“They’ve got two very explosive players in McCoy and Jackson. All you have to do is watch the tape from last week, with Foles throwing for seven touchdowns. The first four times they had the ball, they went right down the field and scored,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “They’re a big-play outfit. Very fast tempo, up tempo, they try to keep the pressure on you defensively. You’ve got to really stay tuned in … they’re going to spread you out and try to use their skill. Both of those guys I talked about have elite big-play ability. So, you’ve got to find a way to be sound and take care of your responsibility and not let the tempo get you.”
If the tempo doesn’t get you, the big plays will. The Eagles lead the NFL with 53 plays of 20 yards or more, which will be the Packers’ biggest challenge to handle, especially after a difficult night against Chicago last week. The feeling on the defensive side of the ball after that game was one of disappointment, as Rodgers’ injury put it squarely on the defense to win the game – and the unit failed.
“They have so many guys...DeSean Jackson and McCoy, both of them, you get them in space and they’re some of the best in the business, so of course they want to get them out there and make you try and tackle them one-on-one,” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “I think their coach does a great job of getting them in space, everyone on their offense. It’s something you’ve got to work on, but I say it all the time, every team you play against has an unbelievable player and these guys are no different. They have a bunch of different ways they can hurt you.”
Brotherly love: The Brothers Matthews have faced off twice before, when Clay was at Southern California and Casey, now in his third year with the Eagles, was at Oregon. They split their two college meetings.
“I guess this game will be a little tiebreaker,” Casey said during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week.
Clay’s biggest issue this week isn’t how he can beat his little brother, but how effective he can be with a club cast on his right hand after breaking his thumb a month ago. After missing four games, he’s back just in time to see his bro and make Mom happy by posing for pictures.
“It would make for a good photo op,” Clay said at midweek. While both brothers said the most incentive comes from where their teams stand – “our quarterback going down, it's time for other positions to elevate their game and really carry this team until he comes back,” Clay said – they also agreed that Clay’s challenge of playing essentially one-handed will make things even more interesting.
Casey said their dad, 19-year NFL linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., always stressed the importance of playing well with one’s hands, and that’ll be Clay III’s challenge Sunday.
“Using your hands is very important, especially on the defensive side of the football. Growing up with my dad and having him coach us, we learned early on,” Casey said. “With Clay, if he goes and he’s wearing a club, it will affect some of his game. But I’m sure he’ll do a good job of finding a way to change it up. Obviously, he’s very powerful. It’s going to be hard not being able to grab with his right hand but he’ll find a way. He’s done it in the past. He’s played with clubs on before.”
Home cooking: In reply to a question about whether Wallace has a better chance of succeeding in his first start with the Packers because he’ll be playing at home, McCarthy answered this way: “Playing at home helps everybody. There's no place like home, there's no place like Lambeau Field. I'm glad we're home this week. I wish we were home every week.”
On Sunday, we should get an idea of whether the Packers’ late-season home success has more to do with the crowd, the atmosphere, or having one of the league’s best quarterbacks. With Rodgers out, it’s hard to make heads or tails of this stat: Since 2009, the Packers have been one of the best teams in the league at home in games played Nov. 1 or later. The team’s 27-20 loss to Chicago on Monday night snapped a 17-game winning streak in regular-season games played Nov. 1 or later at Lambeau Field. The next-closest home winning streaks entering Monday night were six-game streaks by Indianapolis and Seattle.
Since 2009, the Packers have won 17 of 19 games played Nov. 1 or later at Lambeau Field, an .895 winning percentage that is tied for the No. 1 mark in the league over that span. In those games, Green Bay has outscored its opponents 644-332 points. The Packers have scored at least 30 points in 12 of those games.
Now, they’ll try to do it without Rodgers.
“Playing at home in front of your crowd obviously helps,” said Wallace, who is 6-15 in his 10-year NFL career as a starter. “But we still have to go out there and execute.”
The formula is simple. Run the ball as well as they did against Chicago, play better defense than they did against Chicago, and how Wallace plays – as long as he doesn’t make a half-dozen fatal mistakes – won’t matter. But defensively, that’s easier said than done. And offensively, if the Eagles don’t come into the game prepared for the Packers’ running game, then they’d be committing coaching malpractice. The guess here is that, at home, the Packers find a way without their star QB. That may not happen in every game Rodgers misses, but it might this week. Packers 21, Eagles 17. (Season record: 7-1)
– Jason Wilde