The Packers got an up-close look at Vick in the season opener when he threw for 175 yards and rushed for 103 more in relief of injured starter Kevin Kolb in the second half as Green Bay held off an Eagles’ rally for a 27-20 win. But it might have been the job the defense did against the rest of Philadelphia’s offense, especially early on, that contributed to the victory more than anything else.
Philadelphia’s offense ranked No. 2 in the league this season, averaging 389.4 yards per game, and checked in at No. 3 in scoring at 27.4 points per game. Vick was able to spread the ball around, with five different players posting 40 or more catches on the season (tied for No. 1 in the NFL). The Eagles also had five players hit the 500-yard receiving mark, which was also tied for No. 1 in the NFL.
“They have put up a lot of points this year,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We just have to do a good job of not letting Vick hit us for big gains and hitting his guys down the field, which they like to do, hitting those big plays up the field. We have to put a stop to that. If we do those couple of things, we’ll fare pretty well.”
In the Packers’ Week 1 win at Lincoln Financial Field, they limited the Eagles to 320 yards of offense, Philadelphia’s second-lowest output of the season behind only a 244-yard day in Week 17 against the Cowboys when they rested some starters with a No. 3 seed in the playoffs locked up. In the season opener, Philadelphia posted just 48 yards of offense in the first half with Kolb under center before Vick led the offense to a 272-yard second half.
Philadelphia’s longest play in the opening half was a 13-yard run by Vick out of the Wildcat, with Kolb’s longest completions a pair of 6-yarders to running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson didn’t catch a pass until the third quarter with tight end Brent Celek shut out until the fourth.
An Eagles team that would finish the season tied for the league lead with 80 plays of 20-plus yards on the season began to find their rhythm in the second half against the Packers with four explosive gains. Vick had runs of 31 and 23 yards and completed 27-yard passes to Celek and Maclin.
The Eagles’ most dynamic player is Jackson, who ranks No. 1 in the NFL over the past two seasons with a combined 18 catches of 40-plus yards. Green Bay limited him to just 30 yards on four receptions in the first matchup, but he went on to post 1,056 receiving yards on just 47 catches this season. That 22.5-yard average ranked No. 1 in the league among players with 45 receptions and was the best mark in the NFL since Cincinnati’s Eddie Brown (24.0) in 1988.
Jackson is also one of the most dangerous punt returners in the league, boasting an 11.6-yard average on 20 returns this season and four career touchdowns, including a game-winning 65-yard TD return on the final play of the game in Philadelphia’s dramatic 38-31 win at the N.Y. Giants in Week 15.
“I just watched the Giants game, he wins the game there at the end,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just watching him all offseason, preparing for him in the first game, he has tremendous vertical speed and he’s very dangerous. Really, they’ve got a number of guys on offense that are so explosive, and he’s just very dangerous with the football.
“We need to do a very good job of containing him. He’s an impact player.”
The Eagles’ receiving corps includes second-year wideout Jeremy Maclin, who posted 964 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns on 70 receptions. Slot receiver Jason Avant added 51 receptions for 573 yards (11.2), catching 78.9 percent of passes targeted for him (No. 6 in the NFL), while Celek chipped in 511 yards and four touchdowns on 42 catches.
“This is probably the best route-running group we have seen since the Falcons,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “These guys do a good job running routes, optioning away from you, sitting down in the hole, and they’ve got good speed.”
Green Bay tied for No. 2 in the NFL with 47 sacks this season, and Peprah said the challenge those pass-catchers provide becomes even more imposing if Vick has time to sit back in the pocket.
“I don’t know if hard is the word,” Peprah said. “It’s damn near impossible. If you give somebody five or six seconds, they are going to get open. On top of that, you have got to worry about him running for 40 yards. It just makes it tough, but it’s going to be a challenge I think we’re up for.”
The Eagles also featured one of the more productive backs in the league in McCoy, who rushed for a season-low 35 yards on a season-low seven attempts against the Packers in Week 1 but led the team with five catches for 47 yards. He led all NFL running backs with 78 receptions for 592 yards (7.6 avg.), but he also registered 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground on 207 attempts as part of Philadelphia’s No. 5-ranked rushing offense (145.4 ypg). His 5.2-yard average per carry ranked No. 4 in the NFL.
“I don’t think people talk enough about their running back,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “McCoy is an excellent player. He is the leading receiver and he is running the ball. The offensive line is blocking well for him. They have a lot of weapons, man. Vick is just the first problem, and then after that you have a lot more to solve.”
Those playmakers helped the Eagles’ become one of the premier quick-strike offenses in the league this season. Philadelphia posted 11 touchdowns that came on drives of three or fewer plays, tied for most in the NFL. The Eagles ranked second in touchdowns from outside the red zone with 15 and second in scoring from outside the red zone with 139 points.
All but one of those 15 touchdowns outside the red zone came in a Philadelphia win. Of the Eagles’ 37 pass plays of 25-plus yards on the season, 28 were in victories compared to just nine in their six losses.
The Packers finished No. 2 in the league in scoring defense (15.0), and their ability to avoid explosive gains for the most part this season (tied for No. 6 with 54 plays of 20-plus yards allowed) factored into that. Continuing that trend on Sunday against the Eagles could loom large in the final outcome.
“They have athletes all over the board with Maclin, Jackson, Celek, and McCoy,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “They’ve got a bunch of great skill players that can make plays all around the field. They can run the ball, pass it, obviously Vick can make plays running the ball as well.
“They are a pretty prolific offense. Our defense is playing well too though, so it should be a good matchup.”
Additional coverage - Jan. 6