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What to watch for in 'MNF': Packers-Eagles
It's a make-or-break game in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Packers and Eagles are two franchises on divergent paths, meeting briefly in the middle on Monday night. Green Bay's tired regime stumbles into Philly mired in a four-game losing streak during which its secondary has kept offenses, anemic and otherwise, in the game. Mike McCarthy is legitimately on the hot seat after 11 seasons at the helm. Aaron Rodgers is returning to form after an early season slump, but the running game has not followed suit.
Philadelphia is a young team on the rise, currently struggling to keep pace with the league's -- and the division's -- best. Carson Wentz has come down to earth after a near-perfect start to his career. The Eagles' offensive players have been unreliable at best and detrimental at worst -- looking at you, Nelson Agholor.
With both teams sitting just outside the pack of playoff hopefuls in the NFC, a loss to either side on Monday night would all but sink postseason dreams. There's a lot at stake in this one, so here's what to watch for when the Packers (4-6) take on the Eagles (5-5).
1. Green Bay's Achilles' heel during its four-game skid has been its porous secondary, riddled with injuries. In consecutive weeks, Marcus Mariotaand Kirk Cousins have shredded Dom Capers' unit, which is now allowing an opposing passer rating of 105.5, a mark better only than the Lions. Carson Wentz should look to exploit the Packers' thin ranks, but will likely have more trouble doing so than previous quarterbacks. The Eagles' offense thrives on short routes and time-crunching drives, giving Wentz limited dangerous options downfield; the rookie has averaged just six yards per attempt (30th in league) and has a 72.4 passer rating since Week 6.
Contributing to his struggles downfield has been the unreliability of his uber-average receiving corps. Former first-round pick Nelson Agholor has a case of the yips/dropsies and is forcing his coach to consider benching him on Monday night. Dorial Green-Beckham has an even lower catch percentage than Agholor and hasn't paid dividends since coming to Philly from Tennessee in the preseason. The lack of an outside-the-numbers downfield threat should be a boon for a Packers secondary that got roasted for three passing plays of 58-plus yards last Sunday night.
2. Things aren't as dire on the offensive side of the ball in Green Bay. They never really are as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center. The Pack has followed up a sluggish start with a resurgent second half, averaging 26.6 points per game in their last five games. Their All-Pro quarterback is first in the league in completions (150), passing yards (1,591) and passing touchdowns (15) since Week 7. To Rodgers has relied predominantly on his deep stable of receivers, especially Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams, who is having his much-needed breakout season. Packers wideouts account for 49 precent of offensive touches and 63.7 percent of scrimmage yards, both league-highs, but there's a reason for that.
Green Bay's run game is anemic, thanks to injuries to Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The Packerswent to the waiver wire for help in the form of former Seahawks back Christine Michael, who is expected to make his Acme debut on Monday night, but it's unclear whether Michael's presence will force the Eagles to dedicate their attention inside the tackle box. A one-dimensional Packers offense shouldn't scare Jim Schwartz's swarming defense, but any semblance of variety may throw the Eagles for a loop.
3. The Packers' once-vaunted run defense is no more, having been eviscerated by DeMarco Murray and Fat Rob Kelley in back-to-back weeks, but can the Eagles take advantage? Their "top rusher" Ryan Mathews is out with an MCL strain, but his productivity in the middle of the field has been scatter-shot. Philadelphia will feel comfortable handing it off to rookie back Wendell Smallwood, who has emerged as a speedier option than Mathews, and tossing to the always-reliable scat back Darren Sproles out of the backfield. However, neither of these options are reliable in the red zone. With Mathews inactive, the Eagles lose their top goal-line option; all eight of Mathews' touchdowns this season have come from inside the 8-yard line.
4. Green Bay is in an unprecedented slide and is on the precipice of missing the postseason for the first time since 2008. The Packers, in the midst of their first four-game losing streak in 10 years, are 4-6 for the first time since Rodgers took over at quarterback. While they are still two-and-a-half games behind the Lions in one of the league's weaker divisions, this iteration of Packers looks bound to be sitting at home in January unless they shore up their weaknesses heading into a brutal stretch of games. Five of the Pack's remaining six games are against teams with at least a .500 record, and the sixth is a divisional away game. A loss in Philadelphia could set into motion a complete tailspin that forces Packers brass to consider purging the coaching staff.
5. For all their struggles on the road, Philadelphia has been a different team at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles are just one of three teams still undefeated at home, having soundly beaten playoff contenders in Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Atlanta. Jim Schwartz's unit especially plays better in Philly, surrendering just 9.5 points per game in their four victories (fewest in NFL) and allowing 89.3 fewer yards per game. The Packers, in contrast, are 1-4 on the road this season.