GREEN BAY, Wis. — Five things to watch for in the Week 10 Sunday afternoon matchup between the Green Bay Packers (5-3) and Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) at Lambeau Field:
1. Signs of improvement from Wallace
Remember in the 2010 season when Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion and Matt Flynn came on in relief? Flynn wasn’t good in that game in Detroit, failing to lead the Packers to any points in more than two quarters of action, with Green Bay losing despite its defense only allowing seven points. After practicing as the starter, though, Flynn performed well on the road against New England the following week with a passer rating over 100.0.
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For Flynn, the difference between being called on mid-game and having a week of preparation was drastic. This is Seneca Wallace’s chance for the same type of result in his second game.
Like Flynn three years ago, Wallace wasn’t any good Monday night when he took over for Rodgers. No touchdown passes and only 114 yards through the air in more than three quarters of work. And similarly, a Packers loss.
Wallace, a 10-year veteran who Green Bay believed to be a better backup option than Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, will likely show improvement after spending the entirety of this week taking almost every snap in practice with the starters. Wallace’s 6-15 record as a starter in the NFL won’t inspire much confidence, nor should it, but this game will do more in determining whether he can get the job done in Rodgers’ absence than Monday night’s game could have.
Wallace benefits from going up against an Eagles defense that is ranked last — yes, last — in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Philadelphia has given up more than twice as many passing yards this season as the Houston Texans. So this will be Wallace’s opportunity to prove he belongs as the Packers’ starter while Rodgers is out.
2. Lacy as the featured offensive weapon
The rookie season that Eddie Lacy is having has been outstanding so far. He’s been a workhorse with at least 22 carries in each of the past five games (including 29 rushing attempts in Minnesota) and has been productive with the ball in his hands. In just seven games, Lacy’s 596 rushing yards already has him well past Green Bay’s leading rusher for the entire 2012 season, Alex Green (464 yards).
While that’s been very impressive, the looks that Lacy will see from defenses over the next month or so without Rodgers will now be catered to stopping him. It may not mean quite as many defenders in the box on an every-down basis as what Adrian Peterson sees every week, but it could be close to that. Not having Rodgers changes everything for the way that defenses will challenge the Packers.
Lacy and the rest of Green Bay’s offense deserves a lot of credit for continuing to dominate on the ground Monday night against the Bears, even after Rodgers was sidelined. But this game will be the first time that an opponent has had all week to game plan for Lacy as Green Bay’s biggest threat.
3. Keeping up with fast-paced Eagles offense
The Eagles want to run as many offensive plays as possible, and they do a good job of that. It’s unofficially known as the Chip Kelly Factor. While it hasn’t resulted in a winning record just past the midway point of the season, Kelly has Philadelphia’s offense ranked fourth in the league in yards per game and running the fifth-most plays from scrimmage.
The Eagles dictate the pace when they have the ball, which won’t allow the Packers to make defensive substitutions very often. Once defensive coordinator Dom Capers puts a group on the field, it’s possible that those are the 11 players he’ll have to stick with for an entire drive. Conditioning will be key for Green Bay, which makes Clay Matthews’ return from a broken thumb a bit problematic for Capers. Matthews will be limited in what he can do physically and is coming back after missing four games, so Capers will have to find a balance with him.
One player who could give the Packers fits if Philadelphia really gets moving is running back LeSean McCoy. He’s third in the NFL in rushing yards per game and also has 320 receiving yards out of the backfield.
4. Foles puts on a clinic – Part 2?
Nick Foles has only started nine NFL games and is just 24 years old, but he’s already likely played the best game of his life. That’s because last weekend in Oakland, Foles had more touchdown passes (7) than he did incompletions (6). He had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Capers said it was ”kind of a clinic.”
Was it the first game of a star being born? Possibly. But the Eagles will come into Lambeau Field feeling extremely confident in their offense, and with good reason. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson had 150 yards on six targets with one touchdown, while Riley Cooper had three touchdown catches on six targets.
Philadelphia leads the NFL in what Capers defines as “big plays,” which are gains of 20-plus yards. The Eagles have 53 of them in nine games, so, based on that average, they’re projected to have six plays of 20 or more yards Sunday. Foles demonstrated against the Raiders that he’s capable of far exceeding that, as his 14.5 yards-per-attempt average from that game would indicate. If the Packers allow Foles to connect deep on multiple occasions with Jackson, Cooper and McCoy, Green Bay will struggle to win.
5. Green Bay’s desperate need to create turnovers
No team in the NFL has fewer interceptions than the Packers. Through three games, Green Bay has just three interceptions and seven total takeaways (worst in the NFC). Those are startling low numbers. If it continues at this pace, especially while Rodgers is out, the Packers won’t be able to win many games.
Turnover differential almost always directly equates to wins and losses. So far this season, Green Bay has been relatively exempt from the rule. However, the three other teams in the NFC with a minus in the turnover differential column prove the rule — the 2-7 Vikings, 2-6 Falcons and 2-6 Giants.
Foles hasn’t thrown an interception all season, so it won’t be easy in this game, but the Packers will have to find a way to turn things around in this department very soon.