|by Ryan Messick
The Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers square off today at Lincoln Financial Field in a Wild Card round contest that features the NFC’s best offense and best defense. Nobody in the conference has given up fewer points than the Packers at 15.0 per game, but nobody in the NFC has scored more than the 27.4 points per game the Eagles have posted. Something will have to give today.
“They’re just playing at a high level,” said Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. “If you look back at the track record, they’ve done a great job in defending other teams, and really just do a great job overall.”
Vick will be under the microscope after turning the ball over nine times in his last six games. Vick threw six interceptions, lost three fumbles and fumbled six other times during that stretch. In his first six games of the season, Vick had no turnovers and just two fumbles.
It’s hard to figure out where to place the blame for the change. Has Vick been hit too much? He was sacked 15 times in his first six games and 19 times in his last six. Was it the cold weather? Things turned on November 21. Was the blueprint on defending him finally put out there? Perhaps, it was the Giants who started the streak.
All of that is not to say that Vick’s been unproductive – he has tossed 10 touchdowns and run for five in his last six games, compared to 11 through the air and four on the ground in his first six games. Regardless, against the defense that leads the NFC in sacks and features Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, the Birds need Vick at his best.
“I think everybody knows what’s at stake,” Vick said. “You look at the fact of the matter, if you lose then you go home. I don’t think we’re ready to go home yet, so we’re going to go out and give it everything we’ve got.”
Another question is whether that will be enough for the Eagles on defense. While Philadelphia finished the regular season 12th in yards allowed, they were tied for 21st in points given up. Philadelphia’s defense has struggled down the stretch as well. Throwing out the season finale in which the backups played, the Eagles gave up 27.4 points per game over their last five meaningful contests. They gave up 22.6 in their first 10.
They’ll need a strong effort against an Aaron Rodgers-led offense that was ninth overall in the regular season and fifth-best in the NFL through the air. Rodgers is as hot as any quarterback in the league. In his last six full games, Rodgers threw for 311 yards per game, 16 touchdowns and just one interception.
“I think if you look at the statistics, here, I think he’s the best quarterback against the blitz in the [National Football League],” said Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. “If not the best, he’s at the top two or three there.”
McDermott will try to slow down Rodgers and company with a defense that has two rookie starters and two other players who hadn’t started a game before this season. For those four and Ernie Sims, who never made a playoff appearance in Detroit, this is the first taste of the postseason.
“I just tell them it is going to be more intense,” Quintin Mikell said. “It’s going to be faster, but not to over think, not to go crazy. It’s still football. At the end of the day, I think their bodies are going to naturally adjust to the speed and the intensity. As long as they don’t stress about it, they’ll be fine.”