Matthews said of the controversy. "Obviously, we've been around Riley for the past two, three, four years. We know the kind of guy Coop is. We did a good job of rallying as a team, and Coach (Chip) Kelly did a good job of putting a plan in place to get Riley help. A lot of coaches, they would have just kicked him out and made him find his way. He needed help at the time and he got it. You'd think it would divide the locker room but, for the most part, it hasn't been an issue. He's doing well, he had a great game and he's had a great past couple games. It's good to see him bounce back from it."

— 6. The Eagles have shown the ability to score in bunches, as evidenced by Nick Foles' seven touchdown passes in just three quarters in last week's 49-20 romp against Oakland. They've scored 30 in five of nine games. The franchise record for most 30-point games in the first 10 games of the season is six, set in 1948 and equaled in 1949. Philadelphia has gained at least 400 yards seven times in nine games. The team's full-season record is eight, set in 2011.

"All you have to do is watch the tape from last week, with Foles throwing for seven touchdowns," Capers said. "The first four times they had the ball, they went right down the field and scored. They're a big-play outfit. Very fast tempo, up tempo, they try to keep the pressure on you defensively. You've got to really stay tuned in. They're going to spread you out and try to use their skill. You've got to find a way to be sound and take care of your responsibility and not let the tempo get you uneased on defense because that's what happens sometimes is you don't have a lot of time to think about things, so you've got to be ready to go when that ball's snapped. Sometimes, they might have two plays called and they're going to run one and the next ball's snapped when there's 23 to 24 seconds left on the play clock."

"We saw what these guys did to Oakland with it, and we don't want that to happen," Williams added.

— 7. The Packers had their hands full with Bears tight end Martellus Bennett last week. Philadelphia's duo of veteran Brent Celek (17 catches, 241 yards, three touchdowns) and rookie Zach Ertz (19 catches, 243 yards, one touchdown) has combined for 36 receptions for 484 yards and four scores.

NOTEWORTHY NUMBERS

— 8. The Eagles lead the league by a wide margin in 20-yard plays. Philadelphia has produced 53, with Denver a distant second with 40. In fact, they're at or near the top of the league rankings in numerous offensive categories:

— First in plays of 20-plus yards (53)

— First in passing plays of 20-plus yards (44)

— First in touchdowns of 20-plus yards (12)

— Second in first-down yards per play (6.43 per play)

— Second in points outside the red zone (95)

— Third in rushing yards per game (147.9 per game)

— Third in rushing yards per attempt (5.0 per attempt)

— Third in yards per play (6.21 per play)

— Fourth in rushing plays of 20-plus yards (9)

— Fourth n average total offense (413.2 per game)

— Fifth in net passing yards per play (7.75 per play)

— Eighth in first downs per game (21.6 per game)

— 10th in passing yards per game (265.3 per game)

It helps to have two premier playmakers in running back LeSean McCoy and receiver DeSean Jackson.

"DeSean Jackson and McCoy, both of them, you get them in space and they're some of the best in the business, so of course they want to get them out there and make you try and tackle them one-on-one," Hawk said. "I think their coach does a great job of getting them in space, everyone on their offense. It's something you've got to work on. I say it all the time, every team you play against has an unbelievable player and these guys are no different. They have a bunch of different ways they can hurt you."

If McCoy were playing for a winning team, he would be widely regarded as one of the top two or three running backs in the league. A year after leading the NFL and setting franchise records with 17 rushing touchdowns and 20 total touchdowns, McCoy leads the NFL with 777 rushing yards and is second with 1,097 yards from scrimmage. He's averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 11.0 yards on his 29 receptions.

"I think he's a complete back," Kelly said in a conference call. "He probably doesn't get enough credit for his pass pro pickup. But he's really a big weapon coming out of the backfield. Can create some mismatches in man coverage with linebackers trying to cover him. Obviously a dynamic open-field runner that has the ability to make people miss. He has a great shiftiness to him. Really a complete back because he can run, he can catch and he can protect."

— 9. If you like to call the plays at home, here are a couple of trends. On first-and-10, the Packers run the ball 57.3 percent of the time, according to the league's data. On third-and-short, however, they're more apt to pass: 43.8 percent runs on third-and-1 and 22.2 percent runs on third-and-2. Philadelphia goes the other direction. On first-and-10, the Eagles run the ball 42.7 percent of the time. However, they run it 90 percent of the time on third-and-1 and 78.6 percent on third-and-2. In fact, the Eagles are more inclined to run on third-and-3 (40.0 percent) than Green Bay is on third-and-2.

— 10. Given the Eagles' desire to speed up the game, create mismatches and wear down opposing defenses, it will be vital for the Packers' defense to get off the field. Green Bay ranks fourth in the league with a three-and-out percentage of 27.0 percent. The Eagles' offense has gone three-and-out 18.3 percent of the time, seventh-best in the league.

— 11. Wallace will need some help from the guys on the receiving end of his passes. That group has delivered throughout the season. According to STATS, Green Bay is tied with a league-low seven dropped passes and ranks fifth with 152.6 yards after the catch per game.

HISTORY LESSONS

— 12. The Eagles are just 4-16 on the road in the series, including 4-8 at Lambeau Field. Overall, Green Bay holds a 26-15 lead, including wins in the last three: 2007, on Mason Crosby's game-winning field goal; 2010, when the Packers knocked out Kevin Kolb but had to survive against Michael Vick; and the 2010 playoffs, when Williams' end-zone interception in front of Cooper sealed the game.

— 13. Since 2000, the Packers and Eagles have been the NFC's top teams. The Packers are an NFC-best 136-80 while Philadelphia is a second-best 129-87-1. Going back even further, since 1992, only the 1999 and 2005 seasons didn't include at least one of these teams in the playoffs.

— 14. James Starks has had touchdown runs of 25-plus yards in back-to-back game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau via the Packers' Dope Sheet, that's the first time a Packers back has accomplished that since Ryan Grant in the final two games of 2007. Moreover, Starks has a touchdown run of at least 25 yards in three of the last four games — the first time that's happened in franchise history.

"James Starks, he just runs for touchdowns," McCarthy said. "We'd like to give him more opportunities. I really like the way Eddie (Lacy has been) running the football and the way James is coming in there. He's coming in there with a whole different attitude, a lot of juice to each and every one of his opportunities."

— 15. Foles will be the Eagles' fourth starting quarterback in the last four matchups against Green Bay. On the other hand, Wallace will join Matt Flynn as the Packers' only quarterbacks not named Brett Favre or Rodgers since Favre took the reins in 1992.

FOUR-POINT STANCE

— 16. While the Packers have been hammered by injuries, the Eagles have largely rolled out the same group most weeks. In fact, other than Vick (six starts) and Foles (three starts) at quarterback, the Eagles have used the same group on offense for every game. It's almost the same story on defense. In their 3-4 scheme, left end Cedric Thornton, right end Fletcher Cox, outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Trent Cole, inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychael Kendricks, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Nate Allen have started every game. That's eight of 11 starters, and cornerback Bradley Fletcher has missed only one start. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga started seven games before being traded to New England. The Eagles' one big loss was to receiver Jeremy Maclin, who tore his ACL in training camp.

— 17. Of the 53 players on the Packers' roster, 26 players entered the league in the sixth round or later (four in the sixth, three in the seventh, 19 undrafted). Of the 53 players on the Eagles' roster, 19 players entered the league in the sixth round or later (fourth in the sixth, four in the seventh, 11 undrafted).

The Eagles have 14 players who were selected in the second or third rounds, of which 10 are starters (Jackson, McCoy, Evan Mathis and Foles on offense, Ryans, Barwin, Allen, Kendricks, Fletcher and Benny Logan on defense) and three more (Ertz, Patrick Chung and Vinny Curry) play key roles. The Packers have just six (Jordy Nelson, Mike Neal, Hayward and Lacy in the second, and James Jones and Morgan Burnett in the third) due to injuries (Randall Cobb, Jerel Worthy, Jermichael Finley).

— 18. Will the Packers ever intercept a pass? After entering the season with 17 more interceptions than any team in the league from 2008 through 2012, the Packers are tied for last with three interceptions. They won't have an easy day against Foles, who hasn't thrown one this season and is on a streak of 155 consecutive passes without a pick.

— 19. These are two run-game juggernauts. Green Bay ranks second with 148.6 rushing yards per game and first with 5.04 yards per carry. Philadelphia is third with 147.9 rushing yards per game and third with 5.00 yards per carry. On first-and-10, Lacy is third with 389 yards while McCoy is sixth with 354 yards. Interestingly, the smaller McCoy has been more effective than Lacy in a workhorse role. From carry 21 and beyond, McCoy averages 5.1 yards per carry while Lacy averages 2.4.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Or, the best thing that was said that we couldn't work into a story this week.

— 20. Kevin Greene, former member of the Army Reserves, on this week's Salute to Service game: "All of the young men and young women that I met along the way that shared the same conviction that I did. I just had a lot of enjoyable times and fond memories of the different military units that I belonged to. ... I never stood tall for the country, so I was never in a life-or-death situation. I think I trained more than anything to prepare for that. No question, there's a difference between playing football for a living and dodging bullets for a living. There's a big difference, make no mistake."


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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.


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