With the Green Bay Packers stumbling to a 9-13 record since last year’s 6-0 start, the focus has intensified on the roster constructed by general manager Ted Thompson. And rightfully so. The Packers are 4-6 this season and, if they lose at Philadelphia on Monday night, would be irrelevant in December for the first time since 2006 — the first season with Thompson as GM and McCarthy as coach.
With the Packers trending the wrong direction, Thompson’s aversion to unrestricted free agency has become a bigger story line. Free-agency, however, isn’t a sure thing. Just look at this year’s big offseason spenders. Jacksonville spent a league-high $224.5 million on free agents, according to Spotrac. The Jaguars are 2-8. On the other hand, the Giants ($212.0 million), Raiders ($170.0 million) and Texans ($139.9 million) finished second, third and fourth in free-agent spending. The Giants are 7-3 and own the top Wild Card spot, the Raiders are 8-2 and own the No. 1 spot in the AFC and the Texans are 6-4 and lead the AFC South. The Bears were fifth with $123.4 million but are 2-8. The Falcons ($119.5 million), Eagles ($117.4 million) and Redskins ($93.7 million) were sixth through eighth in spending. The Falcons are 6-4 and clinging to a one-game lead in the NFC South, the Redskins are 6-4-1 and clinging to the No. 6 spot in the NFC and the Eagles are 5-5 and clinging to playoff hopes.
So, of the eight teams that spent more than $80 million in free agency, two are in first place in their divisions, three others are playoff front-runners, one is barely out of the mix and two are in last place. Their combined record is 42-38-1, good for a .525 winning percentage).
That’s pretty darned good — and sure to be a talking point for those who want Thompson fired at the end of the season. The picture, however, usually isn’t as rosy.
In 2015, seven teams spent more than $80 million in free agency: the Jets ($178.5 million; 10-6), Jaguars ($176.4M; 5-11), Dolphins ($150.7M; 6-10); Raiders ($138.9M; 7-9), Titans ($130.7M; 3-13); Chiefs ($87.8M; 11-5) and Bears ($86.3M; 6-10). Only one of those teams (Kansas City) made the playoffs and their combined record was 48-64 (.429).
In 2014, a whopping 11 teams spent more than $80 million. Only two teams made the playoffs (Denver spent the second-most and went 12-4 and Baltimore spent the 12th-most and went 10-6) and their combined record was a woeful 70-110 (.389), with four of the biggest spenders losing at least 10 games. Even that comes with an enormous asterisk. The Broncos bought four excellent players but they also lost four starters. In fact, the Broncos spent a total of $127 million but the players they lost signed for a total of $134 million. So, don’t give Broncos general manager John Elway for being aggressive in free agent. Give him credit for being smart with how he used free agency.
In 2013, eight tams spent more than $80 million. Only two teams made the playoffs (Indianapolis spent the second-most and went 11-5 and Philadelphia spent the fourth-most and went 10-6) and their combined record was 59-68-1 (.465).
It was a similar story in 2012, with eight teams spending more than $80 million and only two making the playoffs. Their combined record, however, was 65-62-1 (.512).
From 2012 through 2015, a total of 34 teams spent more than $80 million. Combined, they won three playoff games in that season season and never even got to a conference championship game.
It’s not just who you add. It’s who you lose. And that’s why the Packers are where they are in the standings. In 2014, the Packers reached the NFC Championship Game with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Davon House and Casey Hayward as their top four corners. Williams and House left in free agency the following offseason and Hayward was lost this offseason. Coupled with Shields’ concussion, the Packers don’t have any of those four.
Other than perhaps Hayward, it’s hard to fault Thompson for those decisions. While Williams (three years, $21 million with $10 million guaranteed) and House (four years, $24.5 million with $10 million guaranteed) were overpaid based on Williams’ age and House’s track record, Hayward was given a three-year, $15.3 million contract with just $6.8 million guaranteed.
By letting Hayward go and then not drafting a cornerback, Thompson bet on the growth of last year’s top picks, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, and that Shields would stay healthy even though that’s been a career-long issue. Thompson lost that bet, then lost again by not bringing in a veteran to help when Randall and Rollins went down. It’s left the Packers with arguably the worst pass defense in franchise history.
“It’s tough because you build the relationship outside of football with those guys, and those are guys you respect and look at as your brothers because you played so many games with them,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “At the same time, that’s part of this business. Guys come and go. You’ve just got to stick with the unit that you have here. We have athletic players in this room. We have guys that will get the job done."
THE JOE WHITT EQUATION
The Packers reached the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons. Barring an unforeseen turnaround, that streak will end this season.
The reason is simple, which cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt explained so perfectly on Friday evening.
“I tell my guys as long as the quarterback plays well and the cornerback plays well, we’ll win here at the Green Bay Packers, and I firmly believe that,” Whitt said.
From 2009 through 2015 — the period corresponding to the Packers’ postseason streak, Dom Capers’ tenure as defensive coordinator and Whitt’s tenure as cornerbacks coach — no team in the NFL dominated the airways like the Packers.
The chart below shows passer-rating differential during those seven seasons. The Packers’ plus-24.7 easily led the NFL. Yes, having Aaron Rodgers — who owns the best passer rating in NFL history — played a big role in that dominance. But it’s imperative to note that the Packers’ defense ranked first in interceptions, third in completion percentage and second in opponent passer rating during that span. A great passing attack and a great passing defense turned into great success.
That’s just common sense. It’s a quarterback-driven league. If you can throw the ball and you can stop the other team from throwing the ball, chances are the wins will follow. From 2009 through 2015, 13 teams had a passer-rating differential of better than plus-1.0. All 13 teams had winning records. Put another way, five teams had winning percentages of at least .600. All ranked in the top six in passer-rating differential.
|Team (2009-15)||W||L||T||Win Pct.||Offense||Defense||Differential|
Now, look at the second chart, which explains the Packers’ decline. With Rodgers struggling compared to his record-setting standards and with the defense struggling by any standard, the Packers’ passer-rating differential is minus-11.6. Only seven teams are worse.
|Team (2016)||W||L||T||Win Pct.||Offense||Defense||Differential|
Rodgers hasn’t been great but the pass defense has been horrible. The Packers rank 31st in opponent passer rating (105.6) and 32nd in yards per attempt (8.12).
“We have to play better, and I don’t care who goes out there, and I have to coach better,” Whitt said. “I’m not going to make any excuses. It’s time to make plays. It’s time to get it down. We can do it, and if we want to the success that we’re going to have, we better do it. It’s as simple as that.”
Whitt’s bravado is to be appreciated. But coaching and scheme aren’t substitutes for horsepower. Out of a total of 30 games, Shields, Randall and Rollins have combined to play in 13 of them.
The results haven’t been surprising. Over the past seven seasons, the Packers’ cornerbacks had 16 more interceptions than any other group in the league. This year? The Packers’ corners have one interception. Playing for San Diego, Hayward leads the NFL with six interceptions.
“We put the work into it,” Whitt said. “Now, the only thing that matters is how you play on game day and how you perform on game day. But the mood in the building is outstanding. There hasn’t been any panic. The head coach has given us the confidence with his demeanor to simply say, ‘Hey, guys, let’s go get it done.’ We as coaches have done it before. Now, the men in my room, none of them were there two years ago when we went to the NFC Championship. None of them were for the Super Bowl. They haven’t experienced some of the ups and downs that we have as a staff, but it’s our job to make sure that we can get them to the point of just winning one football game. Right now, that’s Philly. That’s the only thing we need to focus on, and then we’ll worry about the next one after that. But it’s time for us to make splash play. It’s time for us to get off the field. And I don’t think any of us has made any excuses for anything. We just haven’t gotten it done but it’s time to get it done because we’re capable.”
TOO MANY BIG PLAYS
You have to go back more than 60 years to find a stretch in which the Packers have given up 30 points in four consecutive games. Big plays have been at the heart of the matter, especially in the losses to Indianapolis, Tennessee and Washington.
Over the past three weeks, the Packers have given up a league-high 15 passing plays of 20-plus yards, with four against Indianapolis, six against Tennessee and five against Washington. Four of those have gone for touchdowns. Fortunately for Green Bay, the one team that gave up more 20-yard touchdown passes the last three weeks was Philadelphia (five).
It’s one of a myriad of defensive problems the Packers must rectify if they have any hopes of keeping their season alive past Monday night in Philadelphia.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Friday. “You’ve got to do a better job of rushing, you’ve got to do a better job of covering. You’ve got to understand the situations, who you’re going up against, how much you’re pressuring, how much you’re covering. In the game last week, we had big plays vs. both coverage and pressure.”
Last season, with Shields, Hayward, Randall and Rollins at cornerback, the Packers finished fifth with 46 passing plays allowed of 20-plus yards. This year’s depleted secondary has allowed 37. Only five teams have allowed more. And how about this: Last year, the Packers allowed a league-low four touchdown passes of 20-plus yards. This year? A league-high 10.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz might be struggling through the typical rookie ups and downs, but Capers said there’s “no question” he will test the Packers’ weakness.
“That’s the nature of our game,” he said. “We talk about it with the players all the time that whatever you put on tape and your opponent’s looking at you, you’re probably going to see it the next week until you get it rectified. You’ve got to go back to work and pinpoint what the breakdowns were and do everything you can to correct them and go out and not repeat the same things.”
Shields’ season is over but Randall is expected to play after missing the past five games following groin surgery. Rollins has struggled in his first three games back from his own groin injury and needs to play better.
“I look at it like this,” Whitt said. “When things aren’t going your way and if you panic at that time, you’re definitely going to lose, you’re definitely going to fail at whatever it is. If it’s a test — whatever it is — you’re not going to be successful. When things aren’t going your way, that’s the time to refocus and look at, ‘What do I do best? Where are my strengths?’ And let me make sure I’m capitalizing and make sure I’m in the moment. I’m going to bet on me. I’m going to be on the situation that I can get it done and then, if I don’t get it done, I’ll go back and evaluate why I came up short. But when you’re in the moment, that’s not the time to panic. That’s the time to step up say, ‘Hey, I’m the guy to get it done.’ That’s what we need. We need somebody to step up and say ‘Hey, I’m that guy.’ I don’t care who it is. Somebody needs to do it.”
INSIDE THE EAGLES
— The challenge for the Packers will start with the opening kickoff, and then continue with every special-teams play the rest of the way.
In this week’s Packer Report Special Teams Rankings, the Eagles rank third on special teams while the Packers have fallen from 18th to 22nd over the last four weeks.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us this week,” Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “It’s a heck of a group. They’ve done a great job. They’ve got a bunch of veterans that have been there for a while and they’ve got some very, very skilled returners that have been around for a while and they can take it the distance. I think it’s a great challenge for our guys. We’ve had some struggles here and there. Let’s go see what we can do.”
Since special teams coordinator Dave Fipp took over in 2013, the Eagles lead the NFL with 12 special-teams touchdowns (four on kickoff returns, four on punt returns, four on blocked punts) and are second with a combined eight kickoff-return/punt-return touchdowns.
The biggest disparity for Monday night is on kickoffs. With a kickoff-return touchdown apiece by receiver Josh Huff and running back Wendell Smallwood, the Eagles rank No. 1 in the league in average starting field position following a kickoff return. The Packers, on the other hand, rank 32nd in average starting field position allowed following a kickoff.
“That’s one phase you make a little nip here, a little snip there, some bad things happen,” Zook said. “Obviously, we can’t have it and we’ve got to correct it and we’ve got to get it fixed, but there’s several kickoff return units that are pretty good that have had them returned on them. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. I know what we’ve got to do. No. 1, it’s just like in the field goal, (where) it takes the snapper, takes the holder, takes the protection, takes the kicker. In the kickoff, it takes the kicker, the ball’s got to be placed where we need to have it placed and we’ve got to get down and get it covered.”
When the Eagles are kicking off, they rank No. 1 in average starting field position allowed while the Packers have fallen to 20th in average starting field position following a kickoff return. Green Bay was ninth in that phase just four weeks ago.
Putting those stats into a different context: While the Eagles are plus-7.2 yards on every exchange of kickoffs, the Packers are minus-3.3 yards. Combined, that’s an average of 10.5 yards — or a first down of field position.
The strength of Green Bay’s special teams has been the performance of Jacob Schum and the punt unit. With a net average of at least 43.3 yards in four of the last six games, Schum’s net has improved to 40.3. Over the last four weeks, Green Bay has improved from 26th to 14th.
“The big thing is ball placement,” Zook said. “We’ve got to place the ball. I think Jake’s getting into a little bit of a rhythm. It’s going to be important that he maintains that, particularly as you get into the latter part of the year when you get these cold games and so forth. You want to be over the 40-yard net, but that’s hard to do when the ball doesn’t go quite as far and all those things. We’ve just got to keep doing the things that we’re doing in terms of protection, he’s got to place the ball where we want to place it and we’ve got to go down and cover.”
— Green Bay’s improving punt team will be tested by the Eagles, too, with ageless running back/returner Darren Sproles. The 33-year-old, 12-year pro is averaging 14.1 yards per return with a long of 66. He doesn’t have any touchdowns this year but is tied for seventh all-time with seven on punt returns.
“He’s fearless, No. 1,” Zook said. “No. 2 he’s got great confidence in what he’s doing. You say, well, they do a great job protecting and blocking. (And) they do. You got a guy like that, he makes people miss. I was talking to him about it at the Pro Bowl (last year). It’s one of those God-given abilities that he has. He’s done it with every place he’s ever been and he’s still doing it.”
Sproles, even with a broken rib, will play a bigger role on offense this week with running back Ryan Mathews out with a knee injury. Mathews leads the team with 427 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. Smallwood (253 yards, 4.4 average) will take over as the featured back with Sproles (319 yards, 5.1 average) getting ample playing time. Not only is Sproles second on the team in rushing but he’s third with 34 receptions and 304 receiving yards.
“Every time Sproles steps on the field, the defense is yelling, ‘Watch the draw, watch the screen! Watch the draw, watch the screen,’” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich told reporters in Philadelphia this week. “I mean, he is a magnet. He’s a dynamic player. He has a way of making big plays. You guys have seen it a lot where Darren makes a play, even when he gets tackled, how he gets up and pats the ball. He feels like he should have got 10 more yards than he got. And I think that’s because great players, they see it in their mind. He just draws a lot of attention. We have to continue to find ways (to get him the ball). We have done a fairly good job of that, of not only getting him the ball, but using him as a decoy when we can.”
— It’s been a big couple of weeks for first-year Eagles coach Doug Pederson. Last week, the Bellingham, Wash., native took the Eagles to Seattle. This week, it’s a game against Green Bay, where he served as Brett Favre’s backup quarterback for eight seasons.
“I was always a huge Seahawks fan. So for me, it was kind of a bittersweet moment but one that was good to get back and see some family and friends,” Pederson said in a conference call. “This week, obviously, playing the Packers and just the memories of my eight years there in Green Bay and just how much I enjoyed the time there, my family there, and still have a lot of friends and acquaintances there in the organization and in the Green Bay community. I won’t get to see everybody but it’s still a special, special time for me.”
Pederson played for Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid and coached with Reid in Kansas City before taking over the Eagles this year.
“I do feel like I’m a little bit of all of those guys and the way they coached and the way they handled their team,” Pederson said. “At the same time, I still want to be me and let my personality show with the team here and let the guys see just how I operate. I think the biggest difference is the fact that I played for so many years in the league so I understand the locker room and the dynamic and what guys go through and the struggles and the ups and downs. I can relate to those, so that’s definitely an added advantage, I think, in being in this situation.”
— With Pederson, rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has a mentor. Wentz, the No. 2 overall draft pick, has had an up-and-down rookie season. In his first four games, he had a passer rating of 103.5 with a completion rate of 67.4 percent with seven touchdowns vs. one interception. In the last six games, however, his passer rating is just 72.3. He’s completed 60.4 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and six interceptions. Three times in those six games, he’s gained less than 5.0 yards per attempt.
“Obviously, the start is very impressive,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s got a very bright future, and hopefully it starts next week after our game. He’s impressive. I’ve been very impressed with his video. We’ve had him a number of times in our breakdowns leading into this game. Physically, he has everything you want. Athletic, can make all the throws. Plays with really good composure. I like the command he has of their offense. That’s been impressive. I’m always in preference of the quarterback that can beat you from the pocket and out of the pocket, and he has that ability. I think he’s a dynamic young player that’s going to have a very bright future.”
You probably know at least some of Wentz’s story. An undersized quarterback at Bismarck (N.D.) Century High School, he didn’t receive any big-school recruiting interest. So, he stayed in-state and helped FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to national championships in 2014 and 2015 — part of the school’s remarkable run of five consecutive national titles. He went 20-3 as a starter and was the MVP of both national championship games. Despite the small-school roots, Wentz became just the seventh non-FBS quarterback to be selected in the first round since 1971 — the first since Baltimore took Joe Flacco in 2008 and the second since Tennessee took Steve McNair in 1995.
“He’s adapted well,” Pederson said. “We still kind of go through some growing pains with him a little bit. He’s not accustomed to losing many games, like he has. It’s frustrating for him. It’s all part of the business. I know there’s going to be brighter days ahead for him. The way he prepares and the way he handles his business on and off the football field is a recipe for success later on. For me, I’ve just got to keep steady with it and keep teaching him and keep growing with him. Even though there’s going to be some hard times, we know we’re going to be better for it.”
Wentz has shown that the small-school vs. big-school conversation from before the draft was exaggerated.
“If you’re coming from FCS Division 2, Division 3 to SEC, it doesn’t matter,” he said in his conference call. “You’re playing the best in the world, so there’s definitely a jump in competition. For me, I think part of it is a little overblown, but I think, at the same time, no matter where you come from, you’ve got to learn to play fast and speed up your game, otherwise you’re not going to make it in this league. Things do happen faster. Guys are bigger, faster, stronger. But I really don’t think it matters so much where you come from, it’s how you can handle it.”
— The Packers’ 10-game record of 4-6 is their worst since opening 2-8 in 2005. According to STATS, the Packers have been 4-6 (or worse) 24 times in franchise history. They’ve never made the playoffs.
Still, the confidence is there. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the Packers could “run the table,” though that table includes only one team (Chicago) with a losing record. Adding to the challenge: The Packers started this week in 14th place in the NFC and, even with a victory on Monday night, will be two games behind Detroit in the NFC North with five games to play.
“I mean, it’s not a surprise” that Rodgers said that, linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I’m sure it’s a surprise to the guys in the media and 31 other fan bases. Shoot, maybe even ours. But the offense has been playing well. And unfortunately when the defense was playing well early, we just weren’t on the same page. But it seems like the offense is clicking. And defensively, we’re holding up for the most part, but it’s just these big plays that are kind of biting us. We don’t use injuries as an excuse, but ultimately, we’ve been giving up some big plays and we just need to shore those up and I think we’ve got a real shot at this thing. It’s going to be tough moving forward, there’s no doubt about it. We put ourselves in this position, but we have a lot of confidence in this locker room. I’m sure most have given up or are down on us, but nothing’s kind of wavered within this locker room, which I think is kind of special.”
— The Packers lead the series 26-16, with a 25-14 mark in the regular season. The teams played every year from 2003 through 2006, with Philadelphia winning all four. The Packers have won four of the last five overall, with the exception being the Eagles’ 27-13 victory at Lambeau Field in 2013 when Seneca Wallace started for an injured Rodgers and then Scott Tolzien replaced an injured Wallace.
The Packers are 1-2 in playoff games. In 1960, the Eagles beat the Packers 17-13 for the NFL Championship. It would be Vince Lombardi’s only playoff loss. In 2003, the Eagles won 20-17 in the infamous fourth-and-26 game. In 2010, Williams’ end-zone interception capped the Packers’ 21-16 win that propelled them to the Super Bowl.
— Speaking of Lombardi: Oh, how times have changed. In 1962, the Packers rushed for six touchdowns — the most ever allowed by the Eagles — as Green Bay romped to a 49-0 win that sent them to 9-0 on the season. Running backs Jim Taylor (four) and Tom Moore (two) combined for those touchdowns. The Packers, of course, have zero rushing touchdowns from a running back this season. On the other side of the ball, the Packers limited the Eagles to just 54 yards — their second-fewest all-time.
— In last week’s shootout loss to the Redskins, Rodgers and Washington’s Kirk Cousins became the seventh pair of opposing quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 350 yards with three-plus touchdowns and zero interceptions in the same game. The Packers have been involved in three of those seven games — all losses — with Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger beating Rodgers and No. in 2009 and Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning beating Brett Favre and Co. in 2004. Rodgers, oddly, is just 4-4 in games of 350-plus yards and three-plus touchdowns.
STATS THAT AREN’T FOR LOSERS
— On a third-and-12 during the Packers’ failed comeback at Washington, Randall Cobb caught a short pass from Rodgers, spun away from one tackle, broke another tackle and took off for a 47-yard gain. It’s the type of play that has been absent from the Packers’ offense for much of the season.
Yards after the catch — or YAC — has long been a staple of the Packers’ offense. And it is this season, too. Just not like in past seasons. This season, Rodgers is getting 5.34 YAC per completion, which ranks ninth. Compare that to 5.56 in 2015, 6.02 in 2014, 6.48 in 2013, 5.51 in 2012, 5.88 in 2011, 5.69 in 2010 and 5.91 in 2009. His YAC average is the worst since 2008, his first season as a starter. Rodgers got just 4.42 YAC that season. And the Packers? Well, probably not coincidentally, finished 6-10.
“Get to the sticks. Get the first down. That’s for every single play,” Cobb said of his mind-set. “If something springs, if something happens, then that’s when you go with it. Every catch that you make that’s short of the sticks, you’re trying to get to the first down.”
Cobb ranks 17th with 300 yards after the catch. He’s the only player in the team in the top 25. In 2011, James Starks was 11th and Cobb 18th. In 2014, the last time the Packers fielded an exceptional offense, Cobb was sixth, Jordy Nelson ninth and Eddie Lacy 20th.
— The situational numbers for the Eagles are incredibly noteworthy. Why are they allowing only 18.6 points per game? Because they are No. 3 in third-down defense (35.2 percent conversions) and No. 2 in red-zone defense (43.3 percent touchdowns). They’ll meet a Packers offense that’s sixth on third down (46.7 percent) but 19th in the red zone (54.8 percent).
When it’s the Packers’ defense vs. the Eagles’ offense, it’s matchups of bad vs. bad. Philadelphia’s offense ranks 29th on third down (33.6 percent) and 22nd in the red zone (50.0 percent). The Green Bay defense ranks 23rd on third down (41.3 percent) and 26th in the red zone (63.3 percent).
— On Monday, McCarthy said turnover margin was the team’s biggest problem. The Packers are minus-6 and the Eagles are plus-4.
“The biggest hole in our football team is our turnover ratio,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been talking about it all year. We’re not taking care of the football, we’re not taking the football way. Until that changes, we’re going to be fighting uphill. That’s is A-No. 1. We can’t control the health of the football team but we need to get the turnover ratio turned because that is not cutting it.”
One example came in last week’s loss at Washington. On the first series of the game, linebacker Nick Perry sacked Cousins to force a three-and-out punt. It was a good play. But not a great play.
“He beats his guy — great move — and the ball is teed up,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “The ball’s got to come out. What’s going to turn this thing around is that when we continue to grind on those things and we just need that one play to get us going in the right direction so it gives us that momentum that we need so that we can get on a streak and run this thing out.”
— Whatever hopes the Packers have of saving this season have been pinned on Rodgers and Co. Philadelphia’s defense, however, has been a juggernaut.
Especially at home.
The Eagles have allowed 9.5 points per game in four home games, easily the best in the NFL. They have allowed 15-or-fewer points in all four home games, a feat they haven’t accomplished over any four-game home stretch since 2000. They’ve allowed only three touchdowns, the fewest in the league. They’ve yielded a 67.4 passer rating and forced 2.0 turnovers per game, both second-best in the league.
Over the full 10 games, the Eagles are allowing 18.6 points per game (fourth in the league), have allowed the opponent to score on only 28.3 percent of their possessions (fourth in the league) and have created 71 negative plays (fourth in the league; Green Bay is second with 76).
“This is a very good defense,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, you look at their production — they don’t give up a whole lot, especially at home. They’re playing off the charts at home. Their home statistics and really even their home video, you watch the games, they’re playing at a different speed at home.”
The Eagles have a dominant defensive front, with defensive end Brandon Graham (five), defensive end Connor Barwin (four) and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (four) combining for 13 of their 26 sacks. A dozen individuals have at least one sack. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks has turned into a standout, as well, ranking not only third on the team in tackles but second with eight passes defensed.
“When you’re rushing the passer (at home), that extra get-off means a lot,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the former Lions coach, told reporters this week. “I think it also limits the opponent’s ability to audible easily, becomes more hand signals. Any time you’re playing at home, it’s better. You feed off the energy of the crowd. Our fans give us a distinct advantage.”
— Continuing on the no-place-like-home theme, the Eagles are 4-0 at Lincoln Financial Field, making them one of only three teams that are undefeated at home. And they’ve all been by more than one score: 29-10 over Cleveland, 34-3 over Pittsburgh, 21-10 over Minnesota and 24-15 over Atlanta. That’s an average score of 108-38 and an average margin of 17.5 points. Philadelphia, Seattle and Houston are the only teams that are undefeated at home.
Wentz’s numbers are stark: He’s completed 65.2 percent, averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and thrown five touchdowns vs. two interceptions in four home games, good for a 91.4 passer rating. In six road games, he’s completed 62.1 percent, averaged 6.2 yards per attempt and thrown six touchdowns vs. five interceptions, which equates to a 79.3 rating.
The Packers, meanwhile, have lost four in a row on the road for the first time since 2008. The Packers’ opponent passer rating in road games is an incredible 128.2. That’s nine points worse than any team in league history. Yes, you read that correctly.
— The Elias Sports Bureau, via the Packers’ “Dope Sheet” preview, has a couple of facts about Jared Cook’s big game against Washington last week. Cook joined Benjamin Watson as the only tight ends in NFL history with 100-yard receiving games for three franchises. Also, Cook’s 17.5-yard average was the third-best by a Packers tight end in a single game with at least six receptions. Jermichael Finley caught six passes for 128 yards (21.3 average) at Minnesota in 2009 and Richard Rodgers caught eight passes for 146 yards (18.3 average) in the Hail Mary game at Detroit last year.
The Eagles, however, have been exceptional against tight ends. They’ve allowed 28 receptions for 295 yards and three touchdowns against tight ends. That’s the fewest receptions and second-fewest yards in the league. Seattle’s Jimmy Graham did score a touchdown vs. Philadelphia last week.
“I don’t even really try to think about that stuff, because I’ve still got to go in the game and do my job,” Cook said. “It don’t matter who they’ve stopped, it don’t matter who they’ve played against. I still have a job to do, and I have to go out and do the best I can with my job.”
— The Packers, on the other hand, have struggled vs. opposing tight ends. Green Bay has given up 55 catches for 726 yards and four touchdowns, with that yardage figure being the second-most in the league. In Weeks 5, 6 and 7, Green Bay gave up just 10 catches for 146 yards and no touchdowns vs. tight ends. In the last four games, that’s ballooned to 29 catches, 355 yards and two scores. While the Packers shut out Vernon Davis last week, Jordan Reed had five catches for 79 yards.
Zach Ertz provides the challenge this week. After catching 75 passes last season, his numbers aren’t impressive this season — 35 catches, 337 yards and one touchdown. However, after catching just nine passes for 92 yards in Weeks 5, 6 and 7, he’s exploded for 20 receptions, 187 yards and one touchdown the past three games. He had a long catch-and-run touchdown eliminated by an illegal-formation penalty last week.
“He’s been huge the last couple weeks, just having that security blanket,” Wentz said. “I think the biggest thing with him is he creates some mismatches. You put a linebacker on him, it’s tough to cover a guy like that. Having that confidence in him that I’ve developed over the last couple weeks and really through training camp and everything, but really the past couple weeks has been at an all-time high as far as us being on the same page. That’s been really helpful and beneficial for me.”
— The Packers and Eagles drew the short end of the bye sticks as the only teams with Week 4 byes. Philadelphia started 3-0 and Green Bay started 2-1. Since then, both teams are 2-5. However, it’s worth noting from 2012 through 2015, 12 teams had Week 4 byes. Eight of those teams qualified for the playoffs. It just goes to show that good teams are good, regardless of the circumstances.
DL coach Mike Trgovac, who was the Eagles' defensive line coach from 1995 through 1998, on the Philadelphia fans: "I’ll just say this because I don’t want to get into a big deal, they’re passionate. They are passionate fans, even in your neighborhood. There’s the old saying, ‘They love you win or tie. (In Philadelphia), They love you win.’ They’re very passionate fans. Even your friends down the street. Normally as a coach, you go home at night, if you have tough game, your buddy down the street can come by and have a beer. (Not in Philadelphia.) They’re serious about their ball there. They’re passionate."