Packers-Eagles: Keys to the game

The Minnesota Vikings are the Packers' chief rival, but the Philadelphia Eagles have been the biggest thorn in their sides.

Who will forget the infamous fourth-and-26 playoff loss following the 2003 season? Who will forget last season's 47-17 blowout loss to the Eagles, which sent a crystal-clear message that the Packers were pretenders, not contenders? Certainly not Brett Favre, who saw his consecutive-games-with-a-touchdown-pass streak end at 36 games, which was the second-longest stretch in league history.

Revenge certainly won't be a factor today, since nothing is on the line in a game pitting two of the league's biggest disappointments. But the Packers (2-8) and Eagles (4-6) are two teams desperate for a win.

Here are this week's five keys to the game.

1. Remember Vick
When the Packers upset the Atlanta Falcons a couple of weeks ago, the defense did the unthinkable by limiting Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to 24 rushing yards on seven attempts.

Mike McMahon is no Michael Vick. Nor is he Donovan McNabb. But the Eagles' new starting quarterback — McNabb is out for the season with a sports hernia that requires surgery — is a big-time running threat.

His career average per rush is 5.6 yards. In 2001 while with Detroit, McMahon came off the bench and nearly rallied the Lions past the Packers. His scrambling ability didn't lead to many rushing yards, but he kept plays alive and led the Lions to two late touchdowns, though the Packers escaped with a 29-27 win.

McMahon's career completion percentage is 44.2 percent. When he's played regularly, he's never compiled a season completion percentage of better than 50 percent. That includes his career at Rutgers. The Packers must keep McMahon in the pocket and force him to pass to a mediocre receiving corps.

2. Wrap up Westbrook
Without the injured McNabb and the suspended Terrell Owens, the Eagles have few options on offense.

The only reliable option, in fact, is running back Brian Westbrook. He leads the Eagles with a modest 480 rushing yards and averages just 3.8 yards per carry. He's a bigger threat in the passing game, with a team-high 52 catches. He's not just a safety-valve type of receiver. He averages 10.9 yards per reception.

In last season's game, Westbrook torched the Packers. He rushed for just 37 yards but caught 11 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns. He continually tormented Packers safety Mark Roman. Roman and fellow safety Nick Collins — a linebacker can't cover Westbrook — will have their hands full.

3. Favre vs. Philly
In terms of passer rating, quarterback Brett Favre had his worst game of the season last year at Philadelphia. He completed 14-of-29 passes for 131 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

On the negative side, those numbers were with Javon Walker, who, of course, is out for the season. On the plus side, the Eagles will be without All-Pro cornerback Lito Sheppard, who was placed on injured reserve this week with an ankle injury.

The Eagles' pass defense ranks 24th in the league. They've allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes in the last three games. If Robert Ferguson's knee is healthy enough, he and Donald Driver have the advantage over Sheldon Brown and Sheppard's replacement, Roderick Hood.

4. Kearse vs. KGB
Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse is coming off a three-sack game. He'll face Packers right tackle Mark Tauscher, who generally has more than held his own against elite pass rushers during his career.

Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila should have an easier time of things. The Eagles placed their best offensive lineman, left tackle Tra Thomas, on injured reserve on Friday. Thomas' likely replacement will be Todd Herremans, a rookie who will be making his first start.

With both offenses short on playmakers, points could be hard to come by. A big play by Kearse or KGB could prove the difference.

5. On the ground with Gado
Favre's two interceptions were costly during last week's loss to Minnesota, but the offense's primary problem was the disappearance of the running game. The Packers rushed the ball 14 times for 21 yards. Samkon Gado, who broke loose for 103 yards in the upset of Atlanta, managed only 7 yards on 10 attempts.

Clearly, the Packers have to do better. The Eagles are in the middle of the pack against the run defensively while the Packers average a league-worst 3.0 yards per carry offensively.

If the Packers can't run, then the pressure to move the ball falls entirely on Favre. That's when he's prone to foolish mistakes.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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